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What’s Wrong With the New York Times Poll-Graph on the Debt Crisis?


"It’s the same glitch that partisan economists have been arguing about for decades."

I've known Zombie long enough to realize that if you try any dual-axis Cartesian graph won't get away with it.  In this case it is the New York Times that has attracted Zombie's merciless analysis. On Friday the Times posted a slick, interactive "poll-graph" that allowed readers to render their views.   Here's a screen grab:

You can try the interactive version here.

Zombie certainly admires the graph, calling it "clever and thought-provoking."  But the admiration only goes so far.  First -- let's understand what's going on in the graph:

The up-and-down axis is about spending: dots near the top of the chart represent people who want to cut spending, while those at the bottom don’t want to cut spending. The left-right axis represents tax revenue — those who clicked near the right edge of the screen want to raise revenue through higher taxes, and those on the left don’t (more on this later).

Thus the cluster of dots at the upper left corner represent hardcore libertarians and Tea Partiers — people who want a lot less spending and no new taxes. The cluster at the lower right are the socialists and welfare-staters — people who want more spending and more taxes to pay for it.

The tiny cluster at the lower left are the crazy people — people who want more spending, but don’t want to pay for it in any way. We can safely ignore them.

But as the chart instantly reveals, the vast majority of respondents are in the upper right — people who want less spending and more revenue. In other words, the mid-point between the two extremes: the Tea Party position of cutting runaway spending is now the mainstream position; but the liberal Democrat call for higher taxes is alsonow the mainstream position.

This is why no one can figure out who’s “winning” the debt battle. Both political factions have a monopoly on only one of the two favored positions, while their opponents lay claim to the other.

This being the New York Times, with its “progressive” readership, the overwhelmng cluster in the upper right isslightly sagging toward the “Don’t reduce spending” direction, but only barely. Considering the demographic of the readership, this is to be expected, and a similar poll in a different publication might skew slightly upward. But overall, it’s solidly “Cut spending/raise revenue.”

But here’s where the glitch becomes manifest. And it’s the same glitch that partisan economists have been arguing about for decades.

You will now want to click to Zombie's blog post to understand the glitch!  Click here.

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