Fiscal and Monetary Policy in a Liquidity Trap Now and Then
Twitterstorm delong: October 14, 2011

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps?: Atlantic/New Republic/Washington Monthly/Reuters Department

Andrew Gelman learns of the existence of Gregg Easterbrook, and recoils in horror:

The most clueless political column ever—I think this Easterbrook dude has the journalistic equivalent of “tenure”: I don’t know when I’ve seen political writing quote so misinformed as this. It’s a bizarre mixture of cliches, non-sequitors, and outright mistakes. The author is Gregg Easterbrook and he’s writing for Reuters. First, the cliches:

Right now Romney seems to be the frontrunner, which, of course, is a mixed blessing. His aura of experience and reasonableness could prove quite appealing to voters. Perry continues to have the potential to light a populist fire. . . . Of all the 2012 candidates, Huntsman is the one who is Not Just Another Politician.

And now the errors.

At this point in the 1992 election cycle, the elder George Bush held an 89 percent approval rating. . . . Clinton beat a popular incumbent with a fantastic approval rating. For the 2012 election, Barack Obama is just as vulnerable as the elder Bush, if not even more so. Obama currently has an approval rating of 23 percent.

This is all fine, except that:

  1. It’s not true that at this point in the 1992 election cycle, the elder George Bush held an 89 percent approval rating.

  2. It’s not true that Obama currently has an approval rating of 23 percent.

Now let’s move from Easterbrookworld to reality.

  1. According to Gallup, on 13 Oct 1991, George H. W. Bush’s ratings (data from the Roper Center) were 66% approve, 28% disapprove, 7% no opinion (not adding to exactly 100% due to roundoff error, I assume).

  2. Gallup estimates Obama’s job approval as of 11 Oct 2011 as 38%.

So where did Easterbrook get his numbers? 89% was George H. W. Bush’s highest approval rate ever, and it was at the beginning of March 1991. As for Obama’s 23%, this comes from a Rasmussen report that Easterbrook linked to but misread: 28% “strongly approve” of Obama’s job performance but about 45% approve in total, according to Rasmussen’s own graph.

But wait, there’s more!

Easterbrook continues:

But don’t sell Huntsman short because he is low in the polls – Obama had been at that point, too.

That would be interesting—if true. But at this point Easterbrook is 0 for 2 on truth, so I’m not inclined to trust him. Instead, I’ll look the numbers up myself. Luckily I have an internet connection:

As of 14 Oct 2001, Gallup gives Huntsman 2% support among Republicans. That puts him behind the leaders: No Opinion and Mitt Romney (tied at 20% each), Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, and Michele Bachman. Rick Santorum is ahead of Huntsman, for chrissake. Google that, pal!

What about Obama? How was he polling in October, 2007? He was in second place with 21% support (compared to Hillary Clinton at 50%). So, yeah, anything could happen—but there’s a big difference between 21% and 2%.

The real mystery here is how this got published by Reuters. They’re a reputable news organization, right?

Easterbrook is listed as “a contributing editor to The Atlantic, The New Republic and The Washington Monthly, a former visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution and distinguished fellow of the Fulbright Foundation, and writes the Tuesday Morning Quarterback column for ESPN.”...

P.P.S. Why do I waste my time commenting on this stuff? We spend so much time gathering and understanding these data, it’s just depressing to see people just make poop up and then spread it around like this…. Easterbrook is so well-connected that he can continue publishing forever in top outlets. I can only assume that nobody edits his pieces for content, just as nobody sits in on my classes to check that I’m actually teaching what I say I am. All Easterbrook has to do is show up on time and he gets the job. I know some people criticize Thomas Friedman (say) on the same grounds, that he can just publish whatever half-baked ideas he wants and get it in the New York Times. But I think Easterbrook is much much worse than Friedman…. Easterbrook is just spouting cliches that would make Theodore H. White spin in his grave. And supporting it with numbers that are so wrong as to be beyond garbled. Can’t Easterbrook do like a real journalist and interview some cab drivers or something?