Oops, he (almost) did it again. That’s not only (almost) a gender-specific version of a Britney Spears song. It’s also an apt description of Paul Krugman’s latest column for The New York Times. As I wrote on RealityChek two weeks ago, Krugman’s June 3 essay on tariffs cited information on the U.S. agriculture sector fallout from 1920s duties that the source material simply didn’t contain. Yesterday, his piece on President Trump’s allegedly phony populism were partly based on a blatantly cherry-picked poll result.
According to Krugman, Mr. Trump’s talk of helping his core white working class voters economically is in fact so transparently phony that even these voters no longer believe it. His evidence? A June 16 Fox News poll finding “that only 5 percent of whites without a college degree believe that Trump’s economic policies benefit ‘people like me,’ compared with 45 percent who believe that the benefits go to ‘people with more money.’”
Regardless of whether these views reflect economic reality, the results certainly sound damning. But here’s the rub. First, Krugman didn’t get the question exactly right. Pollsters asked respondents whether the Trump programs “benefit everyone” or “mostly benefit people like you….” In other words, the benefits distribution was not presented solely as an either-or choice.
Second, and more important, the percentage of whites without college degrees believing that the Trump program “benefit everyone” (i.e., including them, and not qualified with “mostly”) was 32 percent. That’s not stratospheric, by any means, but it’s a lot higher than five percent. (See question 24.)
(Adding another complication missed by Krugman, that five percent wasn’t five percent of the entire non-college white sample. It was five percent of the respondents who didn’t view the Trump policies as benefiting “everyone.”)
And some other notable poll results Krugman conveniently passes over:
The percentage of total Trump voters answering that his economic policies “benefit everyone” was 67 percent. That finding suggests an inclusive, rather than an us-versus-them view of how the economy should work – which in turn interestingly indicates that this part of the electorate isn’t terribly receptive to the kinds of so-called class warfare memes pushed by so many Democratic politicians.
In addition, the share of non-college whites who say they’re “strongly” or “somewhat optimistic about the U.S. economy right now” was 55 percent. That’s only a bit less than the 58 percent of the total sample that turned in such answers. (See question 23.)
These Fox poll results hardly demonstrate that the President is home free with his base on the economy. Moreover, they show that he’s far from having persuaded this big share of his staunchest supporters – much less the rest of the electorate – that he’s on the right track when it comes to his signature issues of immigration and trade (although as is often the case, in my opinion, the questions on these subjects – see 16-20, and 25-26 – leave much to be desired).
But Krugman’s selective report on the survey, following his off-base portrayal of an analysis of past tariffs, does demonstrate that his writings should now be accompanied by the warning, “Let the reader beware.”