Much presidential campaign coverage is devoted to telling us what is going to happen in an upcoming election yet our reactions rarely get beyond a level of belief that can be characterized as “okay, well, maybe.”
Getting to even that pretty much useless standard depends on the prediction telling us what we already want to hear. If the prognosticator says the other guy is going to win, belief levels plummet to “you are out of your mind” or even “no effing way.” Why bother predicting something if nobody is going to believe you anyway?
I haven’t the smallest idea but a whole lot of people seem to make and read political predictions. I can’t explain this either because, even if someone believed the prediction, what would they do with the information other than bet on it?
Do our lives change if we just wait and see?
These seem like pretty reasonable questions to ask about the relentless attention being paid to the Presidential election the November after next, nearly 475 days from now. True, the stakes have been ramped up – four more years of Trump vs. The Wokefest.
If you care about what will happen next November and are happy not to believe the answer unless it matches your preference, you could go to the betting markets on the belief that enough real people betting enough real money will create the most accurate prediction. Since you have no idea who is betting or how many people are betting to establish the odds, this depends on a magical belief that bad information cancels itself out and only good information remains. Another name for that is the stock market. Uh oh. That works pretty well.
Here’s what Oddschecker.com says about the election. Donald Trump is about 50/50 to win. Since there will only be two viable candidates in November and one is already known, 50/50ish makes intuitive sense.
Once the Democratic nominee is known, his or her odds will shoot up but with almost two-dozen candidates, I doubt anyone knows who the nominee will be. I sure don’t. We’d actually have an easier time figuring out who the nominee won’t be. It is safe to say that it won’t be Eric Swalwell since he has dropped out and it is probably safe to say that a candidate who gets booted from the race before the next debate won’t be the nominee either. Au revoir Kirsten Gillibrand, John Hickenlooper, Seth Moulton, John Delaney and, surprisingly, maybe Beto O’Rourke. On that basis, one-quarter of the field is gone and, from there, just watch the fund raising numbers because candidates who can’t pay their campaign staffs are also toast.
Oddschecker thinks Kamala Harris has about a 50/50 chance of being the nominee; Elizabeth Warren 1 in 4; Joe Biden 1 in 5; Bernie Sanders 1 in 9; Pete Buttigieg 1 in 10; all the way down to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at 1 in 150. Pro tip: if you happen on to a tipsy pal at a bar and he is tempted by 150 to one odds on AOC, make the bet. She will not be 35 and is Constitutionally ineligible.
If you prefer experts to markets, you might want to hear from the likes of Mehlman Castagnetti, a Washington firm that advises on such things. I have enjoyed their quarterly reports over the years and happily provide a link to their most recent one, from which the rest of this story is drawn.
But let’s take a moment here. Prediction accuracy depends on the worst named rule of all time – “the law of large numbers.” I say it has the world’s worst name because it includes two words people hate – law and numbers – and when people hate things, they ignore them. Don’t. The law of large numbers says you should not rely on statistics without huge amounts of data, you know like every securities transaction since 1927. In our entire history, there have been 58 presidential elections. In statistical terms, 58 is a pipsqueak number.
That said, here are some nuggets drawn from past history. There are others and the ones you pick will be just as likely to get you through most conversations as these are.
- Establishment Democrats lose while disruptors win. Since 1976 the new faces are three wins and no losses while the veterans are no wins and five losses. Good news for Kamala Harris bad news for Joe Biden.
- Voters have developed a taste for change. Control of the House, Senate or White House changed seven times in the 40 years up to 2000 and eight times in the 20 years since. Bad news for Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi. A bet on one of the three getting bounced should win 80% of the time if the last 20 years is our guide.
- We used to like Washington insiders, but that ended with Viet Nam and Watergate. Before then the candidate with the most years in Washington won 90% of the time but since then the insider has lost 9 of 11. Favors Mayor Pete over Uncle Joe.
- Voter enthusiasm is the highest ever recorded. If actual turnout matches enthusiasm, it could be the highest in 125 years. This might favor the Democrats but there could also be a tsunami of voters whose preferences are completely unknown to pollsters and pundits.
- Trump and the GOP are raising far more money than the Democrats and, with no primary, should have more on hand for the eventual battle. Remember how we used money to eliminate a quarter of the Democratic field?
- A recession would be bad for the President and the odds – now 1 in 3 – are increasing. With the exception of Coolidge in 1924, every President who faced a recession in the two years prior to election (five of them) has lost, while every President (12 of them) who has avoided a recession has won.
You’ll be much happier if you wait at least a year before worrying who’s going to win the 2020 election. If you do that, you will be the answer to the question I asked in the title.