Commentary Magazine


Topic: InTrade

Predicting the Outcome

Predicting the outcome of elections is big business. In the early days it was left to political professionals who would rely on their gut instincts to “feel” how  the campaign was developing. This is not dissimilar to Wall Streeters who can “read the tape” to sense which way particular stocks will move. In the mid-20th century scientific polling developed, but with occasional spectacular failures. The Literary Digest poll in 1936 predicted an Alf Landon victory over FDR. Landon carried only Maine and Vermont. Everybody was wrong about the outcome of the 1948 election, epitomized by the picture of a triumphant Harry Truman holding up a copy of the Chicago Daily Tribune with its premature headline DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN.

In recent years, Intrade has allowed people to bet real money on the outcomes of elections, in effect measuring the gut instincts of the many. It currently has Obama’s chances at 57.3 percent and Mitt Romney at 42.3 percent.

And, of course, political science professors try as well to read the tea leaves. Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia is probably seen more often on television than other professor. He currently has the race at 237 electoral votes safe, likely, or leaning to Obama, 206 to Romney, with 95 in the tossup category.

Two professors at the University of Colorado, Kenneth Bickers and Michael Berry, have developed a prediction model based not on polling or gut instincts, but on economic factors in each of the fifty states and the District of Columbia:

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Predicting the outcome of elections is big business. In the early days it was left to political professionals who would rely on their gut instincts to “feel” how  the campaign was developing. This is not dissimilar to Wall Streeters who can “read the tape” to sense which way particular stocks will move. In the mid-20th century scientific polling developed, but with occasional spectacular failures. The Literary Digest poll in 1936 predicted an Alf Landon victory over FDR. Landon carried only Maine and Vermont. Everybody was wrong about the outcome of the 1948 election, epitomized by the picture of a triumphant Harry Truman holding up a copy of the Chicago Daily Tribune with its premature headline DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN.

In recent years, Intrade has allowed people to bet real money on the outcomes of elections, in effect measuring the gut instincts of the many. It currently has Obama’s chances at 57.3 percent and Mitt Romney at 42.3 percent.

And, of course, political science professors try as well to read the tea leaves. Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia is probably seen more often on television than other professor. He currently has the race at 237 electoral votes safe, likely, or leaning to Obama, 206 to Romney, with 95 in the tossup category.

Two professors at the University of Colorado, Kenneth Bickers and Michael Berry, have developed a prediction model based not on polling or gut instincts, but on economic factors in each of the fifty states and the District of Columbia:

According to their analysis, President Barack Obama will win 218 votes in the Electoral College, short of the 270 he needs. And though they chiefly focus on the Electoral College, the political scientists predict Romney will win 52.9 percent of the popular vote to Obama’s 47.1 percent, when considering only the two major political parties. . . .

“What is striking about our state-level economic indicator forecast is the expectation that Obama will lose almost all of the states currently considered as swing states, including North Carolina, Virginia, New Hampshire, Colorado, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida,” Bickers said.

You can take this for what it’s worth, but I will point out that this model has correctly predicted the outcome for every presidential election beginning in 1980.

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