White House To America: Pay No Attention To Those Bad Economic Numbers

The White House would really appreciate it if you didn't pay attention to all that bad economic news.

David Plouffe’s comments earlier this week that American voters don’t really care about things like high unemployment numbers and slow economic growth is apparently an official White House talking point, as this exchange between Jake Tapper and Press Secretary Jay Carney makes clear:

TAPPER:  OK.  And lastly, comments by Senior Adviser David Plouffe were criticized today.  Earlier this week, he said, quote, “The average American does not view the economy through the prism of GDP or unemployment rates or even monthly jobs numbers.  People won’t vote based on the unemployment rate, they’re going to vote based on how do I feel about my own situation:  Do I believe the president makes decisions based on me and my family?”

And Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney said that those comments were — he suggested they were out of touch, and he said that if Plouffe worked for him, he would fire him.

CARNEY:  Well, I understand that we’re engaged in the – or rather, the Republicans are engaged in a primary campaign, trying to get some media attention.  I don’t know where, you know, the voters that some other folks might be talking to — but — or — but most people do not sit around their kitchen table and analyze GDP and unemployment numbers.  They talk about how they feel their own economic situation is.  And they measure it by whether they have a job, whether they have job security; whether their house – whether they’re meeting their house payment, whether their mortgage is underwater; whether they have the money to pay for their children’s education or they don’t; whether they’re dealing with a sick parent and can afford that, or whether they can’t.

They do not sit around analyzing The Wall Street Journal or other — or Bloomberg to look at the — you know, analyze the numbers.  Now, maybe some folks do, but not most Americans.  I think that’s the point David Plouffe was making; that’s the point the president was making just moments ago in his statement in the Rose Garden.

Now on some level, Carney is correct, and so is Plouffe, that the average American does not spend their day sitting around discussing the latest economic statistics and whether they are good, bad, or indifferent. However, that doesn’t mean that those numbers are totally without meaning to them, especially when it comes to the important numbers like the Unemployment Rate and GDP. Given the fact that they get so much play in the news media, people are at least aware of these numbers, and I would think its fair to say that most Americans have a fair understanding of what they mean. Of course, it doesn’t take an economic genius to realize that something like today’s dismal unemployment report is bad news, and the fact that it was followed by a somewhat disjointed, hastily prepared, Rose Garden speech by the President and a stock sell-off likely got the point across pretty well.

Carney also has a point that people look t their individual circumstances primarily, but they also clearly take note of what’s going on around them. What they see right now is high unemployment, low job growth, slow economic growth, a housing market that has yet to fully recover from the natural result of an irrational asset bubble, and politicians in Washington who are more concerned with scoring partisan political points than solving the nations fiscal and economic problems. The result? Economic pessimism so bad that large numbers of people say they think we’re headed for another Great Depression, a general impression that economic conditions won’t get better any time soon, and, of course this:

Numbers like this aren’t just influenced by people’s individual economic circumstances, they’re influenced by what people see going on around them.

Of course the White House wants to put out the idea that the economic data isn’t important, because their only other option would be to try to defend their record and, judging by that same data, their record is one of failure.


FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, Economics and Business, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Chad S says:

    538 crunched the numbers, and Plouffe/Carney are right: there’s more correlation with growth numbers and election results. There’s little correlation between unemployment numbers and election results.

  2. hey norm says:

    “The fundamentals of our economy are strong. … Job creation is strong. Real after-tax wages are on the rise. Inflation is low.”
    George Bush in August of 2007. The Great Recession would start in December of 2007.
    Next topic.

  3. @Chad S:

    Nate Silver is a smart guy but not everything can be explained by statistical analysis

  4. @hey norm:

    Other than supporting my general hypothesis that all politicians are liars at heart, what is the point of your post?

  5. john personna says:

    That it is “bad” I would not dispute, that it is “news” I would.

    What you are really asking for is sudden attention to (by your own graph) a year-long trend.

    Don’t voters have their mind up about that trend, and the policy responses they demand?

    They want the budget cut, right?

    Maybe they’re smart enough to know that they are choosing cuts over attempts at stimulation. That was the choice given in the poll, right? (link given in some previous thread)

  6. ponce says:

    Poll after poll shows the American public just ignores this kind of infantile economic masturbation, but right wing bloggers and their compatriots in the “liberal” press just keep offering it up.

    Maybe because coming up with real economic insight is hard work?

    As Yglesias said yesterday:

    Ordinary people don’t care about politics all that much. But when they do decide to pay attention to politics, it’s because they’re worried about jobs or the environment or energy prices or taxes or something. It’s never because they’re wondering how the president reacted to Steny Hoyer’s remarks about Eric Cantor’s characterization of the Treasury secretary’s statement about the debt ceiling.

  7. lunaticllama says:

    In Obama’s defense, at least the administration is not intentionally putting the economy in an “awful lot of jeopardy” as John Boehner admitted today the Republicans are doing. We have one party deliberately risking the destruction of our credit rating. Another is not engaging in such blatantly deranged behavior, and probably would focus on jobs if Republicans had any interest in such agenda. Not really a question of who is more responsible on economic issues.

  8. An Interested Party says:

    If things stay as they are or don’t change significantly by next fall, who exactly will be the GOP presidential nominee will be key…if it is Romney, the President will probably be in a lot of trouble…but what if Romney is painted as a RINO in the primaries and someone like Bachmann or even Palin gets the nomination? Perhaps the President’s campaign strategy will be to follow Bush’s successful playbook from 2004…

  9. The Q says:

    I do hope its Romney who is the candidate…he is the GOP’s John Kerry.

    Remember the Dems thought Kerry’s war record would trump the ROTC absent Bush, hence the PT boat at the Dem convention and the “Lt. Kerry reporting for duty” BS.

    Similarly, the Repugs think that Mitts bidness background makes him the perfect alternative, but when the horror of Bain Capital’s raping of workers and Mitts dismal record in creating jobs as Mass. governor (not to meniton his continual flip flops) are factored in, I think its a cock high fastball for Obama. They will hit that hypocritical sonofabitch outta the ballpark.

    If the economy even slightly improves and the Repugs carry on their divisiveness in Congress, the election will not be as close as some thnk.

  10. Dan Costantino says:

    @lunaticllama: We would have to choose to default on our loans if the debt limit is not raised. We still have tax revenue coming in. It’s a BS claim that we would default right away. It is amazing that so many people support running such huge deficits (over 1.67x our revenue). You can’t tax the wealthy enough to make up $1.4T. But let’s focus on the $300M in tax loopholes like corporate jets. People need to learn to put money away for retirement and get off the teet.

  11. Tsar Nicholas II says:

    I’ve known Jimmah Carter and you, Barack Obama, are no Jimmah Carter.

  12. Aidan says:

    What percentage of Americans do you think actually know how GDP or the unemployment rate are calculated?

  13. Ben Wolf says:

    @lunaticllama: Obama accepted a lot of bad advice. During the campaign he had assembled what could be called a team of economic populists, people concerned with defending the middle class from further predation by big business. But within a few weeks of his election he’d jettisoned them for the same Wall Street-centric crowd that spent the last sixteen years paving the way for economic armageddon. Rogues like Summers, Geithner and Goolsbie crafted a policy of lining pockets for the super rich and claimed that was the best way to get the economy rolling again; from what we’ve seen Obama completely bought it, and now he’s facing the consequences of a really bad move.

    But McCain wouldn’t have done any better, and at least with this president gays have made some progress toward equal rights.

  14. JKB says:

    I haven’t followed this much, but reading the first sentence of this post, it occurred to me that with an MSM a bit less in their pocket this headline might have appeared:

    White House on Unemployed: No One Cares

    So running the brainiac argument could have turned out much worse for them.

    In any case, people don’t follow the economic numbers, they follow themselves and those they know and a lot of Americans know someone or a few who are out of work and keep them updated on the dismal job situation through personal experience.

  15. Pug says:

    We would have to choose to default on our loans if the debt limit is not raised. We still have tax revenue coming in. It’s a BS claim that we would default right away.

    It’s worth noting again how credit ratings actually work since nonsense like the above continues to come from the Right.

    Creditors look at how you meet all your obligations, not just some of them. If you don’t believe that, try paying your mortgage but not paying your credit cards. You won’t lose your house, but just see how well your personal financial situation is by doing that.

    Maybe S&P and Moodys will not notice if we don’t pay government benefits, public employees and defense contractors? That’s your theory, Michele . . . er, Dan?

  16. Love to hear Young Matt Yglesias pronounce on ordinary people.

    Makes my day.