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As promised, here are the results of my survey of economists. You can see three views into the results today, and I plan to blog more about it this week. 

(Format problems are because my blogging software is finnicky.)

 

1. My opinion on the results, on CNN.com http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/09/16/dilbert.economy/index.html
 

2. Detailed survey data: http://dilbert.com/dyn/ppt/Draft-report--9-3-08.ppt

 

3. Press release (below)

  

[Some contact information removed here]

 Dilbert Survey of Economists Democratic Economists Favor Obama. Republican Economists Favor McCain. Independents Lean Toward Obama. 


Dublin, CA (September 10, 2008) – 
Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic strip, commissioned a survey of over 500 economists to find out which candidate for President of the United States would be best for the economy long term.

Says Adams, “I found myself wishing someone would give voters useful and unbiased information about which candidate has the best plans for the economy. Then I realized that I am someone, which is both inconvenient and expensive.”

At considerable personal expense, Adams commissioned a survey of over 500 economists, drawn from a subset of the members of the American Economic Association, a non-political group, some of whose members had agreed in advance to be surveyed on economic questions. The results do not represent the AEA’s position. The survey was managed by The OSR Group, a respected national public opinion and marketing research company.

Nationally, most economists are male and registered as either Democrats or Independents. The survey sample reflects that imbalance.

 

48%     Democrats

17%     Republicans

27%     Independents

3%       Libertarian

5%       Other or not registered

86% of the economists surveyed are male, and 65% work in the field of academia or education. The rest are spread across various industries or not working.

When asked which candidate for President would be best for the economy in the long run, not surprisingly, 88% of Democratic economists think Obama would be best, while 80% of Republican economists pick McCain. Independent economists, who in this sample are largely from the academic world, lean toward Obama by 46% compared to 39% for McCain. Overall, 59% of the economists say Obama would be best for the economy long term, with 31% picking McCain, and 8% saying there would be no difference.

The economists were asked to rank the most important economic issues and pick which candidate they thought would do the best job on those issues. 
 Rank   Issues                            Obama      McCain     No Diff.

1          Education                          59%           14%           27%

 

2          Health care                        65%           20%           15%

 

3          International trade              26%           51%           23%

 

4          Energy                              61%           22%           17%

 

5          Encouraging
           
Technology/innovation       43%           23%           34%

 

6          Wars and 
            
homeland security              58%           30%           11%

 

7          Mortgage/housing crisis     41%           18%           41%

 

8          Social Security                  40%           24%           35%

 

9          Environmental policy          72%             9%           19%

 

10        Reducing the deficit           37%           29%           33%

 

11        Immigration                       33%           29%           38%

 

12        Increasing taxes                 79%           14%             7%

            on wealthy

 

13        Reducing waste                 16%           38%           46%

            in government

 

The economists in the survey favor Obama on 11 of the top 13 issues. But keep in mind that 48% are Democrats and only 17% are Republicans. Among Independents, things are less clear, with 54% thinking that in the long run there would either be no difference between the candidates or McCain would do better.

Adams puts the survey results in perspective: “If an economist uses a complicated model to predict just about anything, you can ignore it. By analogy, a doctor can’t tell you the exact date of your death in 50 years. But if a doctor tells you to eat less and exercise more, that’s good advice even if you later get hit by a bus. Along those same lines, economists can give useful general advice on the economy, even if you know there will be surprises. Still, be skeptical.”

[Some contact information removed]

Interview requests for Scott Adams can be directed to
scottadams@aol.com. Adams will only be responding by e-mail for the next few months due to some minor surgery to fix a voice issue.


Update:
Some of you will wonder how reliable a bunch of academics are when it comes to answering real life questions about the economy. You might prefer to know what CEOs think. But remember that CEOs are paid to be advocates for their stockholders, not advocates for voters. Asking CEOs what should be done about the economy is like asking criminals for legal advice. More on that this week.

 

And for my view on the value economists: http://dilbert.com/blog/?Date=2008-08-22

 
Any help in distributing this information across the Internet would be appreciated.
 
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Sep 16, 2008
Alas, this survey is now obsolete, because now there's Sarah Palin.
She can become President if the lukewarm cadaver becomes any colder.

The retarded beauty queen can do many things that others can't, for example:
- start a war somewhere because it's God's work
- start a nuclear war if she forgets Russia has nuclear weapons
- many other functions
 
 
Sep 16, 2008
Surprising result Scott, I thought Milton Friedman would have had more affect that that amongst economists over the last 50 years especially.
 
 
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Sep 16, 2008
It seems to me that economics are far more opinion than anything else. Yes, in the science community there are disagreements on theories. But a lot of general ideas are agreed upon even though some of the mechanics are disagreed upon. Economists on other other hand basically say anything at all and it seems to have traction.

Education is going to do little in the short term besides eat up more funds. In the long term it could have an impact, both good and bad. Plus saying education is important tells us nothing, Pre K? College? Better? More skills based? What the heck do we do???

Now credit liquidity is a far more obvious problem rippling throughout the entire economy right now. I don't know what to do, but it's obviously a big problem for the short term.
 
 
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Sep 16, 2008
The statement "Among Independents, things are less clear, with 54% thinking that in the long run there would either be no difference between the candidates or McCain would do better." is misleading. It implies that McCain has more support among Independents, when, in fact, he only gets 39%, with 15% saying there is no difference, leaving Obama with 46%. If it were stated the other way, that 61% believe Obama would be better or do no worse than McCain implies that he should be significantly better than McCain according to the study, when in fact the difference is only 7% among independents. Statements like either of these can skew the opinions drawn by others who won't take time to look through the data like I did and realize that McCain is in fact behind Obama among Independent economists.

Compare the above to a statement in the Key Findings section on page 91: "By 60-33%, the Independents favor Obama."




 
 
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Sep 16, 2008
I may not have learned anything about the economy, but I have certainly learned that there is a lot of open hostility out there toward professors and academics. I wonder how anti-intellectualism will work out as a political philosophy. Oh, that's right, we have had 8 years of that and the economy is doing just fine.
 
 
Sep 16, 2008
This is kind of like global warming. Liberal scientists say all the evidence points to it being manmade and getting worse until we're all gonna die, while conservative scientists say none of the evidence points to it being manmade if it's happening at all right at this moment and that the climate warms and cools back and forth all the time. But the scientific method doesn't have a political affiliation element to it at all.

There's enough cause and effect of economic policy in the history books of the world that economists should be able to all agree on everything, but still you get the liberals and conservatives completely disagreeing on what the result of a given policy will be or what policy is best to get to a desired result.

So the liberal economists Scott polled can shove off, and the moderate (read: won't admit to being liberal) economists can shove off, I'm a conservative and I'll stick with the conservative economists, and I'll continue to vote Republican.
 
 
Sep 16, 2008
This is a biased (or at least misleading) statement:
"Among Independents, things are less clear, with 54% thinking that in the long run there would either be no difference between the candidates or McCain would do better."

The equivalent statement phrased for Obama would be
"Among Independents, things are less clear, with 61% thinking that in the long run there would either be no difference between the candidates or Obama would do better."

Since you chose to point out that over half of independent economists think McCain would do better (or there would be no difference), it gives the impression that their choice is for McCain, when in reality they favor Obama by 7 percentage points (and including the "no difference" votes which are included in both totals, it's 61% to 54% in favor of Obama).
 
 
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Sep 16, 2008
This survey was a complete surprise to me. I'd NEVER have thought 48% of economists would be Democrats. Just about every economist I've ever met has been a free-market type. Anyway, thanks, Scott, for commissioning this work.
 
 
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Sep 16, 2008
Without wishing to comment on whether a Republican or Democrat candidate is better, I think perhaps that some commentators have missed an important possible factor in analysing the study. It could be that the economists didn't vote along "party lines" but rather that people who have studied economics would rationally more often choose a Democrats candidate over a Republican one. Clearly the fractional split between Dem and Rep is not representative of the populous but their education level and interests are different too.

I work in the US a lot, generally with highly educated people, and find that most of them are Democrat.

I disagree with one commentator that one should survey business people. They have a different focus (ie personal wealth versus an economist's focus on national wealth).
 
 
Sep 16, 2008
But how can economists have contradictory positions on economic policy that just HAPPENS to line up completely with their political preference?

Wouldn't it be weirder if their positions were contrary to their political preference? We are assuming economists aren't morons--if they believe one party is better for the economy, you would hope they would vote that way.
 
 
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Sep 16, 2008
I agree with some of the other comments. It's not that interesting to report on which economists voted the party line.

I'd be interested to know more about the economists themselves. What is the duration of their party affiliation? It would be very telling to find if they have switched parties certain years for purely economic reasons, versus having been with the same party since college no matter who was in office.

And for this survey, when did individuals with political affiliations vote "the other way". I haven't seen the powerpoint yet. Are we certain the right questions were asked? As you know, in order to get the right answers, you must ask the right questions.
 
 
Sep 16, 2008

The question clearly is whether economists are educated, thoughtful and rational enough to judge issues fairly -- presumably why Mr. Adams wanted to poll them, in particular -- or whether they are so biased by their pre-existing party identification that they can't judge issues fairly. Which of those explains the fact that these economists favor Obama overwhelmingly.

What is the evidence on each side? Look through the slides, and you can find some relevant information.

Well, there seems to be a floor of support for each candidate. Perhaps as much as 16% will support Obama, regardless of the issue. Perhaps as much as a 9% will support McCain, regardless of the issue. (Without the full data file, we can't tell what this number actually is.) And another 7% floor for neither. That leaves a little more than 2/3 who are capable of at least saying that their party's candidate does not automatically have the best answer. (And that 32% is a maximum.)

Yes, Obama did best among Democrats, and worst of among Republicans. But he beat McCain nearly 2-1 among indepdendents. And he did much better among the other party than McCain did (3-1). That suggests that this is not just a function of Party identication.

90% of these economists reports being at least somewhat familiar with the candidates economic plans. That's a high number, and presumably even more meaning for economists -- who would have a higher bar for "familiarity" that laypeople. The numbers are quite high for their own candidates and the other candidate. This points toward education, not bias.

There are signficant differences between McCain supports and Obama supports in which issues they think are more important. This is important because it allows for the possibility that they could generally agree issue-by-issue which has better plans/ideas, while still supporting different candidates. This gives more room for rationality for judging policy issues, with honest differences when there is not technical answer (e.g. which is more important).

Obama consistently does better among McCain supports than McCain does among Obama supporters. He also does signficantly better among independents. (The sole exception is International Trade.) This is imporant because it addresses the possibility that there is both bias AND reasoned judgement -- which we all know is actually the case. Clearly, regardless of bias, Obama does better. What do I mean? Well, on the wars/homeland security, they each split 81-10 among their own supports. That looks like pure bias, each group of supporters standing by their candidate similarly. Perhaps this is not an economic issue, so their expertise and professional judgement is not coming into play. But the independents favor Obama approximately 3-2. On other issues, however, there is a shift towards Obama away from that equal bias position.

Obama's range of support on issues is quite broad. (16, 26, 33, 37, 43, 58, 41, 40, 59, 61, 65, 72, 79.) That does not look like lockstep support. McCain has smaller range, but still substantial. (9, 14, 14, 18, 20, 22, 24, 29, 29, 30, 33, 38, 51) McCain gets up over 70 for cutting the capital gains tax, but that is less a judgement about their policies than a description of their stances.

There is a lot of evidence that these economists are capable of exhibiting discerning judgement on these issues. There is not a lot of evidence that this survey demonstrates nothing but irrational/arational bias.

*********************

Now there IS an alternative possibility. It is possible that pro-Obama bias is more powerful than pro-McCain bias, that Democrats are inherently more biased than Republicans. But this survey cannot address that. It shows that Obama is favored among independents. It shows that Obama does better on the issues among McCain supporters than McCain does among Obama supporters. It is possible that the size of the overall Obama advantage is due to greater Democratic bias, but it more likely because Obama does better among issues most important to economists than McCain does. McCain's strongest advantage came in lowering the estate and captial gains taxes, but the ecomists did not think that these were important issue. 44% were Republicans or indepdenents, but ony 15% though reducing the capital gains tax was important and only 9% thought that reducing the estate tax was imporant.

Even if there is a stronger bias among Democrats -- and there might be -- Obama is still preferred by others.

*************************

And my last point: if it had come out the other way, how would you have responded? If your guy was the crushee, rather than the crusher, would you toss this out as bias?

I've seem more comments that show the irrationality of this blog's commenters than intelligent readers of the data. If you claim bias when it doesn't agree with you, well, that's not skepticism. That's bias.

 
 
Sep 16, 2008
I'm not crazy about higher taxes - I'd rather see less waste, but it seems to me that higher taxes maybe be a better alternative to higher inflation. Borrowing more money instead of raising taxes doesn't seem like a great alternative. There are a lot of sneaky ways to reduce our income, and raising taxes directly is only one of them.

Also, I wonder how the results would have changed if the V.P. candidates were in the mix, especially Palin, since McCain could easily become (more) incapacitated. Palin scares the hell out of me.
 
 
Sep 16, 2008
Since you are the one who funded the study, Scott, perhaps you'd be able to give us an idea of how likely it is the raw data will be released? While I understand the statistical advantages of lumping everyone who, in essence, picks "I strongly prefer X", "I moderately prefer X", and "I slightly prefer X" into one category of "I prefer X", I feel it could be enlightening to see the margins by which the respondents preferred one candidate's position to the other's. For instance, is the support for one candidate primarily in the numeric value of 3 or 5 on the 7 point scale, while the other's support is primarily in the 1 or 7 value? Are there issues where the support is more polarized than in others? If we were to reclassify 3-5 as "little to no difference" and 1, 2, 6, and 7 as "clear preference", would the patterns change?

I can't expect someone else to analyze the data in all the ways which I would find interesting. But if the raw data were available, I could look at it myself. While most people probably wouldn't care to do that/have the statistical background to do so, I doubt I'm the only one of your readers who would want to give it a shot.
 
 
Sep 16, 2008
37% of 'em think Obama would lower the deficit? Are they mentally deficient?
 
 
Sep 16, 2008
Wow, if I had spent considerable time and expense creating this survey only to come up with no usable data I would be pissed. Basically it said "Republicans like the Republican candidate, Democrats like the Democratic candidate, and independents are split." You could have surveyed construction workers, hobos, or housewives and come up with the same results. It's no surprise that academics tend to lean to the left because they live on government entitlement and are generally unaffected by the overall condition of the base economy. If you want usable data, take the economists that are actually working, rather than teaching or 'researching'.
 
 
Sep 16, 2008
Did you just spend your own money to find out what you already wanted to know?

Were the results surprising in anw way?

Let the spin begin.
 
 
Sep 16, 2008
Bravo!! Perhaps we can all agree that this "waste of time" for the past 19 months has basically been "much ado about nothing" . Neither Obama, nor McCain can effectively do anything with out congress or the Senate, so let's save a lot of money and make "Campaign Season" go from June until November, then maybe we could deal with issues, not implications.
 
 
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Sep 16, 2008
I think it was a great and noble effort to undertake this study, so first of all let me thank you for taking it on.
Unlike some of the other commentators here, I do think it is valid to ask economists what they think of the economy. They are better at assessing the economy's performance than business people for the same reason that athletes rely on coaches and trainers to help them improve their game. Outside analysis is extremely important.

I also don't understand how anyone can say that academics are not affected by the economy. I would love to live on that island where one is immune to the vicissitudes of economic forces. Everyone is affected by the economy and I think it completely valid to ask those people who know the most about it to evaluate it performance.

The only problem I have with the study is the way the economists' biases are presented. You imply that they base their economic conclusions on their political affiliations. I tend to think that they base their political affiliations on their economic conclusions.
 
 
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Sep 16, 2008
Well done Scott. I'm not sure what all the poo pooers who are saying that your survey only shows that Dems like Obama and Reps like McCain would have prefered you to do... I personally think it is very interesting that Obama (and democrats) are so strongly favoured... but then I like Obama... and am an Economist... thanks for validating my beliefs as being consistent with my peers. If you had found that no Economists liked Obama I would probably have to rethink my profession as it seems a no brainer to me. I have frequently wondered if the polls which show that better educated voters generally prefer Obama over McCain would be consistent with Economists. Thank you again for showing that it does.
 
 
 
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