Time for a quick quiz. Who here finished all his grading today and, with the exception of scraping his carcass out of bed tomorrow morning to go to graduation, has now officially started his summer break? If you answered me, you’re right! So let’s get caught up on some blogging.

We start on a light note. Ever wondered who the most accurate political prognosticator is? Well, according to this study, it’s Paul Krugman. Surprise! In fact, here are the top six: Krugman, Maureen Dowd, Ed Rendell, Chuck Schumer, Kathleen Parker and Nancy Pelosi. Notice anything? Except for Parker, all of them hail from the left end of the spectrum. Actually, I was disappointed to see Dowd in the list, since for various reasons she’s one of my least favorite pundits. But otherwise I see little surprising here.

And the bottom five? Starting from the bottom, we have Cal Thomas, Lindsey Graham, Joe Lieberman, Carl Levin, and Sam Donaldson. All of these folks were wrong more often than they were right. Notice that the bottom two are both hard right-wingers, with the odious Lieberman winning the bronze for unreliability.

Now, there are certainly all sorts of reasons to be skeptical that these results have any great significance. I only skimmed the study itself, which acknowledges many of the obvious difficulties. Just so there is no misunderstanding, I am linking to this study simply because it supports what I already believed anyway.


  1. #1 Ian
    May 7, 2011

    I just wish they had included more people I actually pay attention to, like Steve Clemons and Josh Marshall.

  2. #2 Dave M
    May 7, 2011

    I lived in Philly when Ed Rendell was the mayor, and I always liked him. I didn’t know he had a column – I’ll check it out.

  3. #3 MKR
    May 7, 2011

    Take care how you weigh the findings of that study. See Megan McArdle, “How Is a Pundit Like a Mutual Fund Manager?“, The Atlantic, May 3, 2011:

    The study runs for a little over a year, between September 2007 and 2008. They didn’t even look at all of the statements made by the prognosticators, but at a “representative sample”, presumably because they couldn’t handle the volume that would be required to analyze all of it. . . .

    If you were the sort of person who is systematically biased towards predicting a bad end for Republicans, and a rosy future for Democrats, then election year 2008 was going to make you look like a genius.

  4. #4 Greg Esres
    May 7, 2011

    Interesting book “Expert Political Judgment” by Tetlock I’m reading now. His research shows that the more you choose one overriding philosophy by which to interpret the past and predict the future, the more likely it is that you’re going to be wrong. Perhaps this characterizes the right-wingers you mentioned.

  5. #5 Jason Rosenhouse
    May 7, 2011

    MKR —

    Please note my final paragraph!

  6. #6 Jim Harrison
    May 7, 2011

    Democrats were better prognosticators in 2008 for the same reason that everybody’s stock broker looked like a genius in 2006. It’s harder to dismiss Paul Krugman’s performance, however, since his successful run began a long time ago now. Of course Krugman is an outlier in other ways as well. He was already a very well respected economist before he began to write for the Times and the Nobel Prize has since reinforced his status. Unlike the other pols and hacks he doesn’t need the work and can afford to be objective even when serious objectivity involves taking a side.

    There’s an old saying, originally in French, that to understand everything is to pardon everything, implying that bad behavior generally has an explanation. Well, it’s important to recognize that good behavior also has an explanation. Krugman’s almost unique situation made it possible for him to be an honest observer. Indeed, it created a niche that made plain speaking the rational choice. Too bad we can’t expand the size of that niche. Small chance of that since stupidity and group think are normal requirements of the job of pundit, and it’s hard to see what’s going to change that.

  7. #7 The MadPanda, FCD
    May 7, 2011

    I am reminded of an old joke about the most successful ‘psychic’ around was a fellow who would take all the annual predictions published by various tabloids and post them on a bulletin board in his office under a banner reading “This Won’t Happen”…

    Are we sure that “reliable political prognosticator” is not some manner of oxymoron? 🙂

    The MadPanda, FCD

  8. #8 Donna B.
    May 8, 2011

    In the full report, the comments about the types of predictions is interesting. I didn’t read the descriptions of the “bad” ones, but I noticed a definite trend among the “good” prognosticators: their correct predictions were predictably not earth-shatteringly important.

    Paul Krugman is the main exception and they note that his predictions were almost all on economics – his area of expertise. The others really can’t claim an area of expertise the way he can.

    The descriptions really make Dowd, Schumer, and Pelosi sound either not-to-bright (Dowd) or evasive.

    My take on the whole, so far, is that I want to read more by Tetlock and I’m still going to want to take almost everything I read in print or online and hear on the TV with a grain of salt.

  9. #9 eric
    May 9, 2011

    Democrats were better prognosticators in 2008 for the same reason that everybody’s stock broker looked like a genius in 2006.

    I think it’s sad that you are basically expecting political commentators to act like opinionated cheerleaders. Whether conservative or liberal, they should be able to do a decent job of separating their desires from what the data indicates is likely to occur. If the data indicates a conservate loss is in the works, conservative and liberal pundits should be able to admit that equally (and the same goes for liberal losses).

    To the extent that the results might indicate that many of them are opinionated cheerleaders, why should I listen to their opinions at all? I’m not a child; I don’t need some person to reassure me that yes, I really will win the lottery and I shouldn’t listen to what that bad mathematician person says about the odds. If that is what political commentary has degenerated to, who needs it?

    Have a desire and opinion about what cause you want to win an election, law case, whatever. No problem. But don’t mistake your desire for data and lose touch with reality. If you do that you are useless to me.

  10. #10 Matthew
    May 9, 2011

    Is Sam Donaldson really a hard-right commentator? Admittedly, I haven’t paid much attention at all to his opinions, but he always struck me as more of an anodyne, middle-of-the-road purveyor of conventional Village wisom than a full-on wingnut like Cal Thomas or Carl Levin, or a right-wing political hack like Lindsay Graham or Joe Lieberman. If I had to classify him, I would have pegged him as a member of the Church of High Broderism. Maybe I just haven’t watched him enough, who knows?

  11. #11 Scott
    May 11, 2011

    Agree about Dowd. She’s aweful.

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