Romney’s Truth that tells a Lie

So, no surprise, Mitt wins big last night in Nevada. He carries 91% of the 26% of the caucus goers who are Mormons, so that helps him carry overlapping categories like “extremely conservative” and “strong tea party supporter” too. But he also carries Evangelicals, so its pretty much a clean sweep for him of the extreme right of an extremely right wing Nevada Republican electorate.

More interesting were his victory remarks. You see him trying out Pavlovian culture war phrases for the Revanchist base, e.g. references to Obama’s “colleagues in the faculty lounge.” He’s not good at that–he doesn’t have the sheer ferocity required for it.

They key move he made in the speech, however, as Jonathan Chait predicted the other day, is a doubling down on hyping bad economic news and hoping that it stays bad. Last night–knowing that a decline to 8.3% unemployment was, while not good, clearly an improvement–he shifted his gaze to what economists call the u6 employment rate. The u6 is the measure, not only of the unemployed, but of those who have stopped looking for work, and those who want full time work, but who are working part time hours. It’s certainly an important metric, and, by definition, it’s always substantially higher than the unemployment rate proper.

So Romney correctly told the crowd that the “real” unemployment rate is “over 15%.” And he’s right. It’s 15.1% which is very high. Over 15% obviously sounds a lot worse than 8.3%, and suddenly introducing it into a discussion with regular voters enables Romney to play the unlikely role of “truth teller.” And talking about a “real” anything is always a nice touch for Republicans when referencing Obama because it implies that somehow Obama and the Democrats have been giving the country cooked figures or something. “Real? The guy faked his own birth certificate–he’s going to tell the country what the “real” unemployment numbers are??!”

But, as you can see in this chart, the u6 almost always perfectly tracks the conventional (u3) unemployment measure. It’s dropped from a high of 17.4%, at the height of the recession in 2009, and, like the u3, it also declined this month from last month’s 15.2%. So, as you would expect during a slow, sluggish, but continued recovery, it just keeps going down, just like the typical unemployment rate.

And that’s shows the limits of the “hype the bad news” Romney strategy. Now that he’s told the country about the u6 and started his baseline at “over 15%”, any decline below that number is going to look, by comparison, like a hoped for improvement. Than what does he do?

Nope, even the most clever rhetoric won’t work. What Romney really needs is the the unlikely duo of Merkel and Netanyahu to really wreck the world’s economy. Keep you fingers crossed, Mitt!