Like Claudia Sahm, I was struck by polling results indicating that around half of Trump supporters completely distrust official data — although maybe a bit less surprised, since I’ve been living in that world for years. In particular, the failure of high inflation to materialize led quite a few people on the right side of the political spectrum — including the likes of Niall Ferguson — to insist that the numbers were being cooked, so this is neither a new phenomenon nor one restricted to Trump types.
As it happened, there was a very easy answer to the inflation truthers: quite aside from the absurdity of claiming a conspiracy at the BLS, we had independent estimates such as the Billion Prices Index that closely matched official data. And there’s similar independent evidence for a lot of the things where people now claim that official numbers are skewed. For example, the Gallup Healthways index provides independent confirmation of the huge gains in insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
But aside from validity, what explains this distrust of statistics? Is it because peoples’ own experience clashes with what they’re being told? I don’t think so. In fact, when people are asked about personal outcomes, not about “the economy,” the story they tell is a lot like the official numbers. From that poll about Trumpian distrust of the data:
So people are feeling better, in line with what the data say, but claim that the economy is getting worse. Hard to believe that this isn’t political, a case of going with the party line in the teeth of personal experience.