Tis the season for conservative, crackpot, conspiracy theories. From poll numbers they don't like to—today—economic data that displeases them, elements of the conservative coalition (including some high profile ones) are seeing, and loudly proclaiming, conspiracy after conspiracy to re-elect the president. Which leads to the question: Have conservatives gone nuts?
Take today's unemployment data. The private sector created 114,000 news jobs last month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which also revised upward its estimates from July and August by 86,000 jobs. That all netted out to a 0.3 percent drop in the unemployment rate, from 8.1 percent to 7.8 percent. This is good for the country and so has the salutary effect of being good for the Obama re-election effort. It is also bad for some conservatives' relationship with reality.
Quite simply the unexpected good news prompted some on the right to skip past, "huh?" or even "huh" and go straight to cries of "conspiracy!" Think Progress rounds up some of the conspiracy theory reaction: Former GE CEO Jack Welch tweeted that "these Chicago guys will do anything … can't debate so change numbers;" Tea Party darling Rep. Allen West of Florida agrees with Welch that "Chicago style politics is at work here"; Fox News's Eric Bolling suggests "something far more insideous" [sic]; Americans for Limited Government put out a release that "the conclusions are obvious" that the numbers were cooked; CNBC's Rick Santelli, who essentially ignited the Tea Party movement long ago, nodded in the fudged numbers direction; and Laura Ingraham described the labor data as "total pro-Obama propaganda." Of course in the same tweet she says that labor-force participation is at a 30 year low, which would presumably make the data only partial pro-Obama propaganda. Fox News (of course) asked, "Is the number real?" My favorite conspiracy comes from the Washington Examiner's Conn Carroll who tweeted, apparently seriously, that while he doesn't think the jobs data was "cooked," he does suspect that a "bunch of Dems lied about getting jobs. That would have same effect." Rrrrrright.
For what it's worth, my colleague Rick Newman pretty neatly explains why the conspiracies are nuts:
It's hard to imagine how the dozens of career staffers who conduct the surveys that generate the monthly jobs report could all be in Obama's pocket, with nobody breaking ranks to blow the whistle. Besides, these reports tend to be volatile, with later revisions that often show earlier numbers to have been significantly off.
Beyond that, if Obama cooked the numbers, he did a lousy job. The improvement in the unemployment rate sounds good, but on the other hand, the economy created only 114,000 jobs in September, which is a weak showing that's way below the levels of the previous two months. The economy needs at least 200,000 new jobs each month just to keep up with population growth, so fudging it at 114,000 is like erasing the real grade on your report card and giving yourself a C.
I should add briefly that not all conservatives are BLS "truthers." There's a reasonable argument (which Rick makes in his post) that the September figure could be a statistical outlier. It happens with surveys. Certified conservative Ed Morrissey of Hot Air, for example, makes the same point. But the point is that a number of other high profile conservatives skipped right over the rational explanation of facts they don't like and instead embraced a conspiracy.
It's the same story with polls. President Obama maintains a lead in the polls and has led for most of the year.
This has given rise to a pair of related conservative beliefs. The first is that pollsters are using a bad turn-out model to weight their polls in a weigh that artificially boosts Obama. The pollsters, conservatives say, are assuming a 2008 turnout model when in fact that year was atypical. As Steve Benen argues this view misunderstands how pollsters assemble their surveys, but at least there's a rationality to it. But again there are some with high profiles on the right who see beyond bad samples or statistical outliers and can envision a vast left-wing conspiracy.
Here's Rush Limbaugh (courtesy again of Think Progress):
They're all Democrats. They're all liberals. They just have different jobs. … They want you thinking the country's lost. They want you thinking your side's lost. They want you thinking it's over for what you believe. And that makes you stay home and not vote. That's what they're hoping.
And here's Sean Hannity:
They want to deflate enthusiasm of conservatives. The narrative the media would like to advance is, this is over, don't even bother paying attention, let's move on. That's not true by any stretch. These polls are so skewed, so phony, that we need to start paying attention to what's going on so that you won't be deflated.
As a side note, how insidious is the conspiracy? Even the last Fox News poll had Obama ahead by five points.
And here's Dean Chambers, who isn't a pollster himself but just rewrites poll results to suit the conservative world view and posts them at his unskewedpolls.com Web site: "Any poll that says NBC, CBS, or ABC is going to be skewed and invested in trying to get this President re-elected."
Uh huh. As Kevin Drum writes,
This is, to put it bluntly, nuts. And it suggests a fundamental difference between left and right … Neither side has a monopoly on sloppy number crunching or wishful thinking, but liberals, faced with a reality they didn't like, ended up accepting reality and deciding to learn more about it. That's the Nate Silver approach. Conservatives, faced with a reality they didn't like, invented a conspiracy theory to explain it and then produced an alternate reality more to their liking. It's a crude and transparently glib reality, but that's apparently what the true believers want.
Of course to some extent conservative conspiracy theories aren't new. The Clinton years, for example, were rife with them (recall Vince Foster's suicide). And to some extent it's part of the right's psyche dating to the start of the modern conservative movement—the idea of an anti-conservative establishment and especially a so-called mainstream media which at best doesn't understand the main stream of America and is at worse engaged in a grand scheme to promote Democrats and liberalism. These more recent conspiracies make sense if you take it for granted that there are already other vast conspiracies in the world.
But to another extent the modern media echo chamber—with the Twitter-verse enhancing and increasing the resonance of these theories (see Jack Welch's 1.3 million Twitter followers)—takes the whole thing to another, more disturbing level.