For years some Republicans have been suspicious that official government statistics are fake. Then-presidential candidate Donald Trump fanned these flames, calling the low unemployment rate under Barack Obama “phony” and a “hoax.”
The tables have turned. Today, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to think that government stats are trustworthy.
In a January survey, YouGov asked Americans whether they trust or distrust the data about the economy that is reported by the federal government. This question has previously been asked by Marketplace/Edison Research.
Overall, the share of Americans expressing trust in government economic numbers has fallen since last April; curiously, so has the share expressing distrust. The share saying “don’t know” — which seems a bit closer to “distrust” than “trust” to me, but your mileage may vary — has gone up.
Now let’s break down the numbers by party affiliation.
Democrats’ trust in government data has shrunk over time; Republicans’ trust has grown. Today, with their party in unified control of government, Republicans are slightly more likely than Democrats to believe official government economic stats; 58 percent of Republicans completely or somewhat trust these numbers, compared with 52 percent of Democrats.
Interestingly, YouGov also asked a related question, about whether government statistics were “reliable and accurate.” When phrased this way, Democrats today place more faith in the data than Republicans do. Perhaps this “reliable and accurate” phrasing plays more to respondents’ perceptions of government competence and precision, rather than suspicions that the feds are deliberately manipulating the numbers for political gain.
On unemployment specifically, though, Democrats are more likely to say the numbers are inaccurate than Republicans are. The situation was the reverse under Obama:
This is not entirely a Trump-driven phenomenon. Political science research has shown that whether your party is in office colors your view of economic conditions. Still, that’s quite the reversal.