post-election resolutions #1 and #2 (less forecasting and less hobbyism)

Today seems an auspicious occasion to begin posting resolutions for becoming a better person and citizen after the 2020 election.

The first and second resolutions are simple:

  1. Less forecasting, more living in the present. Surveys are valid research tools, but they are particularly hard-pressed to predict future behavior with precision. The polling error that shows up in forecasting sites like FiveThirtyEight reflects the complexity of screening for likely voters–it doesn’t invalidate survey research. But why are we checking FiveThirtyEight in the first place? All the sages teach that we should live in the present or work to change the future. Forecasting violates that advice, but it is almost literally addictive: you get a little dose of pleasure every time a prediction is favorable, and when it isn’t, you can go back for another fix. I hope I can use the methodological limitations of electoral forecasting as a reason to pry myself away from the habit of forecasting everything (COVID-19, the stock market, my own life expectancy).
  2. Less “political hobbyism.People gave $100 million to Amy McGrath. In many cases, they were doing something to harm Mitch McConnell after he did or said something that made them mad. It didn’t work; he won by 20 points. One hundred million dollars is a lot of money. You could start a new college for that. Part of the problem is a profession–political consultancy–whose interests align poorly with the public interest. Someone made a fortune by fundraising for McGrath. (I wrote an article about this in 1994.) Expressing anger by giving money also has an allure; it’s an easy thing to do after observing something that makes you angry. I actually didn’t donate to Amy McGrath (ironically, I was too aware of the skeptical forecasts for her), but I exhibited other symptoms of political hobbyism in this cycle.
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About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.