Editor’s note: This post originally appeared as ‘That time Obama for America doctored the data’, but has been updated to reflect the benefit-of-the-doubt.
It’s no secret that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan hope to beat Barack Obama on the economy.
I’m not going to quote Mitt, because it’s pretty much all he talks about, but Ryan’s shiny and new: “Without a doubt, President Obama inherited a difficult situation. Here’s the problem: He made it worse.”
No, Paul. Here‘s the problem: it’s one thing to claim – with a straight face – that the economy could have grown faster under your economic policies. It’s quite another to argue that Obama made the economy worse.
Heck, even Republican governors can’t help themselves. Per the Los Angeles Times, in Republican governors tout job gains — to Obama team’s delight:
One by one, Republican governors of three presidential battleground states took the floor at the party’s national convention and touted recent job gains in their states – not Mitt Romney’s preferred message.
First up was Gov. John Kasich of Ohio: 122,000 jobs created since he took office last year, he boasted, and a state that has leaped from 48th to fourth in job creation.
Next came Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia: “Over the last two years, with Republicans and Democrats working together, our unemployment rate is down 20% to 5.9%,” he said. “We’ve added 151,000 net new jobs.”
Finally, there was Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin. “Like many places across the country, Wisconsin lost more than 100,000 jobs from 2008 to 2010,” he said. “Unemployment during that time topped out at over 9%. But because of our reforms, Wisconsin has added thousands of new jobs, and our unemployment rate is down from when I first took office.”
These inconvenient truthtellings come on the heels of a week-old NYTimes blog post – from which the above Paul Ryan quote was drawn – Has Obama Made the Economy Worse? The answer – if you can’t guess – is ‘No’. The article includes a chart from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showing job gains and losses under Presidents Bush and Obama:
The graph clearly shows that while the economy has not nearly regained the jobs lost during the recession, suggesting that Obama made the situation ‘worse’ is simply the wishful thinking of a campaign without a rabbit in its hat.
Meanwhile, I recognized the graph’s basic shape from Barack My Timeline! (purveyor of prObama Facebook cover photos, and about which I wrote just over two months ago):
But something looked a little off. See if you can spot the difference (Hint: it’s circled in red.):
And this is where my original post (see Editor’s Note above) went off-track: it decried the change in polarity in the Barack My Timeline! graph, and shared the website’s source: an email sent by Obama for America:
As you may have gathered from the post’s original title, I used the opportunity to slam the organization for stretching the truth to bolster Obama’s record on the economy:
Listen, it’s politics: everybody stretches the truth. But it’s one thing to distort someone’s words, and it’s quite another thing to start messing with what should be cold, hard facts. Color me unimpressed.
But a friend suggested that despite a superficial similarity between the two graphs, it is likely that they are actually drawn from different datasets.
More specifically, the Obama for America graph is labeled ‘Private sector’, while the BLS data’s more generic label (‘Jobs Gain/Loss’) implies that it includes all job gains and losses, including those in the public sector. The enormous bump in hiring and firing that appears during the summer of 2010 most likely reflects public-sector hiring as the result of that year’s census. In other words, though the Obama for America graph omits this surge in temporary employment, and the consequent contraction that followed, it actually provides a more accurate picture of the overall job market – not less, as I had originally alleged.
In other words, the only party that can be legitimately held responsible for numerical misdirection is Barack My Timeline!, which failed to label the data it presented, but which clearly states that “This site is not affiliated with Obama for America, the DNC, or any political organization.”