What Super Tuesday tells us about the economy of the mind | “超级星期二”可以告诉我们什么? - FT中文网
观点 2024年美国总统大选

What Super Tuesday tells us about the economy of the mind

Feelings, not facts, will drive the results of upcoming US primaries | 在多个州同时举行总统候选人初选的超级星期二,决定投票结果的将是人们的感受,而非事实。
Super Tuesday, the day on which the largest number of US states hold presidential primaries, is almost upon us. The results are baked in — Donald Trump and Joe Biden will be the winners. But the primaries may give us insight into the divide between what data shows, particularly the economic variety, and the felt experience of the voting public.
One of the biggest mysteries of this campaign season has been why Joe Biden has not been given more credit for America’s booming economy. Gross domestic product is up, inflation is down and the jobs market could hardly be better. And yet, consumer sentiment remains low and that will probably be reflected in Tuesday’s exit polls, which survey not only which candidates voters chose, but why.
I suspect those polls will tell us that economic data and voters’ felt experience are in collision with each other, or, at the very least, not correlated in the ways that we might imagine.
Take inflation. Yes, it’s been cooling, even as unemployment remains low and wages edge up. And yet, people don’t feel consumer price index numbers. They feel the cumulative hit from how prices of groceries, rent, gas, electricity, car insurance and other necessities have risen by more than 20 per cent in the past two or three years.
For most Americans, particularly younger and more vulnerable ones, the felt experience of inflation isn’t, “Hey, things are expensive but prices rises are coming down and I have more money in my pocket.” It’s anger. As Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg puts it, “My key learning [during this campaign season] has been that even when you come out of an inflationary period, people stay angry for a long time.”
That lingering pessimism is compounded by the fact that generational economic shifts (such as inflation moving above 5 per cent, which hadn’t happened since 2008) tend to imprint on people for the rest of their lives. Indeed, there is research to show that even one really tough year experienced in early adulthood is enough to change behaviour for a lifetime.
I think of my British grandmother, a nurse in the second world war, who would use a tea bag multiple times. Or conversely, my boomer parents, who feel comfortable carrying a mortgage well into their retirement. Feelings drive our economic decisions, and our voting.
I suspect that this truth will be reflected not only in perceptions of prices, but also around migration and border security, which loom large as an election issue. Immigrants have, of course, always been core to America’s economic success (their impact is a net positive at both the high and low ends of the socio-economic spectrum). There’s even new evidence that suggests foreign-born workers are a key reason why labour inflation hasn’t been higher.
That includes legal as well as illegal immigrants. A recent Strategas Research Partners report on how “big immigration” is key to understanding US growth notes that: “To the extent US immigration has been tough to fully measure in recent years, the reported data [showing the disinflationary impact of migration] may be underestimating this boost.”
这包括合法的以及非法移民。Strategas Research Partners最近发布的一份关于“大规模移民”是理解美国经济增长的关键的报告指出:“就近年来美国移民很难完全衡量的程度而言,报告的数据(显示移民的反通胀影响)可能低估了这一推动力。”
It continues: “The policy enacted by some states to relocate migrants from the southern border to larger cities may have also had the (likely unintended) effect of matching individuals to regions where there was an ability to work, even if informally.”
I certainly see that when I look around New York. Yes, we have major issues housing migrants, but we also have a huge pool of informal labourers keeping service costs down in areas such as restaurants and the care economy. I’d love to see fast-tracking of formal work permits for migrants who can fill gaps in tight labour markets. But I’m in the minority; 61 per cent of Americans — and 91 per cent of Republicans — consider illegal immigration a “very serious” problem.
That divide reflects perhaps the most important way in which feelings rather than facts dictate political reality today — the growing partisan divide in economic perceptions. A study published in 2022 by Stanford and New York University scholars found that the gap in how Democrats and Republicans viewed the same economic data doubled between 1999 and 2020. Both parties have moved equally away from the baseline views of independent voters. We’re all partisans now.
这种分歧或许反映了感受而非事实决定当今政治现实的最重要方式——经济观念上的不断加剧的党派分歧。斯坦福大学(Stanford)和纽约大学(New York University)的学者在2022年发表的一项研究发现,1999年至2020年间,民主党和共和党对相同经济数据的看法差距翻了一番。两党都同等程度地偏离了独立选民的基本观点。我们现在都是党派人士了。
What’s more, the divide tends to increase during times of economic recovery, like the Obama years following the great financial crisis, or the Biden boom of today. The study’s authors posit that this may be “because ideologues of all stripes can find economic data or views that flatter their political beliefs”.
That certainly rings true to me. Consider that economically distressed counties representing 8 per cent of US GDP have received 16 per cent of strategic sector investments in things such as clean energy and semiconductors since 2021, thanks to the Biden administration’s focus on place-based economics. Yet because these are long-term plays that take years to funnel through into a felt experience in these communities, many of the people who live in those places may still vote Trump.
这对我来说当然是真的。考虑到自2021年以来,由于拜登政府对地方经济的关注,占美国GDP 8%的经济困难县在清洁能源和半导体等领域获得了16%的战略部门投资。然而,由于这些都是长期投资,需要数年的时间才能渗透到这些社区的感受中,许多生活在这些地方的人可能仍然会投票给特朗普。
The facts of Super Tuesday are a known quantity. Instead watch the feelings, and what they might tell us about November.