The Economy and Birtherism

Andy Borowitz wrote a piece called “In Positive Economic Sign, Republicans Starting to Say Obama Wasn’t Born in US,” and Barry Ritholz writes:

The NYT’s Floyd Norris, on a hunch, decided to crunch them to see if there is any math underlying the funny business. As it turns out, there is: Anyone can check the numbers to see if Borowitz was right — he is.

Then there are these graphs:

And this:

You will note that birther mentions skyrocketed in the spring of 2011, after a run of increasingly good job numbers, and then fell off along with the job numbers later that year.  Now, with the job numbers rising again, so are the birther stories.  So far in March there are 263 articles, putting us on a pace to break the monthly record set in April 2011 when Donald Trump was trying to be the birther candidate.

I like fun correlations as much as the next guy, but there is nothing to see here.  When you download the data, a better graph quickly shows how little is going on here:

The overall relationship, represented by the gray “ALL DATA” line, is really driven by the 2 outlying months, as the orange line makes clear.   (And I’m not even beginning to puzzle here through the implications of using a 3-month average in the jobs numbers, the timing of when new jobs numbers are released viz. when the stories appeared, etc.  All of this likely makes any correlation even less plausible.)

There is no systematic tendency for birther-oriented news to surface when the economy gets better.  More likely is that a few birther-related events—Trump’s candidacy, Obama’s releasing the long-form certification,—generated news in a couple months that happened to see decent jobs numbers.

[Cross-posted at The Monkey Cage]

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John Sides

John Sides is an associate professor of political science at George Washington University.