Michael Tesler, a political scientist over at Brown, wrote a guest post at The Monkey Cage, Who Cares About Budget Deficits? Basically, the entire article is the graph below, which I altered to make display better here. It shows two things. First, it shows that the better informed partisans are, the more likely their opinions will follow those of party elites. By “informed” we simply mean the more they pay attention to the news; it might be (and often is) a very bad source of real information. Second, it shows that since 2007, Republicans have become very concerned about the deficits and Democrats have become much less so.
The natural assumption here is that Democrats are more worried about deficits when Republicans are in power and vice versa. This is certainly the case. I’ve noticed this with politicians. I haven’t, however, noticed it so much with rank and file partisans. And look at the graph: news consumption had almost no effect in 2007. I think what we are seeing in 2011 is due to a real public argument that has been going on these last four years.
Should the government run deficits after a recession? The answer to this, regardless of party, has always been (for my lifetime, anyway), “Yes!” That’s what Bush’s tax cuts were all about: stimulating the economy. The truth of the matter is that the Democrats in these cases are right. In 2007, we should have been reducing the deficit: the economy was good and unemployment was as low as 4.4% that year. In 2011, we should have been increasing the deficit: the economy was poor and unemployment was at 9% for most of the year.
This is a point that most people miss. For example: Matt Yglesias. Not all budget deficits are created equal. As John Maynard Keynes wrote in Collected Writings, “The boom, not the slump, is the right time for austerity at the Treasury.” So if we look at the facts of the situation, the Democrats were right to change their views on the deficit and the Republicans were wrong.
I accept the first fact about this graph: it does indeed show that the more of a news consumer one is, the more one is likely to develop a partisan slant. But the second issue is not proved by these data at all. Indeed, if they show anything along these lines, they show that Republican thought is getting more and more removed from reality.