Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Note to Wall Street Journal: It's not "historic" when you predict wrong

Here's an example, to me, of the utter failure of the modern media: They've become so reliant on polling and so confident in their own predictions, they now believe it "historic" when THEY are wrong! What hubris! From Justin Wolfers at the Wall Street Journal:

Judging by the pre-vote polls and prediction markets, the Democratic primary in New Hampshire created one of the most surprising upsets in U.S. political history.

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama was favored in the final pre-election poll of all 12 pollsters who surveyed voters since his surprise victory in Iowa, and was the unanimous favorite among television pundits. The only real question to be resolved appeared to be the size of Mr. Obama's majority.

His loss to New York Sen. Hillary Clinton was equally embarrassing for prediction markets, such as the WSJ Political Market. Election-eve trading had suggested that Sen. Obama had a 92% chance to win in New Hampshire, while Sen. Clinton rated only a 7% chance.

Against this background, it is no exaggeration to term the result truly historic. Not that there haven't been more dramatic upsets or come-from-behind wins that carried more significance -- this was just an early primary, albeit a pivotal one. But in terms of unpredictability, or at least the failure of everyone to predict it, it may have no modern match.

The fact that he and his egghead buddies were wrong in their predictions doesn't make this primary result any more "historic" than it would otherwise have been. (It is, after all, the presidential campaign, so in some sense calling it "historic" is definitionally redundant.)

Managing expectations has officially become more important than reality. We've reached a stage when many in the media believe their own pre-election assumptions are actually more important, apparently, than the actual voters themselves. Otherwise, when the voters disagree with the media's and the pollsters' predictions, why is it such a big deal?

That's definitely a bias in media coverage, but it's not a bias toward left or right, it's an expression of narcissism and group think. Results, not expectations, are what matter, but you wouldn't know it from reading most political coverage.

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