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Commentary: Dilbert guy's economic poll on McCain, Obama

  • Story Highlights
  • Dilbert creator Adams: Which candidate is better for the economy?
  • Adams hired a research firm to survey 500 economists on McCain, Obama
  • Democratic and GOP economists favor their party's candidate, Adams says
  • Independent economists say Obama would be a better choice, he says
  • Next Article in Politics »
By Scott Adams
Special to CNN
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Editor's Note: Scott Adams is the creator of Dilbert, the comic strip that appears in 2,000 newspapers in 70 countries. He blogs at on politics and other subjects. He says he's an independent voter but donated to John McCain's campaign because he had promised a friend he would do so if the surge of troops to Iraq worked. "I figured my money was safe," Adams says.

Dilbert creator Scott Adams hired a polling firm to survey economists on which candidate is best for the economy.

(CNN) -- This summer I found myself wishing someone would give voters useful and unbiased information about which candidate has the best plans for the economy.

Then I realized that I am someone, which is both inconvenient and expensive. So for once I asked not what my country could do for me.

At considerable personal expense, I commissioned a survey of over 500 economists, drawn from a subset of the members of the American Economic Association, a nonpolitical group, some of whose members had agreed in advance to be surveyed on economic questions.

The results do not represent the economic association's position. The survey was managed by The OSR Group, a respected national public opinion and marketing research company.

I should pause here and confess my personal biases, since the messenger is part of the story. On social issues, I lean Libertarian, minus the crazy stuff.

Moneywise, I can't support a candidate who promises to tax the bejeezus out of my bracket, give the windfall to a bunch of clowns with a 14 percent approval rating (Congress), and hope they spend it wisely.

Unfortunately, the alternative to the guy who promises to pillage my wallet is a lukewarm cadaver. I'm in trouble either way.

I just hope whoever gets elected notices that the economists in my survey don't think that raising my taxes is a priority. Photo See some of Dilbert's economy-themed comic strips »

Nationally, most economists are male, and I'm told that most are registered as either Democrats or independents. Our sample reflects that imbalance:

48 percent -- Democrats

17 percent -- Republicans

27 percent -- Independents

3 percent -- Libertarian

5 percent -- Other or not registered

Eighty-six percent of our economists are male, and 65 percent work in the field of academia or education. The rest are spread across various industries or not working.

We asked the economists which candidate for president would be best for the economy in the long run. Not surprisingly, 88 percent of Democratic economists think Democratic Sen. Barack Obama would be best, while 80 percent of Republican economists pick Republican Sen. John McCain.

Independent economists, who in our sample are largely from the academic world, lean toward Obama by 46 percent compared to 39 percent for McCain.

Overall, 59 percent of our economists say Obama would be best for the economy long term, with 31 percent picking McCain, and 8 percent saying there would be no difference.

We can't know the degree of bias in our survey group. But we have some clues. On the issue of international trade, only 42 percent of our Democratic economists support Obama's plans, with 34 percent favoring McCain. Independents favored McCain on this question by 63 percent to 16 percent, while favoring Obama overall.

Another indicator of objectivity is that the income levels of the economists have little impact on their opinions. The economists with lower incomes are no more likely to favor taxing the rich than the rich economists favor taxing themselves.

Likewise, economists in the academic world were largely on the same page as the nonacademic types in predicting which candidate would be best for the long term.

Here are the economic priorities according to the economists. The percentages indicate how many rated each issue eight or higher on a scale of 1-10.

71 percent -- Education

67 percent -- Health care

62 percent -- International trade

60 percent -- Energy

58 percent -- Encouraging technology and innovation

58 percent -- Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and homeland security

52 percent -- Mortgage and housing crisis

49 percent -- Social Security

45 percent -- Environmental policy

39 percent -- Reducing the deficit

37 percent -- Immigration

29 percent -- Increasing the proportion of taxes paid by the wealthy

28 percent -- Reducing waste in government

16 percent -- Tax relief for the middle class

15 percent -- Reducing capital gains tax

14 percent -- Extending unemployment insurance

13 percent -- Extending and strengthening the unemployment insurance system

13 percent -- Raising the minimum wage and indexing it to inflation

11 percent -- Reforming bankruptcy laws

9 percent -- Eliminating the estate tax

Moving along, we asked the economists which candidate they thought would do the best job on the most important issues. For me, the surprise is how many economists say there would be no difference.

The economists in our survey favor Obama on 11 of the top 13 issues. But keep in mind that 48 percent are Democrats and only 17 percent are Republicans.

Among independents, things are less clear, with 54 percent thinking that in the long run there would either be no difference between the candidates or McCain would do better.

Many of you will wonder how reliable economists are. In my view, if an economist uses a complicated model to predict just about anything, you can ignore it.


By analogy, a doctor can't tell you the exact date of your death in 50 years. But if a doctor tells you to eat less and exercise more, that's good advice even if you later get hit by a bus.

Along those same lines, economists can give useful general advice on the economy, even if you know there will be surprises. Still, be skeptical.

To see what the candidates say about each issue, visit their web sites. For full details on the survey, including a discussion of its limitations, go to and click on the blog button.

The opinions contained in this commentary are solely those of the writer.

All About John McCainBarack ObamaNational Economy

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