In The Loop – May 31, 2024

If you follow the media, you constantly hear about the skyrocketing cost of living and how people are forced to cut back or make tough decisions about their lifestyles and essential budgets. However, economists suggest this narrative may not be entirely accurate.

During Memorial Day weekend barbecues, many families likely found themselves engaged in conversations about the rising costs of food, whether at the grocery store or dining out. Other hot topics probably included soaring electric bills and cable prices, which some feel are higher than their car loans. People from various walks of life and communities often blame the state of the economy on political leaders, pointing fingers at President Biden, Congress, the Connecticut General Assembly, Governor Lamont, and even local mayors.

The Harris Poll, one of the world’s most respected pollsters, recently found that Americans’ perceptions of the economy and its impact on their daily lives are quite bleak. According to an article published by The Guardian, the poll highlighted several misconceptions:

  • 55% believe the economy is shrinking, and 56% think the US is experiencing a recession, despite the GDP showing growth.
  • 49% believe the S&P 500 stock market index is down for the year, though it increased by about 24% in 2023 and has risen more than 12% this year.
  • 49% believe unemployment is at a 50-year high, although the rate has been under 4%, a near 50-year low.

Ken Tingley, a retired New England journalist, often writes about the disconnect between reality and public perception, attributing it to the decline of newspaper readership. He argues that many people now consider digital media, such as Twitter, Facebook, or ideological blogs and podcasts, as their primary news sources, which is not ideal.

Recently, the Connecticut Legislature’s Taskforce on Civics Education, Civic Engagement, and Media Literacy met to discuss the current state of these areas. Their goals include increasing civics education for younger generations, providing interactive situations to teach collaboration and compromise, and expanding civics education to elementary and middle schools. They also aim to develop a standardized curriculum for educators and an inventory of statewide resources to promote media literacy at all education levels.

Public perception of economic recessions is often clouded by misunderstandings and misconceptions, which can stem from media portrayals, political rhetoric, and a general lack of economic literacy. Media coverage during economic downturns tends to focus on dramatic aspects such as mass layoffs, stock market downturns, and high-profile business closures. While newsworthy, these stories can create a sense of panic and exaggerate the reality, leading to a skewed public perception of the economy.

Sensational headlines about “economic collapse” or “unprecedented crisis” can overshadow nuanced, data-driven reports indicating areas of economic resilience or recovery efforts. This often results in unwarranted public pessimism, decreased consumer confidence, and reduced spending, which can exacerbate economic downturns.

The perception of elected leaders is also affected by these economic misconceptions. During troubling economic times, opposition parties might highlight negative economic news to criticize the current government, while the government might downplay issues or blame external factors. This political maneuvering can further distort public perception.

To restore trust in the news and create an accurate understanding of Connecticut’s and the US’s economic status, we need to foster a positive relationship between trust and economic success. Deloitte recently expressed optimism, noting that if a minimum of 64% of people trust their elected officials, business, and community leaders, it could lead to increased productivity and economic growth. For example, a 5% increase in trust in the US could generate at least $175 billion in economic growth. Building trust requires leaders to act with competence, intent, and transparency. Simply claiming to be trustworthy or using trust as a campaign slogan is not enough.

Eight years ago, The Rell Center partnered with CT Public to produce a TV show called “There’s No Job Like This,” which mimicked a job interview for Connecticut’s next CEO, featuring qualified candidates from both parties who were eligible for the upcoming primary election. The show focused on their credentials, what makes them tick, what their definition of leadership was, and plans for the state’s economy, drawing thousands of viewers and receiving positive reviews.

As we approach the November elections, candidates should focus on demonstrating trust through their actions rather than just talking about it. The media should return to fact-checking and reporting on highly contested races. The Connecticut Legislative Taskforce should continue working on civics education and media literacy, helping voters discern true news stories from overly dramatized ones. Voters should research candidates’ voting records and ensure their campaign messaging aligns with their actions.

“Trust is the essence of Leadership. Trust is fundamental, reciprocal, and pervasive. If it is present, anything is possible. If it is absent, nothing is possible.” — Colin Powell

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