[Washington Babylon ]Punditry and Wishful Thinking | Harper's Magazine

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[Washington Babylon]

Punditry and Wishful Thinking


I’m taking part in the Online 100, a panel put together by
PoliticsHome.com, a terrific website that offers breaking political news and analysis. The Online 100, which is meant to provide “the first daily tracking poll of the blogosphere,” includes Arianna Huffington, Karl Rove, Joe Klein, Joe Trippi, Mike Allen, Mark Halperin, Mark Blumenthal, Dana Milbank, Jonah Goldberg, John Fund, Jake Tapper, Chuck Todd, Marc Ambinder, and Andrew Sullivan.

The first poll asked, “At this point, who do you think is more likely to win the Presidential election?” Barack Obama was picked by 49 percent of the panelists, and John McCain by 48 percent. Overall, panelists had relatively little confidence in their predictions. Those identified as being on the “left” picked Obama 76 to 24 percent, while those on the right picked McCain by 82 to 18 percent.

What does all this mean? Basically, that the Online 100 has no better idea of who is going to win the election than your next-door neighbor–and that the views and analysis offered by pundits are largely shaped by their personal beliefs and desires and have very little prescriptive value. How else to explain the fact that three-quarters of liberal panelists think Obama will win, while four-fifths of conservatives believe McCain will emerge triumphant? What could possibly account for that huge split, other than wishful thinking?

That’s not to dismiss the panel (especially being a member of it), which will provide a rough daily snapshot of where things stand and assess the impact of key events. But the campaign is a toss-up. Does Obama really have a better ground game than McCain? Is the country “ready” to elect an African-American president? We’ll find out on Election Day.

I was recently speaking with Gary Pearce, a longtime Democratic consultant in North Carolina. “With historical elections, you never know until it’s all over,” he said. “Then everyone sits back and says, ‘I saw that coming.’”

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