First, Fire the Pundits
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Andrew Sullivan flags this quote, wherein Peggy Noonan uses the The Force to discern the outcome of the election:
There is no denying the Republicans have the passion now, the enthusiasm. The Democrats do not. Independents are breaking for Romney. And there's the thing about the yard signs. In Florida a few weeks ago I saw Romney signs, not Obama ones. From Ohio I hear the same. From tony Northwest Washington, D.C., I hear the same.Is it possible this whole thing is playing out before our eyes and we're not really noticing because we're too busy looking at data on paper instead of what's in front of us? Maybe that's the real distortion of the polls this year: They left us discounting the world around us.
There is no objective "world around us." There are only attempts to represent that world, whose attributes and flaws vary. I am a writer. I believe in being "on the ground." I believe in "seeing things." But part of "seeing things" is that if you actually are seeing as much as possible, you understand the limitations of your eyes. It would ward you against the notion that counting yard signs, and not even counting them but relying on other unnamed sources to count them, is a valid way of discerning what will happen in a state in which millions of voters are eligible.
The reason there's been so much talk on this blog about Nate Silver is because one of his great attributes lay in exposing the dreadful state of political media. Parcel to that state is an utter lack of consequences, not simply for being wrong, but for repeatedly being wrong in the same fashion, and for doing no analysis of why the error happened.
As Fallows puts it this is a moral problem:
Here's why political prediction is morally inferior to sports-line wagering or other kinds of normal betting: In pundit-world, the losers never have to pay off. You can assert with blowhard certitude that this or that candidate looks strong, this or that voting bloc is going to turn out, this or that strategy will be effective. If you're right, you play up that fact. If you're wrong, no one seems to notice or care. In Vegas, you have to pay up. In pundit land (or "we need to invade Iraq, now!" land), you just move on. That's why, to give yet another argument in shorthand, I think it's good rather than bad if people who are making a big deal of their predictive talent are willing to back their views with actual bets. I will flesh out that argument some other day.
Dylan Byers endorses the notion that Nate Silver's rep will "take a severe hit" if Romney wins. But if Silver is exactly right Byers, who implied that Silver was overrated, will take no hit whatsoever. Joe Scarborough will still have his show. And Peggy Noonan will still be able to assert the significance of her feelings. And I will go into class tomorrow and try to explain to 19-year-old kids why this sort of journalism can give you a plum place in the world of media but can't get you out of an undergraduate writing seminar.