Politics: Where Subjectivity is King

August 1, 2016

 

 

Subjective vs. Objective

 

One of the most significant and controversial aspects of politics is the difference between subjective and objective information and judgement.  The term subjective is used to describe an issue, a situation, or a state of being whereby a person’s judgement is influenced, either consciously or unconsciously, by their personal opinions, feelings, instincts, and preferences as opposed to being entirely based on observable facts.  The term objective is used to describe an issue, a situation, or a state of being whereby a person’s judgement is not influenced by their personal opinions, feelings, instincts, and preferences but is based solely on observable facts.

 

It is common for members of both parties to portray their personal opinion or their ideological beliefs as objectively true and to claim that all of their points are not just verifiably factual but beyond debate.  However, an enormous portion of political discourse, and particularly rhetoric,  is significantly or even entirely subjective.  The method of government or political party that a person prefers is based on personal opinion comprised of both subjective and objective judgement. Even statistical information and polling data can be highly subjective and misleading.  

 

Providing inaccurate or incomplete data in order to influence public opinion is unfortunately all too common in politics.  Even in the best circumstances and with the best of intentions it is difficult to fully examine all aspects of an issue from an unbiased perspective.  A person may not know which criteria to include or how best to obtain accurate and illuminating data which could result in an incomplete or inaccurate assessment.  Polling data is particularly problematic as the questions, sample, and interpretation are a combination of art and science. The phrasing of polling questions, sample to be included, and the interpretation of the data requires a combination of skill and judgement.

 

As there can be political reasons for wanting to develop data to support a particular viewpoint some significant criteria may be purposely excluded or insignificant or inconclusive criteria may be included.   The phrasing of a polling question is not a prescribed and is easy to write in a way that misleads, represents a biased viewpoint, asks questions designed to produce an expected outcome designed to skew the data, limits or manipulates the sample, or misleads through an inaccurate interpretation of the data, resulting in tainted data and a biased interpretation.

 

In the best circumstances, with the intention of remaining objective, the resulting viewpoint may still be tainted with subjectivity and in the worst circumstances the intention of bolstering a subjective viewpoint may inappropriately impact public opinion and even elections.

 

A perfect example of the political tug of war between objectivity and subjectivity is the unemployment rate.

The Democrats stipulate that the unemployment numbers show that Americans are doing very well and that the Republican Party is mischaracterizing the situation for political gain.

 

In this article by the Washington Post the journalist tries to explain why the American people think that unemployment and the economy are so bad when it isn’t.

 

“For those still convinced that that current 5 percent unemployment rate can't be real, there is this: There is another, arguably better measure. This one captures the officially unemployed; those who are out of work, not looking but want work, or unable to find a full-time job. This number is what federal statisticians call the U-6. Right now it is 9.8 percent.”

 

In this article by MSNBC the unemployment numbers are described as reaching an 8-year low.

 

“The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this morning that the U.S. economy added just 151,000 jobs in January. And while that’s a disappointing figure – which will be revised in the coming months – the overall unemployment rate inched lower to 4.9%, reaching a low last seen in February 2008, exactly eight years ago.

 

While the overall total on job creation fell short, it’s also worth noting that this report pointed to an increase in average hourly earnings, which was quite encouraging.”

 

In this article by MSNBC Speaker Paul Ryan is criticized for not acknowledging the economic success of President Barack Obama for the low unemployment rate and and claims that Ryan would be praising the unemployment rate if Romney had been president.

 

“We can just skip over the fact that, if a President Romney had cut the unemployment rate from 10% to 5%, Ryan would be organizing parades in his honor.”

 

In this article by NBC President Barack Obama touts the number of jobs added and the lowering of the unemployment rate.

 

"‘We should be proud of the progress we have made,’ Obama told reporters during an appearance at the White House press briefing. ‘We have recovered from the worst economic crisis since the 1930s.’

 

U.S. employers added 151,000 jobs in January, a deceleration from recent months as companies shed education, transportation and temporary workers but hired others in manufacturing, retail and food services.

 

The unemployment rate dipped to 4.9 percent, its lowest level since early 2008.”

The Republicans stipulate that the unemployment numbers show that Americans is not doing well and that the Democratic Party is mischaracterizing the situation for political gain.

 

On his radio show Rush Limbaugh accused President Barack Obama and the Democrats of using “sleight of hand” to hide the real unemployment rate.

 

“Likewise, the unemployment rate, there are two numbers they release:  U-3 and U-6...U-3 is what they talk about every day.  U-6 is the real number.  U-3 is the "first-time unemployment," and U-6 is the sum total of everybody, even those who have given up looking for a job, and that number's 15%.  In the African-American community, do you know where that number is? It's at 25%.  And if you even narrow it down to unemployed African-American youth? Whew. Folks, it's so bad as to be obscene.”

 

In this Gallop article the unemployment numbers are criticized for not including the entire unemployed or underemployed population.

 

“...the White House and Wall Street about how unemployment is "down" to 5.6%.”

 

“None of them will tell you this: If you, a family member or anyone is unemployed and has subsequently given up on finding a job -- if you are so hopelessly out of work that you've stopped looking over the past four weeks -- the Department of Labor doesn't count you as unemployed. That's right. While you are as unemployed as one can possibly be, and tragically may never find work again, you are not counted in the figure we see relentlessly in the news -- currently 5.6%”

 

In this Fortune article the unemployment number is accepted as factual information but then explains that provides an incomplete picture.

 

“Far more Americans are stuck in part time jobs than usual, and many Americans have given up on looking for a job altogether, even though they want one. These facts are better captured by the U-6 unemployment rate…”

 

“As you can see, today’s U-6 rate of 9.8% is much higher than it was during the previous two economic expansions. This suggests that many Americans are still struggling to find well-paying, full-time work.

 

All the gains the economy is making are being captured by the already wealthy.”

 

“Sure, GDP per capita has increased by 16% since the recovery, but the median household income has actually declined during that period.

 

Inflation is low, but not for the purchases that matter most.”

 

In this Forbes article the unemployment number is accepted but explains that it should include the labor force participation rate.

 

“When Barack Obama entered office in January, 2009, the labor force participation rate was 65.7%, meaning nearly two-thirds of working age Americans were working or looking for work.”

 

“In the latest, much celebrated, unemployment report, the labor force participation rate had plummeted to 63.7%, the most rapid decline in U.S. history.  That means that under President Obama nearly 5 million Americans have fled the workforce in hopeless despair.”

 

“In January, 2009, 11.6 million Americans were unemployed, with 23% of those unemployed for more than 6 months.  By January, 2012, 12.8 million were unemployed, with 43% of those out of work more than 6 months.

 

At the official end of the recession in June, 2009, America was 12.6 million jobs short of full employment.  By January, 2012, we were 15.2 million jobs short, falling behind by another 244,000 in that month alone.”

Both parties are taking the same available information, selecting which information they consider to be applicable, and then interpreting the data in two entirely different ways.  Both parties consider their perspectives to be objective and their opposition’s perspectives to be entirely subjective and misleading.

 

So which viewpoint is objective and which is subjective, or are they a combination of both?