Conservatives are urging Washington to listen to America.
Tea Party Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and conservative allies have been recently promoting #MakeDCListen on Twitter, and the main narrative is that the elected officials and professionals in Washington D.C. should listen to the rest of the country.
This sounds great, but it's actually a terrible idea. Washington should ignore what Americans think when it comes to economic policy and budget policy.
Because America has no idea what it's talking about.
This week, we published the results of a poll we conducted with our partner, SurveyMonkey.
We asked respondents to estimate the level of certain measures — inflation, job creation, the size of the deficit, and the percent of the country on food stamps. Very few respondents came close.
Americans significantly overestimated the percent of people on food stamps, for example. Most were off by multiple orders of magnitude when asked to estimate the current deficit. The average respondent estimated that the federal minimum wage was about 8% higher than it actually was. Two in five thought the inflation rate was more than three times larger than it actually is. Almost 1 in 4 thought inflation was in the double digits. People had no idea that the country added 2.2 million jobs in the past 12 months. Some even thought we lost jobs.
Walter Hickey / BI, Data via Surveymonkey Audience
Even on the most elemental questions — for instance, "Is the deficit getting bigger or smaller?" — America got it wrong. Almost 70% thought the deficit was getting bigger. It's actually at a 5-year low.
And, as both left-of-center pollster Public Policy Polling and late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel observed, many Americans have no idea that the Affordable Care Act (which they support) and Obamacare (which they oppose) are the same thing.
Under normal circumstances, that would be totally fine.
Most Americans don't need to concern themselves with national economic figures because they don't matter in their daily lives.
But when it comes to making decisions about national economic policy, it helps to start by knowing the facts. So it's insane that Sen. Ted Cruz and his allies are trying to make D.C. listen to people who don't know the facts.
Washington D.C. has more economists per capita than anywhere else in the entire country. So why would we want to make professionals listen to amateurs, especially amateurs who are just guessing?
This is why we have a republic, not a democracy. The whole point of the American system is that most Americans don't have to know this stuff, and instead elect people whom they trust to steer the ship.
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