The case for the Sanders revolution

Bernie-Revolution-aBernie Sanders is calling for a political revolution. Is there evidence to demonstrate that his “revolution” is needed? And why is the Sanders revolution proving to be more attractive to some voters than Hillary Clinton’s focus on “improving what he have?”

There is considerable evidence in the FY 2017 budget that President Obama just submitted to Congress that the American economy is doing well. Republicans seem to collectively have astigmatisms in both eyes considering how blurred their vision of reality is.

Consider how job growth has changed from 2009 (President Obama’s first year, still in the hangover from the Bush years) through 2015:

Job-Creation

Related to that is how unemployment has fallen during the Obama Administration:

UnemploymentRepublicans are always harping on the federal deficit, but the rate of growth has consistently fallen through the Obama Administration (as it did during the Bill Clinton years):

DeficitTo be fair, and to raise a question that Democrats tend to avoid: “has the ‘do-nothing’ nature of the Republican-controlled recent Congresses had anything to do with the sustained growth?” It’s interesting because if it is true, there do not seem to be any Republicans who claim any credit for their role in the growth. This stands in stark contrast to the growth during the Bill Clinton years. If you listen to John Kasich and Newt Gingrich, you would think that their roles as Republicans in Congress were the determining factors in the growth.

The charts above depict certain aspects of the macro-economy. That means how we are doing collectively (I guess that we can now thankfully use that word, courtesy of Bernie). What the charts do not show is the micro-economy – how individuals, families, and small businesses are presently doing.

One way to get a sense of how the economy is working at the grass roots level is to test the mood, or the forecasts of individuals. Using data from the recent December, 2015 CNN/ORC poll, it is clear that the American people are of mixed minds when it comes to how the economy is working for them.

How do you rate the economic conditions in the country today – as very good, somewhat good, somewhat poor or very poor?

Econ-Conditions-CurrentWhat leads to further questions is how the lack of optimism crosses economic and educational levels:

Econ-Conditions-Current-Sub-groupsWhat is interesting here is how the percentages for every single sub-group, with the one exception of college grads who rate economic conditions as “somewhat good,” is within the margin of error, compared to the total column. This indicates that despite the rosy macro numbers, there is no mandate for optimism from citizens. While this pattern has been true for most of the 2000s, it has not always been that way. Take a look at the figures from July of 1998, when Bill Clinton was president:

Clinton-yearsTake a look at the “Total good” and “Total poor” columns. They seem inconceivable today. Interestingly enough, the “Total good” figure nearly two years later, in June, 2000, was 85%. It makes it hard to believe that Al Gore won the popular election that year by only a half-million votes.

Two of the bellwether questions about how the economy is doing are:

  1. Do you believe that you are economically better off than your parents at this stage of their lives?
  2. So you believe that your children will be economically better off than you?

Occasional Planet asked those questions in a recent survey* and here are the results:

Better-off

There are two main conclusions from this chart:

  1. None of the bars rises to the 50% level. That means that people do not feel that things “are better” or “will get better.”
  2. There is a high degree of uncertainty (42%) about whether or not their children will be better off than they.

The apparent pessimism may be due in part to the lack of growth of “real wages” (wages adjusted for the cost of living) since 1998, the latter part of the Bill Clinton administration:

Real-WagesWhat we can conclude from all this data is:

  1. The American public’s current views about the economy are much less optimistic than they were at the end of President Bill Clinton’s second term.
  2. There is pessimism and uncertainty about the prospects for prosperity for our next generation of adults.
  3. Despite macro successes, the policies of President Obama and the largely Republican congresses for the past four terms have not really generated confidence among the populace.
  4. Perhaps most importantly, the Obama years have not created growth in real earnings for middle and low-income people.

This is in part why Bernie Sanders’ talk of a “revolution” may be more attractive to some voters than Hillary Clinton’s talk of “improving what we have.”

*Occasional Planet interviewed 550 Americans on January 14-15, 2016, using the services of the online-site Survey Monkey. The sample size is reliable +/- 4.5%, 95% of the time. It is demographically balanced by gender, ethnicity, age, income and geographic region.

 

  • Stacy Mergenthal

    Great questions. As you pointed out with the last chart, the problem with just looking at the number of jobs is that it doesn’t take into account the quality of those jobs. Were 14 million minimum/poverty wage jobs added to the economy? What percentage of them were livable wage jobs?

    We know that education and/or training can affect jobs, that college is not affordable for most, that fewer and fewer employers offer job training, that more and more employers expect new hires to be highly educated AND highly experienced, that livable wage jobs are hard to come by even with the right combination of education and training, that the quality of education is declining at nearly every level while becoming more expensive…

    We know that the wealthy are getting wealthier while the rest of us get poorer and that isn’t just a coincidence. We know that the people responsible for some of our country’s worst economic disasters have not been brought to justice, but our prison population is the largest in the world; our prisons filled to over capacity with non-violent offenders and others who shouldn’t be there but criminal bankers aren’t among their ranks. We know there is a justice system for the poor and one for the wealthy.

    We know that big corporations are destroying our planet virtually unchecked, and even after spilling millions of barrels of crude oil or poisoning entire ecosystems or causing earthquakes with fracking, they are free to continue their destructive behavior, making trillions of dollars in profit.

    We know that trillions of dollars are “missing” and go untaxed, that it isn’t a coincidence either. We know that moneyed interests rule, that we live in an oligarchy. We know that patching up the status quo isn’t working for the vast majority of us. We know that the establishment must go so that we may live.

    We know that nothing short of a revolution will accomplish what the people need. We know. The revolution has begun.

  • Arthur Lieber

    Stacy, you say it so well. Thanks so much for commenting. There will be more to come on this and related topics.