The Dark Arts of Predictive Punditry

At this late date in the election season, Campaign Desk is as weary as the next person of conflicting poll results and predictive partisan punditry. So we were game to go along with The Boston Herald’s Stephanie Schorow when she suggested, in a piece in the Herald’s “Lifestyle” section today, that readers “forget those pesky polls.”

“Here’s what tried-and-true folklore says about the White House smackdown,” Schorow continues, before presenting a scorecard-like look at what psychics, numerologists, urban legend, and comparative sales of Bush and Kerry Halloween masks at one Boston-area store might tell us about who will win the White House.

Schorow reports that one Boston astrologist “says the planets favor Bush,” but added ominously “that the position of the planet Uranus indicates some messy scandal will be revealed either right before or after the election.” As for Halloween mask sales, Schorow notes, Bush leads at Boston Costume. Also among the “tried and true folklore,” Schorow slips in one Ray Fair, a Yale econometrics professor, whose “mathematical and statistical model” has accurately predicted the winner in five of the last six elections. And according to Fair’s “folklore,” Bush will win in a landslide, with 57.5 percent of the vote. (It seems safe to say that Kerry devotees are not going to find Fair fair.)

But the best line, to our mind, comes from a local psychic who — although she admits to “getting signals” that point to a Kerry advantage — reminds Schorow that “while some things are predestined, the free will of all the people involved in the election…makes an absolute prediction impossible.”

Something that all pollsters, pundits (and reporters) would do well to remember from here on out.


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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.