Home 2016 elections Pretty Much Everybody, Certainly “Forecasters,” Failed This Election Cycle

Pretty Much Everybody, Certainly “Forecasters,” Failed This Election Cycle


The 2016 election was a debacle on every level. The corporate media, with very few exceptions, was beyond atrocious in their relentless “both sides-ism” and false equivalence, their obsession with unimportant non-stories (e.g., the ridiculous “emails”), the “horse race,” etc., and their almost complete failure/refusal to focus on important issues (or any issues at all).

The non-corporate media also failed (e.g., see here about the deeply entrenched “groupthink” and hostility to dissenters on the leading pro-Democratic blog in the U.S., Daily Kos), to a large extent.

Social media was a disaster, pretty much, with “fake news”/conspiracy theories/etc. spreading at the speed of light via Facebook; with the “echo chamber” stronger than ever, particularly on the near-hermetically-sealed right; and with “everyone can be a publisher” not working out so well, to put it mildly…

The political parties failed in many ways. The Republicans failed to stop an utterly unqualified, corrupt demagogue and bigot from securing their nomination. The Democrats failed to hold the White House, take back the Senate, pick up significant seats in the House, or make up significant ground in the states. Oh, plus the DNC was an almost constant source of controversy and conflict during this campaign. Greeeeaaaat.

Political “pundits” and “horse race” guys like Chris Cillizza failed miserably too. In the case of Cillizza, he asserted confidently, and repeatedly, that it was absolutely impossible for Trump to win the GOP nomination and that “JEB” was the likely winner, based on name ID and $$$. Not! Note that Cillizza already is on to “predicting” (in quotes because, as usual, he’ll almost certainly be wrong) who Democrats might nominate for president in 2020. My god…just stop!

As for state polls, some of the most important ones failed big time, such as PPP’s November 4 poll that said Clinton should win Michigan by 5 points.  Although, in fairness, national polls ended up pretty close to Clinton’s popular vote margin of victory.

Political prognosticators failed as well. Sam Wang of the Princeton Election Consortium totally failed, with his 99%+ confident in a Clinton victory. The NY Times’ “Upshot” mostly failed, as did Larry Sabato’s “Crystal Ball” (now “shattered” in their own words); David Plouffe (who GUARANTEED a Clinton victory and mocked anyone who was nervous she could lose); the “prediction” markets; Daily Kos; Huffington Post; this blog (although my Virginia predictions were correct, for what that’s worth); just about every other blog; again, basically everyone.

Did anyone actually predict Donald Trump’s victory? If so, did they correctly predict that he’d LOSE the popular vote by something like 2.5 million while barely winning the electoral vote? And if they somehow managed to do both those things, did they do so for the right reasons, as opposed to just being party hacks (e.g., RNC Chair Reince Preibus, a Trump campaign person or Trump fanatic saying “Trump will win” is absolutely meaningless, especially if they didn’t predict that Clinton would win the popular vote by 2 percentage points or more) or getting lucky or being “right for the wrong reasons” (e.g., the piece-of-crap LA Times/USC “poll” that had Trump up 5 points  – remember, he’s actually losing by around 2 points in the popular vote – the day before the election)?

Basically, none that I can think of. I mean, I guess we’ve gotta give this Mark Blyth dude some credit, as he was definitely onto the rise of “Trumpism.” On the other hand, he definitely did NOT predict the combination of Trump losing the popular vote by 2.5 million yet winning the general election. Or how about “Dilbert” cartoonist Scott Adams, who “predicted” Trump’s victory, but inconsistently – in August 2015, he wrote that Clinton had a “95% chance of being our next president unless we get some surprises” – almost totally for the wrong reasons, and definitely not including the correct combo of 2.5-million-popular-vote loss and narrow Electoral College win. Plus, Adams is a crazed Trump fanboy, pretty much completely bonkers if you read his blog. Check this insanity out, for instance, from Adams’ rantings in June 2016:

…I would be a top-ten assassination target in that scenario because once you define Trump as Hitler, you also give citizens moral permission to kill him. And obviously it would be okay to kill anyone who actively supports a genocidal dictator, including anyone who wrote about his persuasion skills in positive terms. (I’m called an “apologist” on Twitter, or sometimes just Joseph Goebbels).

If Clinton successfully pairs Trump with Hitler in your mind – as she is doing – and loses anyway, about a quarter of the country will think it is morally justified to assassinate their own leader. I too would feel that way if an actual Hitler came to power in this country. I would join the resistance and try to take out the Hitler-like leader. You should do the same. No one wants an actual President Hitler.

So I’ve decided to endorse Hillary Clinton for President, for my personal safety. Trump supporters don’t have any bad feelings about patriotic Americans such as myself, so I’ll be safe from that crowd. But Clinton supporters have convinced me – and here I am being 100% serious – that my safety is at risk if I am seen as supportive of Trump. So I’m taking the safe way out and endorsing Hillary Clinton for president.

Uhhhhh….alrighty then. And remind me never to read Dilbert again – it pretty much sucks anyway.

The bottom line is that basically nobody got this election right, although some kinda/sorta got it partly “right” – almost 100% of those for the wrong reasons. Others got it wrong for the wrong reasons (e.g., assuming Hillary Clinton would win in a landslide in such a deeply divided country); wrong for the right reasons (e.g., many of us believed, foolishly it turns out, that the futures markets, Sam Wang, Nate Silver, the Upshot, David Plouffe, etc, etc. knew what they were talking about – seemed reasonable at the time!). But basically nobody, as far as I can tell, got it “right for the right reasons.” Even AU History Professor Allan Lichtman, who predicted a Trump win based on his historical “keys,” but didn’t get the combo of Electoral College win/popular vote loss for Trump.

The bottom line, as I’ve been saying for ages, is that forecasting in the social sciences (not talking about hard science here, like climate science for instance) basically is a complete waste of time. As the joke goes, economists have predicted 9 of the last 5 recessions. I used to work at the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), and I can definitively state that long-term energy forecasting, and to a large extent short-term energy forecasting, is not just wrong most of the time, but wildly wrong (e.g., EIA missed the fracking boom, basically every oil price spike/collapse in history; the explosion of solar and wind power; the collapse of coal in the face of cheap natural gas; you name it).

Then there are political “scientists,” like Francis Fukuyama, who (in)famously predicted that “the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.” Uhhhh…not quite.

So should we just stop trying to forecast the future when it comes to the social sciences (again, the hard sciences have a very powerful record of being accurate)? Probably so, given that we simply can’t do it, at least not with any consistent accuracy. Then there’s also the problem that incorrect predictions – to the extent they are believed – can impact people’s behavior in ways that either make them “self fulfilling” or mess things up in other ways (e.g., if you believe that solar power will be prohibitively expensive forever, you might be less like to think it’s important to invest in it, making it less likely to “scale,” making it less likely and/or slower to plummet in price).

But, the horror! the horror! of a world without forecasting, whether by reading tea leaves or supposedly “sophisticated” models? Not necessarily. I mean, it’s fun and all to try and make forecasts, but perhaps we all could be better off if we didn’t waste our time and energy attempting to figure out what’s coming next* and instead focused on making the world a better place today, living our lives to the fullest, resisting Donald Trump’s administration as it works to destroy our country and the planet — stuff like that.

*Again, I’m not talking about the hard sciences here, like climate science, which is VERY clear about the threat we face and what we need to do about it (SWITCH FROM FOSSIL FUELS TO CLEAN ENERGY ASAP!)