Does Obviously Wrong Propaganda Work?

Obama 2009 Trump 2019

This is a curious infographic courtesy of GOP Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel. In a tweet, she commented, “Under @realDonaldTrump, our economy is finally working for ALL Americans. Here’s a 10-year challenge you haven’t seen before…”

My first thought was, “There’s a reason why we haven’t seen this before!” This is obvious propaganda — data meant to deceive rather than enlighten.

The Data

The unemployment data are more or less correct. There are problems, however. For example, there is no data for 2019. These numbers were taken from the BLS for December 2018. Not a big deal except that they could not do a direct comparison without 2019 data. Of course, Obama wasn’t president in January 2019 so I suppose it doesn’t matter. The data for Obama is also largely based on the December 2009. So this is really a 9-year comparison, but I guess that doesn’t look as good.

It’s hard to say what is going on with the GDP numbers. For the year of 2009, the real GDP change was -2.5 percent. The data are not available for 2018. However, the real GDP change for 2017 was only 2.2 percent. I assume they are using some non-official estimate.

In Obama’s first year, there were 3.7 million jobs lost. They seem to be using the period Dec 2008 to Dec 2009. There were 1.4 million jobs lost in the first two months of that period (when Bush was still president). There have been roughly 2.6 million jobs created from Dec 2017 to Dec 2018. Since 2010, the economy has been pretty consistent in the number of jobs created.

Obvious Propaganda

Of course, the bigger issue is just that this is a totally ridiculous comparison. Obama took office in the middle of a massive recession. Trump took office during a recovery. This is obvious stuff — even to GOP operatives.

Generally, when people are at all intellectually honest, they compare like years. So it might make some sense to compare 2010 and 2018. But these years are fairly similar and don’t make a stark comparison.

Indeed, the fact that Trump looks so much better in this comparison should cause even Trump supporters to question this. But I doubt it does. And that raises the question of why people accept things like this.

Obviously Wrong Propaganda Works on Some

But this is a partisan issue. As Dean Baker pointed out, after Trump was elected, Democrats rated the economy as good as they did under Obama. But Republicans rated it radically different. Before Trump was elected, only 20 percent rated the economy good. After he was elected, roughly 75 percent rated it as good.

The economy hadn’t changed in a categorical way. It had simply continued to grow as it had before. And this is why I think Republicans fall for this kind of stuff. It doesn’t occur to them to question it since they have no doubt that the economy is vastly improved since Trump. (The number saying the economy was good doubled just due to his election!)

This is not true of Democrats — even when the numbers are cooked to make them look good. Because fundamentally, liberals are not certain about things. This is a defining characteristic: self-analysis and doubt.

More than anything, we know that this kind of propaganda works with conservative voters because conservative elites create it. If they didn’t work, they wouldn’t be created. On the other side of this, liberals don’t pass around garbage like this because liberal voters will not accept it. And in the long-term, they would ignore anyone known to create such propaganda.

Of course, it is also true that Democrats don’t have to present misleading information. The economy does better under Democrats than Republicans. And there are reasons for this.

2 thoughts on “Does Obviously Wrong Propaganda Work?

  1. It’s an evil ad, but I respect good work when I see it, and this is solid stuff. For the supremely gullible, it suggests Obama caused the recession.

    For slightly less easy marks… that’s where some excellent photo-selection comes in. Sure, they know Obama didn’t cause the recession. But he was too wimpy to handle it.

    The Obama image is amazingly-framed. It looks like dark forces are closing in on him, and he has no idea what to do. (That’s actually his “I’m listening to serious stuff” expression, shot from behind what appears to be two other people listening.)

    It’s the Trump photo that’s genius. Stern, yet confident. How hard did somebody have to go through images to find that! When Trump tries to look stern, he comes across pouty. When he goes for confidence, it looks like an ice-cream head rush. Either he was in between expressions at that moment, or tired. The thumbs-up are a bit much, hands on podium would be better, but you take what you can get; there can’t be five pictures in this world where he doesn’t seem like an arrogant dimwit.

    I don’t think I’d be good at writing ad copy for Democrats, but I’d love to do photo selection. “I like this one.” “Uh-uh, Senator — we’re using that one.”

    • But Obama did cause the recession! Also: World War II!

      It is a well-made piece of propaganda. But it says much about conservatism that it isn’t even good enough to bend reality; you have to replace it.

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