Statistics: The Playthings Of Politicians

Posted on: 24/09/2012

The Presidential election in the United States gives an invaluable insight into how politicians use - or misuse - statistics.

First, let's look at President Obama's statistical whimsies.

Jobs are a big issue for the President, though of course an even bigger one for those who don't have any work.

Understandable, therefore, that the President and his supporters would want to boast of a statistic "in the last 29 months, my policies have created 4.5 million private sector jobs".  Yes, it is true that 4.5 million private sector jobs have emerged in the last 29 months.  However, there are still fewer private sector jobs in the States than when the President was elected AND in the meantime hundreds of thousands of public sector posts have been eliminated.

The net result?  There are fewer jobs in the United States now than there were 4 years ago.  NOT A STATISTIC LIKELY TO STIR THE VOTERS TO VOTE FOR THE INCUMBENT!

Let's turn to Mitt Romney, the Republican who would be King, if you see what I mean!  Mr Romney last week told a mass meeting of potential donors to his election campaign that "46% of Americans don't pay income tax".  He went on to imply that such people live on State Benefits and would not vote for him because he would seek to reduce such benefits.  What Mitt Romney failed to mention is that 60% of those not paying income tax are in jobs.  They are therefore subject to payroll taxes which help fund State Benefits and healthcare programmes.  Of the remaining circa 16% of US adults not paying income tax, around half are retired or pensioners.

So only around 8% of the American adult population are unemployed and receiving State Benefits.  Rather a long way from Mr Romney's headline grabbing "46%" statistic!

Whilst President and his challenger often disagree, one area of apparent accord is in relation to what "middle class" households earn.  Both men have at various times indicated they believe an annual household income of between $200,000 and $250,000 is "average".

In fact, only 3% of households in the US enjoy incomes above $250,000.

So the President and Mr Romney are really addressing the rich, not the middle classes.  Or put another way, they both over-estimate the wealth of their fellow Americans.

If you are concerned that men seeking the highest political office on the planet are so shakey on their figures, don't be.  Statistically, it doesn't matter!

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