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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Exploding a Stimulus “Study”

It’s considered gospel truth in many conservative circles that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, a.k.a. the “economic stimulus package,” was just a porkfest aimed at buying votes or rewarding Democratic constitutencies at the expense of good, virtuous taxpayers and their grandchirren. In support of this hypothesis, Veronique de Rugy of George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, and a regular contributor to conservative and libertarian magazines and web sites, recently wrote a “study” designed to show that ARRA dollars went disproportionately to districts represented by Democrats and/or that voted for Obama in 2008, regardless of their actual economic needs. De Rugy helpfully touted her study at National Review’s The Corner yesterday, for the edification of those who look to that blog for talking points.
Looks like she should probably have kept the paper to herself. Nate Silver of 538.com took a look at it, and pretty much demolished it today.
Turns out that de Rugy didn’t notice, or didn’t mention, that most of the “Democratic districts” that show up in her study as the top recipients of ARRA dollars happen to contain state capitals. Thus, ARRA spending designed to benefit states as a whole (the Medicaid super-match, school improvement incentives, state infrastructure grants, the state “flexibility” funds, etc.) are attributed by her to individual districts. She also ignored economic indicators showing poverty and local unemployment, which may or may not be correlated with Democratic voting habits, but which certainly indicate actual need.
I hear through the grapevine that de Rugy plans to respond to Nate’s demolition job at some point. If she manages to climb out of this crater, I’ll certainly be impressed.
The larger point, though, is that without Nate’s intervention (and perhaps even after it), conservatives would be gleefully citing de Rugy’s bottom line “findings” as “proof” that ARRA was what they always said it was. She is, after all, an academic thinker, and her “study” is impressive-looking, with lots of footnotes and scatter plot charts. I’m not saying that conservatives are alone in conducting this sort of skewed and deeply flawed “research,” or in citing it without examination. But that doesn’t excuse it for even a moment, particularly when the “researcher” is out there circulating the stuff as agitprop for the chattering classes before the ink is even dry.

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