Too Much Information

Photo by Allen Brewer

Those of us living inside the Beltway are consumed by political minutiae. By consuming a daily diet of dyspeptic discourse about policies and candidates, we believe we gain insight into which party is gaining momentum and which candidate is best positioned to claim the White House in 2016.

But an interesting piece in the current National Journal calls into question the predictive benefits of all this information and jabbering. Alan Abramowitz, a professor of Political Science at Emory University, has created the “Time for Change” model for predicting presidential winners. Since 1988, he has correctly called the popular vote in each presidential election.

Incredibly, the model is based on only three variables: the incumbent president’s approval rating, the GDP in the 2nd quarter of the election year and the number of terms the president’s party has occupied the White House.

So we yammer on about the size of the media buy in Montana’s 3rd Congressional District (trick factoid), or the new app that allows campaigns to post campaign ads in your cereal bowl (trick factoid, I think) or the other communications wizardry that dominate modern campaigns and coverage, and very little of it actually matters. The quality of the candidates and the campaigns, and other variables, do make a difference, but only at the margins.

Although political pros don’t buy the theory – probably because acceptance would deny them the opportunity to buy the items their current incomes now allow — it does make some sense.

The vote for president is intensely personal. Do I like the guy in the White House (yes, guy, until Hillary or Elizabeth or Sarah get elected)? How’s the country doing? Haven’t the Ds or Rs been around too long? Answer those questions, Abramowitz said, and you can pretty much guess who’ll win.

Abramowitz handicaps the 2016 race in the piece, (“Predictive Intelligence,” Feb. 14). It’s worth a read. As Mark Twain once said: “Interesting, if true.”

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