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Perception vs. Reality: How Our Political Biases Affect How We See the World

posted by:

Jon Peck

16 January

When are facts no longer facts? Apparently, when they’re run through the filter of our own political biases.

That’s the inescapable conclusion of an enlightening, if somewhat discouraging, survey by Sachs Media Group. Our Breakthrough Research division asked almost 1,900 Florida voters their view of how the state’s economy has fared over the last eight years, and the responses were unsettling for those of us who believe in objective facts.

In a nutshell: Your impression of the economy is almost totally shaped by who you think deserves the credit – or the blame.

Let’s start with a few facts – and by that, I mean provable, indisputable measurements of Florida’s economic performance. Between 2011 and 2018, Florida’s unemployment rate fell by 69 percent. During that same stretch, per-capita income rose by more than $7,500 and the state’s gross domestic product improved by 16 percent. No matter how you feel politically, the simple fact is that Florida’s economy is in better shape now than it was in the wake of Great Recession.

But that’s not necessarily how voters see it, once they’re done letting their political leanings slant their view.

It all comes down to whether you consider it Rick Scott’s economy … or Barack Obama’s.

Republican Scott was Florida’s governor from 2011 until the earliest days of this year. Democrat Obama was president from 2009 to 2017. For six years, their policies worked together – or at odds with one another – to help shape Florida’s economy.

We asked some voters whether Florida’s economy improved under Governor Scott, while others were asked whether it improved under President Obama. Some 77% of Republicans said it improved under Scott, while 86% of Democrats felt it got better under Obama.

Remember, Florida’s economy improved in objective ways that aren’t really subject to partisan debate. Yet despite this, Democrats by and large refuse to acknowledge that things improved while Rick Scott was governor – while Republicans similarly can’t entertain the notion that the economy got better while Barack Obama was president.

Only 19% of Democrats were willing to concede economic improvement under Scott, while even fewer Republicans – just 15% – acknowledged improvement under Obama.

So then Rick Scott’s economy got better but Barack Obama’s did not, according to Republicans. Oh, wait … Barack Obama’s improved but Rick Scott’s didn’t, according to Democrats.

Again, we’re talking about the exact same economic performance. The only thing different is the party affiliation of those answering the question.

At least NPAs – those with No Party Affiliation – were able to be more balanced. Among this group, 40% said the economy got better under Scott and 54% said it got better under Obama.

Even though we live in an era in which divisive politicians complain about fake news and some even say “facts aren’t facts,” it’s hard for this former journalist to accept that an individual’s biases can so clearly warp their perceptions of the exact same reality.

Are we getting to the point where, when looking skyward, half of us will be singing an optimistic “Here Comes the Sun” while the rest fret, “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”?