Hearken back, if you can, to the early days of October – or as I call it, Funkyzeit mit Romney.
Barack Obama was coming off a lackluster first debate that let Mitt Romney back into a race he’d seemingly dropped out of. Romney’s post-debate ‘bounce’ was just beginning to show up in the polls. The president was desperate for some good news.
And on October 5, he got some: the Labor Department announced a drop in the jobless rate from 8.1 to 7.8 in September. The drop below the 8% threshold was significant, and provided a shot of energy to the Obama campaign. As the New York Times put it:
Mr. Romney was deprived of a favorite line of attack, mocking the president for “43 straight months with unemployment above 8 percent.”
Of course, you probably remember the response on the right.
And it wasn’t just Jack Welch with his crazy conspiracy theory. Chances are you won’t click on that tweet (why would you?), so I’ll tell you: it was retweeted over 5,000 times. The Huffington Post compiled some of the other responses (you can skim this huge block of text to get the idea, or just take my word for it):
Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) joined the trutherism on his Facebook page. “I agree with former GE CEO Jack Welch, Chicago style politics is at work here. Somehow by manipulation of data we are all of a sudden below 8 percent unemployment, a month from the Presidential election. This is Orwellian to say the least and representative of Saul Alinsky tactics from the book “Rules for Radicals”- a must read for all who want to know how the left strategize.”
The right-leaning Americans for Limited Government released a statement saying, “Either the Federal Reserve, which has its fingers on the pulse of every element of the economy, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics manufacturing survey report are grievously wrong or the number used to calculate the unemployment rate are wrong, or worse manipulated. Given that these numbers conveniently meet Obama’s campaign promises one month before the election, the conclusions are obvious.”
Economic journalist Stuart Varney said on Fox News, “There is widespread distrust of this report.”
Conn Carroll, of the Washington Examiner, tweeted, “I don’t think BLS cooked numbers. I think a bunch of Dems lied about getting jobs. That would have same effect.”
Rick Santelli, the CNBC media personality, yelled, “I told you they’d get it under 8 percent — they did! You can let America decide how they got there!”
The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC primarily backed by GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, launched a robocall attacking vulnerable House Democrats over the figures.
And while many of these sources are hardly mainstream conservative voices, the Wall Street Journal did publish a Jack Welch editorial even after he admitted on-air to Chris Matthews that he had absolutely no evidence for his allegations:
Unfortunately for those who would like me to pipe down, the 7.8% unemployment figure released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) last week is downright implausible. And that’s why I made a stink about it.
And the front page of FOXNews.com briefly looked like this:
Well, it turns out FOX was right all along: the economic indicators were significantly off.
In late October — note: before election day — the Commerce Department estimated that the economy had grown at a 2% annualized rate during 3Q. Today — note: after election day — it released a revised estimate: the economy, in fact, grew at a 2.7% clip.
The Wall Street Journal still managed to poo poo the report — Economy Expands by 2.7% But Recovery Is Still Weak — but then again, most reports sounded a note of pessimism, so that’s not why I’m going to criticize them.
Don’t worry, I still plan to criticize someone. (I always do.)
Whatever you think of GDP, economic growth, and so on, it’s hard to imagine that these numbers played no role in the election. Way back in November, 2011, the venerable Nate Silver wrote an extended piece in the New York Times Magazine handicapping how various Republicans would do against Obama under given economic conditions. The interactive calculator is still available online. Here’s the main takeaway:
It makes intuitive sense: the worse the economy, the better chance a challenger has.
So as you can see, Romney’s chance of winning with the economy growing at a 2% clip are higher than his chances at 2.7% — by eight full percentage points. Granted, you have to take the numbers with a lump of salt — there’s a lot of uncertainty in attempting to predict anything a full year in advance, even for Nate Silver — but the bottom line remains: the difference between 2 and 2.7 GDP growth is not trivial.
And now I get to my point: can you even imagine if the numbers were reversed? That is, can you imagine if Commerce had released 2.7% before the election and later revised it down to 2? If, rather than hurting Obama’s chance of re-election, the numbers had hurt Romney’s chances of beating him? Especially given that he ended up losing by a relatively narrow margin of victory — narrower than, say, Obama’s victory in 2008?
There is not a doubt in mind that WSJ, FOX, and friends (and Fox & Friends) would have been screaming about it from the rooftops. In a heartbeat, number-manipulator would be added to the list that currently includes secret Muslim, socialist, communist, Marxist, fascist, not American, Kenyan, anti-colonial, Cleveland and Philadelphia vote-stealer, gift-giver and so on… oh wait, that’s been there since the September jobs report.
But they’d still be wrong to do so. Polling is imperfect. Mistakes are made. They get revised. Get over it.