All in a huff over Crossroads GPS 

Crossroads GPS's new cable ad against public-sector unions put Greg Sargent in a huff this week. He accused the Republican campaign group of distorting statistics from a CATO Institute report and concluded,

Crossroads GPS's willingness to use data supplied by a fiscally conservative think tank in a way that even the study's pro-free market author finds objectionable tells you all you need to know about the lengths some conservatives will go to in order to turn public opinion in this fight to their advantage.

The Crossroads ad, which points to an incestuous relationship between unions and liberal politicians, cites a paper from CATO's Chris Edwards on public-sector unions to state that their members in government make 42 percent more than "non-union" workers. The figure is potentially misleading for two reasons. First, the grammar in the ad is ambiguous, making it unclear from whether it is a comparison with all non-union workers, or non-union government workers. (Sargent wrote -- incorrectly -- that the ad specifically compares government union workers to "non unionized workers in general.")

Second, as the CATO paper notes, the 42 percent figure does not account for the fact that most unionized government workers live in states with high costs of living and high incomes, like New Jersey, California and New York. The paper suggests that after controlling for this, the discrepancy is probably something closer to 10 percent.

Sargent quoted Chris Edwards, the author of the paper, as if he were outraged by the misuse of his data. This, too, was somewhat misleading, Edwards told The Examiner.

“I didn’t initiate a complaint against the ad,” said Edwards. “The Washington Post put a spin on it that I’m making a big deal out of it. I’m not.” Edwards, who had been unaware of the ad before receiving Sargent's call, called the ad’s mistake a “copy editing error,” and said that its misinformation comes from its vagueness.

And given that we have a president of the United States who says $5 billion in spending cuts are halfway to $60 billion in spending cuts, GPS's failure to explain statistical adjustment in a 60-second ad is probably less worthy of Sargent's breathless moralizing than it is of 40 lashes with a wet noodle.

The ambiguity aside, GPS probably did not make the best comparison for its purposes. There is some value in a comparison between union and non-union government workers, because it shows taxpayers the premium they are paying, but a more appropriate comparison might be the the 34 percent wage advantage (not counting benefits) that public-sector union workers enjoy over all private-sector workers, union and non-union.

About The Author

David Freddoso

David Freddoso came to the Washington Examiner in June 2009, after serving for nearly two years as a Capitol Hill-based staff reporter for National Review Online. Before writing his New York Times bestselling book, The Case Against Barack Obama, he spent three years assisting Robert Novak, the legendary Washington... more
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