Economists Speak About the Election

Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, is interested in electing the candidate who will be best for the economy. But along the way he has learned the iron law of the political marketplace: there is an excess supply of political blowhards, and there are far too few unbiased experts. Even worse, it is hard to sort out just who is an expert and who is a blowhard.

But Scott had an ingenious insight: an anonymous survey of leading economists might yield an unbiased snapshot of the opinions of professional economists. He paid a survey company to survey over 500 members of the American Economic Association, and he just released the findings.

The headline: Overall, 59 percent of his respondents think Obama would be best for the economy’s long-term prospects, compared to 31 percent for McCain, while 10 percent thought there would be no difference.

Some might argue that these results aren’t too surprising, given that 48 percent of the sample are registered Democrats, compared to the 17 percent registered as Republicans. As such, it might be more interesting to focus on the independents, who chose Obama by a margin of 46 percent to 39 percent.

The most important issues? According to the economists surveyed, the top four issues are education, health care, international trade, and energy. They expect Obama will do a better job on education, health care, and energy, but they give the nod to McCain on international trade. I was surprised to see that “reducing the deficit” ranked so low on the list, but perhaps that reflects the myriad of other concerns currently on the agenda.

There’s another very nice finding in this survey: economists’ views on the candidates are not really shaped by their incomes. Hopefully this suggests that we are able to see beyond pure self interest.

You can read more from Scott Adams here or see his own interpretation here. You can also view the raw data in this PowerPoint deck.

And a personal aside: Great work, Scott! I really admire someone willing to learn what the experts have to say, even in those cases where the experts are at odds with his own beliefs. (Scott confesses that on “social issues, I lean Libertarian, minus the crazy stuff. Money-wise, I can’t support a candidate who promises to tax the bejeezus out of my bracket.”) And I also really admire someone willing to spend his own nickel to put useful information into the public domain.

Of course, this is only useful information if you think that we economists have something useful to add.


The below paragraph comes from an article I found on the internet when I googled “Obama and the Kenya Elections”, go to the weblink below for the full story.

Clearly, Obama campaigned for someone who is corrupt, ruthless and has financial ties to terrorists. More importantly, Obama campaigned for a candidate who had the stated objective of dismantling US & Kenyan government efforts to root out Al Queda and other terrorist organizations. Organizations that had already caused the deaths of hundreds of Americans and Africans in embassy bombings. Senator Obama’s actions—intentional or not—were in direct conflict with the efforts and interests of US national security. I think this raises serious questions about the judgment, maturity and readiness of Senator Obama.

Truth here? Shouldn't this be common knowledge among Americans if it has any shred of truth?



Aren't you paying attention?

We cannot accurately predict much of anything. Remember LTCM, AIG, LEH -- how did their 'predictions' do? Remember how the voters 'predicted' (twice!) that GWB would prove competent? Remember the nonsense books that forecast the DOW at 50,000 or oil at $200/barrel by the end of this year.

Predicting who is going to be better for the economy accomplishes as much as debating the number of angels dancing on a pinhead. It's fun. It's entertaining. It's silly and as productive as watching professional wrestling.

Guys, it's time to re-read Taleb's The Black Swan.


@Chesapean, respectfully,

If you think Barack Obama is a socialist you're either a moron or have no idea what socialism is, and just think it's anything which dares to suggest that maybe, just maybe, leaving the poor to die in the street is a bad idea.


First, I'd really like to see a blog here that rigorously evaluates the merit, methods, and structure of this survey.

Second, Scott Adams in multiple points made it clear that economists favoring one party sided with their candidate in a clear division. It seems to me he addressed this superficially, from the wrong angle, or not at all. What I find interesting, in hindsight, is that this could be a (possibly subconscious) Prisoner's Dilemma, in that knowing this survey would be published with the intent of "informing" voters, there is the issue of "crossing party lines" as Scott puts it. The best thing for everyone is for all surveyed to be 100% honest/unbiased, but doing so could be detrimental to your party if everyone isn't equally critical of their own candidate. If this were in fact a form of the Prisoner's Dilemma, wouldn't that invalidate the whole survey entirely? Maybe all those surveyed should have been "independents".



I wonder how many of these economists would vote for Karl Marx over Friedrich Hayek.

#9 You're EXACTLY right. If I wanted a president in office who was to have some absurd control not granted to them by the constitution over things that the market should control and not a president then maybe I would vote for Obama.

If someone came out and said, "I'm not going to do a whole lot as president" I would be highly inclined to vote for them.

Eric Zitzewitz

It is interesting that Adams' writeup focused on the "who is best for the long-term" question, in which independents favored Obama 46-39 (slide 75). When asked who they supported, independents favored Obama 60-33 (slide 18).

Why the difference? Social issues?


According to the article, Obama appears to be more beneficial for the economy. However, due to the skewed results (I mean, c'mon, can we seriously take this information seriously when the results come from such a biased group, w/ 48% of the surveyed being registered Democrats, and only 17% are registered Republicans?), this might be questionable. Certainly, McCain's beliefs that reducing taxes on major corporations and keeping taxes the way they are among the middle and working class people of America will clash with, well, most of America. In this case, anyone you ask who is in this sector, AND democrat will likely say Obama is better.

Alltogether, I do indeed believe that Obama would be better for the economy in the long-run, since more money in the pockets of middle-class America means more money flowing through the economy of the majority of the nation. Relying on major corporations to keep the nation afloat is, sadly, not the way to go.



#6 "In all seriousness, ...leading financial advisers, not economists?" - um, aren't many of those the ones that got us into the financial mess we are currently trying to get out of? Many of those have proven to be the "neocons" of the economic world - assuming that their models of behavior are accurate enough to experiment with the real world (war in iraq, bundling risky loans to make more palatable, heavy deregulation, etc). The problem with many of those advisers is that they are advising what to do based on their own beliefs (or herd mentality or "conventional wisdom"). Many of the economists are more content to study what has worked and not, often in contradiction to conventional wisdom.


I answer, "neither."

Blind ideology has not served us well.

And the stark choice is between that and nuance.


Hey James A:

To answer your question, maybe the economists know that Obama does not want to "control" these areas but actually has a better plan to address these issues.

Punditus Maximus

The "Trade" issue struck me as bizarre. What's the huge problem facing us there?


Here is an interesting, although very shallow analysis of the effect of Republican and Democratic administrations on the economy. The more interesting statistics are average real change in GDP, average rate of inflation, and average rate of unemployment. The other statistics provided are worthless. This is not completely convincing, but worth considering and commenting on.

Kit Allen

Prediction: Obama will win popular vote ; McCain will win Electoral college.

— Posted by William

Ugh. That's what I'm afraid of.


Although it would have been nice to get more details on which specific approaches they think would matter, it is interesting how much their view of what is most broken informs their view of which candidate would do better. That is, if they view health care as important, they would not favor McCain at all. There seem few items that have even distribution.

So, I am not sure that this would lead to being able to ask specific policies, since most policies cannot be in a vacuum.

As we likely all know now, lowering taxes for the very wealthiest and deregulating many industries (or ignoring enforcement), starting two wars means economic disaster, as we are seeing today. Hard to know if a better combination would work. McCain's plan seems to be similar to the Bush model, but slightly more balanced tax cuts, perhaps more regulation of the financial sector (or so he now says, not what he said last year), continuation of the war in Iraq (no matter what the Iraqis or the military says), and taxes on employee health care to somehow fix the health care mess. Likewise, Obama is planning on a set of policies that mix together, such as tax cuts to the middle class, tax rise to the wealthiest, unclear on corp taxes, more regulation of multiple sectors, a health care policy (not a "pay everything" as some have claimed, but an attempt to get health care available to more people), a phased withdrawal from Iraq, and other policies - some costing more and some costing less. Both are probably fiction, in part because no president every gets exactly what they want through congress (even with same party).

In any case, the real point of this is that it does say that rather than specific policy, this is really about what you consider the most important objectives are.


a student of Economics

It's interesting that the independent economists favored Obama over McCain. The survey also showed that Democratic economists favored Obama more than GOP economists favored McCain.

However, it's also striking that so few economists favor Republican policies in general. Rather than discounting this fact as you do, it seems like it's one of the most important pieces of information from the survey. Professional economists overwhelmingly believe that the Democratic policies are better for the economy.

Shouldn't this fact get more attention as the "lipstick on a pig" brouhaha, especially when we're in the midst of serious economic crisis?

Mark B,


Research has suggested several times in several different and diverse samples that a) belief in the free market is partially driven by self-deception and b) conservatives are generally happier than liberals, but this relationship is driven a denial of inequality in the world (if you would like citations for either of these, I can pull them up. They are in peer-reviewed journals, so there are not links to websites).

Thomas Sowell's conclusions are based only on opinions and not upon facts. His historical analysis is simplified and woefully insufficient to make the conclusions he attempts to make. Denial (or flat out ignorance) of research is not a sufficient reason to make an argument to suggest why academics become liberals. In fact, his dismissal of Marx is the same question that many many socialists and communists have been asking for many many years (check out the Gramsci, for example). Research from this area suggests that conservative/authoritarian ideologies provide a psychological salve for threats (economic, status, self, etc.).


James A

"They expect Obama will do a better job on education, health care, and energy, but they give the nod to McCain on international trade."

How could someone who wants the government to control all 3 seriously be expected to be better than free market capitalism? What are those economist smoking? Somehow, I think there is still personal bias in this survey.


It's nice to believe that when we arrive average of all professional opinions there lies a nonpartisan, substantiated truth. However, if we average what everyone in the United States would prefer to watch on television at a given moment, I'm sure the result wouldn't be something that I'd want to watch (see 'stuff we weren't paid to endorse' #1)


@realist, respectfully,

Voters this election must choose between a socialist and a capitalist. The choice is as stark as that.

I ask, Do we want socialism or capitalism from our leaders?



Just another plug for an author.