The economy is improving, yet these voters don’t trust the data

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FILE PHOTO --  A man rubs his eyes as he waits in a line of jobseekers, to attend the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. career fair held by the New York State department of Labor in New York April 12, 2012.    REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo - RTX2NWJ6

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HARI SREENIVASAN: One subject that’s sure to come up in the final presidential debate is the state of the American economy, and, more specifically, the state of the American worker.

During the primary season, in what now seems ages ago, we looked at Americans’ attitudes toward the economy. We have an update tonight with our partners at Marketplace and “Frontline,” part of our series on How the Deck Is Stacked.

The unemployment rate may now stand at 5 percent officially, and more than 10 million new jobs have been created during the Obama administration. But a new survey done by Marketplace and Edison Research found nearly a third of people are afraid of losing their jobs within the next six months, and almost 40 percent of people say they are losing sleep over their financial situation.

Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal is with us again.

Kai, when we first did this a year ago, we expected things to get better. Why are people more anxious now and seem less financially secure?

KAI RYSSDAL, Host & Senior Editor, Marketplace: The thing about the economy, Hari, is that we measure it in numbers, right, things like the unemployment rate, but people experience it through how they feel.

And what they’re feeling now is anxiety, possibly because the election is drawing near, possibly because they sense that the headline numbers of unemployment at 5 percent and gross domestic product growing at a percent-and-a-half, plus or minus, they’re not feeling that in their lives, while, at the same time, food prices are going up and gas is bopping around, $2.5, $3 a gallon, whatever it is.

People don’t feel that security they really would like to feel seven years now into an economic expansion.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All the numbers that you just rattled off, what’s interesting is that your survey also reveals that there’s a lack of trust in the data itself.

KAI RYSSDAL: Oh, yes.

So, this was, to me anyway, one most of interesting and disturbing things about this entire survey. We asked people whether they trust government economic data, the stuff that we do on Marketplace all the time, consumer spending, the unemployment rate, all of that stuff; 25 percent of all Americans completely distrust government economic data.

And then you drill down a little bit and you ask them to — who they’re voting for and how they feel about government data, 48 percent of Donald Trump voters distrust government data; 5 percent of Hillary Clinton voters distrust the economic data.

And I think, if you look at what’s happening out there on the campaign trail and some of the rhetoric that’s coming from the Trump camp and from the candidate himself, it sort of stands to reason that his voters are going to distrust that data.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Speaking of distrust, there is also this feeling that your survey is picking up on about the system being rigged. And a couple of the numbers that leapt out to me, 62 percent of Americans say that the system, the economy is rigged.

And then, when you break this down, 66 percent of Trump supporters say it’s rigged for those who get government assistance; 62 percent of Clinton supporters say it’s rigged for white Americans. It’s really depends on who you ask. But, really, regardless of who you ask, they still think the deck is stacked against them.

KAI RYSSDAL: Right. They think the desk is stacked against them.

And what is interesting is who they think the deck is stacked for. In about 90 percent of all responses, people think it’s stacked for politicians, for corporations and the rich. And what you see here is this divide that we’re seeing now out in the economy at large between those who have assets, those who have income, those who have wealth, and those, as we have been talking about for a long time now, who simply don’t, and the income inequality gap in this country and how it’s playing out now in this election.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Kai, are you surprised by these results? Were the pollsters surprised by these results?

KAI RYSSDAL: So, we had a whole lot of long conversations about this with our partners at Edison Research.

And I think it breaks down along two lines. First is, on the distrust in government, on the feeling that the economy is rigged, that plays directly from what we see happening out on the campaign trail. We know Donald Trump and his surrogates say all the time the economy is rigged, the election is rigged. And this is sort of the fallout from that.

But also we’re seeing a shift now from what happened in the primaries, where you had people like Bernie Sanders and like Donald Trump saying the economy is rigged, and those numbers now are coming home to roost.

The other thing is really that the numbers on income inequality and who they think it is rigged for can’t come as a surprise, because what we have known for years now is that the gains in this economy go to the top 1 percent. The rest of it, the other 99 percent, just don’t get the gains.

And we’re seeing that now play out both on the campaign trail and also in this survey.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Kai Ryssdal of Marketplace and our partners at “Frontline” on How the Deck Is Stacked, joining us from L.A. today, thanks so much.

KAI RYSSDAL: You bet.

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