I was surprised at how little attention my Dilbert Survey of Economists got from the media. It did well on the Internet, finding a prominent place on CNN.com, then getting picked up by Reuters, BusinessWire, MarketWatch.com, Yahoo, Dilbert.com obviously, and tons of blogs. But it didn't get any play with television, radio, or newspapers. Why not?

Several people with knowledge of the media told me the survey "wasn't biased enough." Democrats and Republicans in the survey mostly stuck to the party line. Obama had the most support from economists, by far, but there are more Democratic economists in the country, and in the survey, also by far. To my knowledge, no one has ever studied why that is.

Today the headlines tell us that Obama is pulling ahead in the polls because likely voters have more confidence that he can handle the economic crisis compared to McCain.


In other words, public opinion is starting to line up with the opinion of economists. Did the Dilbert Survey of Economists have any impact on that move?

The biggest reason for the move in the polls probably has to do with McCain's support of Republican policies that are widely seen as the source of the problem.

Second, the financial problem is complicated. The only thing we ignorant voters know for sure is that we want someone with a high IQ to sort out this mess on our behalf. No matter how much you love McCain's philosophy, track record, moral compass, common sense, or anything else about him, he doesn't come close to Obama in pure brain power. For most issues, that probably doesn't make much difference. For an issue of this complexity, it might.

Third, I think the Dilbert Survey of Economists probably had some impact, at least with the free thinkers of the Internet. A lot of people, including me, assumed before the survey that most professional economists would lean Republican. The fact that so many economists are Democrats, and support Obama, is both a surprise and hard to ignore.

I wouldn't have funded the survey if I didn't have this blog. And I wouldn't have this blog if people didn't leave comments. So if the Dilbert Survey of Economists ends up changing the world, and you have ever left a comment here, you were part of something important.

Rank Up Rank Down Votes:  +7
  • Print
  • Share


Sort By:
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 24, 2008
I've noticed that political party affiliation follows income class in most areas. Higher income households tend to lean republican (since republicans tax the rich less) and lower income households tend to lean democrat (since democrats tax the poor less). Since so many of the economists surveyed were democrats, one can assume that a large percentage of these economists are in lower income classes and therefore must not be very good at their job. Otherwise, they would advance in their careers until they enter the higher income level and would most likely change their party affiliation to the one that will tax their household the least. There is always the outside chance that an economist would accept higher personal taxes to vote for the president that is perceived to be better for the country, but those economists would likely be few in number. You can count on the vast majority of people to vote for their wallet.
Sep 24, 2008
When you view the polls you have to remember the media is totally in the bag for Obama. Look behind the numbers. the latest one had a small pool, under 800, more democrats and was weighted beyond the actual percentages in the overall population with black. They are trying to manipulate public opinion and sadly they will probably succeed because people are more interested in being part of the group than they are in making an informed choice, I think this point was made by cindywho.
Muppet , You are a mean little man. If you don't like a canidate that is fine but make it on policy or record not on name calling. Your comment makes me hope you aren't old enough to vote because you obviously aren't mature enough
Sep 24, 2008
I'm from Argentina (thus the oh-so-witty nick), and i've been following the survey very closely. i even read most of the comments made on the blog; and of course read the whole study with an economist friend i happen to imprison in my cellar for these special occasions.

It's outstanding all i have leanrt, and i was quite surprised with some results, for exapmle, i was surprised with the economics being democrats, as well as you. this fact outerspaces me; and i still can't get around it.

i do have to thank you because thanks to that i'm following more closely the elections and understanding A LITTLE more.

I'm surprised how similar are some of the problems you have, to ours. in our case the problem is QUITE bigger, but it is interesting... manipulation of the media, and lack of information specially.
Sep 24, 2008
Re. Fixing the problem. The Wall Street types have plenty of IQ. What they don't have is ethics.
Sep 24, 2008
I don't mean to sound unappreciative, but the survey of economists was a bit of a let-down. Unfortunately, I have a very low opinion of "academia" and the majority of economists that you surveyed basically live outside of the "productive" and "oppressive" world that real people live in.

Along with most people, I find it frustrating that my day requires me to wake up around 6:30am, whereupon one career-related obligation after another consumes my day until 7:00pm. From this point, it's dinner, helping the kids with homework, getting in my 30 minutes of quality time with the kids each day, bedtime stories, and... circa 8:30pm or 9:00pm I can spend an hour or so doing one of my personal projects -- unless I choose to be a good husband that evening and spend my time with my wife.

A professor at a college just doesn't live that same life. He has a remarkable amount of freedom and free time, if he's like the college professors I know. I sacrifice my time to make money, and a professor sacrifices money to have time. An economist who's chosen time over money may have weird perspectives on the economy and on wealth.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 24, 2008

It is actually very simple - your survey, while honorable and well intentioned, was nothing more than a Gallup poll of a very focused survey set (economists). Additionally, the survey took place prior to the VP picks which clearly influenced "opinion" post facto. I suspect your work was filed away with the same significance as a weekly survey of potential voters. Interesting in the moment, but when things (the VP pick), the data was dated and had lost its shelf life.

Theory #2: Your work was viewed in much the same way a survey of physicians would have been on medical issues the country is facing - curious, but of little significance until their opinion impacts my wallet.

All of the posturing, finger pointing and conspiracy theorists of the above pundits is meaningless and of little interest except for the very few. In fact, I suspect your opinion, due to your clear & rational thinking (for the most part, ha!) is significantly more interesting to the masses than any survey of any "professional." Scary, ain't it!!!

Sep 24, 2008
Most of the comments on this topic have been "Go Obama" or "McCain!". Only a couple touched on "why not more media attention?". Here are a couple of my thoughts:

1. Media is lazy. If you didn't send them a pre-written article in the format they like, most reporters wouldn't have had the time to read, synthesize, and write their own reports or articles.
2. Media are lazy. If the can't pull up last year's story and just plug in the new bits from this year, they are reluctant to create a new story from scratch.
3. Media are not creative. A story about Scott Adams from Dilbert fame, is ok, as long as you are doing something they can communicate easily ("Watch Scott Adams deliver a pointy-haired boss award to the "worst-boss in America!"). Having to explain why Scott Adams of Dilbert fame spent money on doing a survey of economists views on the economic policies of Presidential candidates, and he didn't play it for laughs? Too weird.

If you do this again:

Get the article written for the newspapers (not just a press release) do the hard work and synthesize a couple of points that are interesting. Gallup polls ask many questions, but their articles are "Dude's winning 51%".

Build on the brand awareness you have and try to extend it to this activity. "The second presidential Dilbert poll of economists". Tie some of the results into your fame "McGruff's campaign earns the Catbert's Evil HR Director Award of excellence this year for his platform advocating government employees should eat their own lunch waste for dinner". "John Green takes the "Fist of Death" award with nearly 68% approval rating for his proposal for parking reform".
Sep 24, 2008
I think one of the biggest reasons why it didn't get more media play was that your voice is out.

A media agency (esp. TV and radio) would want to put a human face on the survey; the easiest way to do that is to interview you, and have you present the results.to the audience.

But you couldn't do interviews. Like you said in a different blog, timing is everything.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 24, 2008
Oh, and on the current situation...

Is it right to simply blame Bush, and ostensibly, capitalism for this, as Barack Obama is doing? They've been trying to get legislation passed since 2002 about oversight of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. And the biggest piece of deregulation involved in this mess, the repeal of Glass-Steagall, was pushed by Republicans in Congress, but ultimately signed (not vetoed) by Bill Clinton. The biggest piece of REGULATION we've seen since 1998 (when the ball got rolling towards this crisis) was Sarbannes-Oxley in 2002, passed overwhelmingly by both parties in Congress, and signed by George W. Bush.

A list of all the times Bush tried to push for oversight over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but was ultimately stopped by Congress (namely, Chris Dodd and Barney Frank) is here:


This also wasn't a result of "McCain deregulation." In 2006, McCain, co-sponsoring a bill that would provide additional oversight over Fannie and Freddie. said the following:

"For years I have been concerned about the regulatory structure that governs Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac–known as Government-sponsored !$%*!$%* or GSEs–and the sheer magnitude of these companies and the role they play in the housing market. OFHEO’s report this week does nothing to ease these concerns. In fact, the report does quite the contrary. OFHEO’s report solidifies my view that the GSEs need to be reformed without delay. I join as a cosponsor of the Federal Housing Enterprise Regulatory Reform Act of 2005, S. 190, to underscore my support for quick passage of GSE regulatory reform legislation. If Congress does not act, American taxpayers will continue to be exposed to the enormous risk that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac pose to the housing market, the overall financial system, and the economy as a whole."

Then, the Democrats in Congress (again, namely Dodd [chairman of the Senate Finance and Banking Committee] and Frank) killed the bill in committee, and it never made it to the floor for a vote.

This whole, "Bush is the president, the economy's bad, so therefore Bush screwed up the economy" is so shallow and simplistic that I don't know how long the public will actually buy it. Similarly, the "deregulation caused the problem, McCain is a Republican, McCain caused the deregulation, McCain caused the problem" is equally shallow and simplistic.

Simply saying "deregulation caused the problem" isn't true. Fannie and Freddie caused the problem. And they were controlled by the government. Have you ever wondered why we need oversight on all these government agencies? It's because they're all crooked as a barrel of snakes. We should oversee the current problems in the government, and seek their assistance in getting us out of this hole, but the last thing we should do is give them any more power than they already have.
Sep 24, 2008
It thought to watch TV anymore. I have not watched one political news story on any of the candidates. they twist comments and try to spin things to really get people emotionally involved. The media doesn't want us to think. Its all emotion.

My vote will have to be based on the debates only. Sad but its the only forum I trust to get a clear picture of the candidates.

Thanks for trying to make a real difference in our understanding of the issues. Wish more people would do the same.
Sep 24, 2008
Sweet! I always wanted to be a part of something
Sep 24, 2008
I would like to see a study as to why the most economists are democrats. I am confident that the survey would have garnered more light from the media if it's results had been more polarizing.

It is amazing to me that the voters sway based on the issue of the moment rather than the underlying greater issues. I don't know if either Presidential candidate has the brain power to comprehend, and find a solution for, the current financial situation. I hope they do.

With education as the #1 financial issue as ranked by the economists I am curious how either candidates policies on educational funding would make a dent in the current financial crisis. To me, the very ranking the surveyed economists provided discredited the rest of the data the survey produced.
-3 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 24, 2008
My co-workers and I eagerly awaited the results of the poll and found them interesting and useful. That the standard news media outlets didn't see fit to cover them just shows how out of touch they are, much like certain politicians.
Sep 24, 2008
Scott -

Your logic is inexorably flawed. Most people would agree that most of Wall Street is run by extremely smart people, yet very few of the firms (Goldman Sachs was one) saw what the implications of overly aggressive lending and securitization practices would be if monetary policy became tight and the housing bubble burst, therefore your implication that Obama is smarter than McCain would only show that he is less likely to be able to put the country on a path that would be better financially. Besides, the President has 0 to do with situations that the economy is in now, and more to do with administration, appointees, and Congress. Presidents tend to put fairly non-partisan people in positions like Fed chair and Sec of Treasury, people who have working experience of economics and business already, so the variance between parties is fairly minimal (ex: Clinton kept Greenspan on as Fed chairman.)

A presidential decision shouldn't be based on who might be better to take us out of the current crisis as a President would never make those types of decisions or matter to any serious degree. However, long term taxation and spending plans are something the President matters with a lot more, so anyone changing their likely vote based on recent events has proven themselves to not being capable to comprehend economics or politics.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 24, 2008
I took economics in College (just a BS degree). I also believed that most economists were republican (as I and all economists I know are republican). Actually I thought most Economists would be Libertarian in their leanings, as economics is so much about the free market.

The results were surprising to me, and I am looking more into what "Democratic" economists say.

I do think your survey was perhaps biased a bit in that you only included McCain and Obama. I think including a Ron Paul/ Bob Barr, even though they have no chance to win, would have been helpful as they would have represented total free market.

If most economists still lean democrat, even with a pure free market option in the survey, does that mean economists don't believe in Adam Smith, and the Invisible hand? Are they just preachers for a religion they don't believe in themeselves?

It would have been interesting to see.

Anyway, thank you for your multiple endeavors, even though they haven't all panned out. I enjoyed the survey, it has altered my world view. I enjoyed the Dilbert Cartoon, and I still watch it on Hulu.com (I hope they are paying you). I also found a set of Dilbert comics set up in 3-D on the net somewhere. I enjoyed those too, even though I never saw them anywhere professional.

Best of luck in the future affecting the world...
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 24, 2008
"there are more Democratic economists in the country, and in the survey, also by far. To my knowledge, no one has ever studied why that is."

Most economists are in academe. The vast majority of those in academe are democrats. They are a self-selecting group. This subject has been studied.
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 24, 2008
"The fact that so many economists are Democrats, and support Obama, is both a surprise and hard to ignore."

I'm sorry, I just can't continue to let this one slide. Economists are a bunch of academics. Anyone with a college degree from a 4 year university can tell you how overwhelmingly liberal professors tend to be. This goes for nearly every department, except maybe science and engineering. Economists don't know more about the economy than Steve Forbes, a man who's called the Obama plan a disaster. One major difference between Steve Forbes and an average economist is that Steve Forbes makes his living in the private sector, whereas economists rely on government funds for their salaries.

"Workers" are conservative, "thinkers" are liberal. This is basically how it works. Economists are thinkers. People who are equally knowledgeable about the economy, yet were not surveyed and thus not represented your study, who work in the private sector tend to be workers.

"Obama had the most support from economists, by far, but there are more Democratic economists in the country, and in the survey, also by far. To my knowledge, no one has ever studied why that is."

I've linked to this before, but it's appropriate here. The Von Mises Institute did a report on why intellectuals still subscribe to an economic theory (socialism) that really hasn't worked anywhere it's been tried.


It's a chicken and egg thing. Economists aren't liberal because of what they learned. They were already liberal, and viewed their subject through that lens when they studied economics.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 24, 2008
Props to you for trying something. I think a big problem is that news no longer finds news to be sexy. They like telling you what they think is going to happen, not what has happened and why. What we see should be called prediction analysis. On a good day we get told about what is happening now.

I think the most important quality of a president is to be able to recognize talent and put it to use. Bill Clinton did a wonderful job at putting talented people in positions where they could do things. Bush has been a lot less effective with this. The second most important quality is to be able to take large amounts of abstract advice and to make big decision on direction. The third most important is to be able to get other people working in the same direction we are.
+7 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 24, 2008
"Today the headlines tell us that Obama is pulling ahead in the polls because likely voters have more confidence that he can handle the economic crisis compared to McCain."

Based on what though, isn't it a Democratically controlled Congress right now? Do you feel that a President has more influence on our economy or does Congress? I don't think Obama can vote "present" on this one, we need someone who has been able to form an opinion and not just vote "present" every time so you can't point to his record on anything and use it against him.

Obama to me has the feeling of a boy band, it's like the Dems picked this charismatic speaker and groomed him and kept him out of harms way planning all along that he would be the one to take the presidency back. He's doesn't have any accomplishments to speak of, his only redeeming quality is he doesn't stutter and stammer, that is, until you take the teleprompter away. He's a studio creation.

I'm not loving the choice of McCain either, but at least he's got a record of working with both sides of the aisle and he's got relationships with both parties. Hopefully that will spell out Congress working together instead of the same party line "I don't like it because it wasn't my idea" stuff we've been dealing with for so long now.
Sep 24, 2008
"The only thing we ignorant voters know for sure is that we want someone with a high IQ to sort out this mess on our behalf."

I'm not sure the evidence bears this out.
Get the new Dilbert app!
Old Dilbert Blog