Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Why Pundits are always wrong

As I write the voters of New Hampshire are voting in the first real primary of the season (though the Republican system in Iowa is pretty close) and the pundits are hard at work predicting meaning at an uncertain outcome. On the Republican side the race has been fairly well conceded to Donald Trump even though he does not have the sort of on the ground organization that is usually associated with victory in New Hampshire. The issue that the pundits want to speculate on is who comes in second, third, fourth, whatever. And then attach significance to the order of finish even though in a country with a general election electorate of 130 Million voters the difference between second and fourth is minuscule.

On the Democratic side the issue has been conceded to Bernie Sanders and the pundits are trying to set a standard that he must win by double digits to "meet" expectations. This of course is absurd as this is the first real vote where they are getting counted (as opposed to the fiasco in Iowa where by definition nobody knows who actually corralled the most people at the polls) so in a two way race it is usually fairly clear who gets the most votes and the most delegates. In this case a win should be  win.

But what is the importance of the win? Small. As the nominating process is long and complicated and has barely begun. Primaries and Caucuses will stretch into the late Spring even though a huge chunk of delegates is selected by mid March. What will winnow the Republican field? When the money dries up for the respective candidates. Those that have a well funded superpac can go a distance into the schedule. Typically it is when the donor money disappears that candidates "suspend" their campaigns and try to balance their books. If the suppress is funded, well then they can keep going.

What should pundits look for in the returns beyond who is winning and losing? The total vote in the respective primaries. Compare the D's to 2008 (288K) when the total vote climbed significantly over 2004 (220K). For the R's against 2008 and 2012. In 2008 the R turnout was 239K. In 2012 it was 248K. So in neither 2008 or 2012 did the Republican vote total reach that of the Democratic total in 2008. Significantly, President Obama carried the state both times. Which party has more excitement this time? There are 882K total voters so well over 50% participate and the Secretary of State is predicting 231 K for the Dems and 262K for the Reps. Let's hope he is wrong.