Here's a shoddy interview by Deborah Solomon with a professor of economics at Yale named Ray C. Fair whose models predict that Bush will win in a landslide. More interesting even than the econometrics and the research is the unescapable bias of the New York Times interviewer. The first thing to notice is the headline (admittedly not written by the interviewer).
Bush Landslide (in Theory)!Whew, only in theory! What a relief! [Upon reflection, it may be that since the "!" is outside the "()" it applies more directly to the "Bush Landslide" than to the "in Theory".]
Ms. Solomon's statements are in italics.
As a professor of economics at Yale, you are known for creating an econometric equation that has predicted presidential elections with relative accuracy.Fine and good so far, and quite interesting.
My latest prediction shows that Bush will receive 57.5 percent of the two-party votes.
The polls are suggesting a much closer race.
Polls are notoriously flaky this far ahead of the election, and there is a limit to how much you want to trust polls.
Why should we trust your equation, which seems unusually reductive?As if the simplicity/complexity of the model is in any way related to its accuracy. Professor Fair responds to the question Ms. Solomon would have asked, if she knew what she was talking about.
It has done well historically. The average mistake of the equation is about 2.5 percentage points.
In your book ''Predicting Presidential Elections and Other Things,'' you claim that economic growth and inflation are the only variables that matter in a presidential race. Are you saying that the war in Iraq will have no influence on the election?I can imagine that Ms. Solomon is getting quite frustrated by this point. Professor Fair keeps returning to the data despite her efforts to convince him that his methods aren't aesthetically pleasing.
Historically, issues like war haven't swamped the economics. If the equation is correctly specified, then the chances that Bush loses are very small.
But the country hasn't been this polarized since the 60's, and voters seem genuinely engaged by social issues like gay marriage and the overall question of a more just society.
We throw all those into what we call the error term. In the past, all that stuff that you think should count averages about 2.5 percent, and that is pretty small.
It saddens me that you teach this to students at Yale, who could be thinking about society in complex and meaningful ways.Ms. Solomon doesn't seem to understand that the accuracy of the data demonstrates that the model is meaningful, regardless of whether or not it seems "complex" enough for her satisfaction. In reality, her frustration illustrates that the model is mathematically simple but conceptually complex -- she refuses to comprehend it because her intuition tells her that other things should be more important than they apparently are.
I will be teaching econometrics next year to undergraduates. Econometrics is a huge deal, because it is applied to all kinds of things.
Professor Fair's next response is classic.
[Snip some divergence.]This is sure to be another stumper for a journalist -- someone saying something just because it's true, despite it's potential political implications? Unfathomable.
Are you a Republican?
I can't credibly answer that question. Using game theory in economics, you are not going to believe me when I tell you my political affiliation because I know that you know that I could be behaving strategically. If I tell you I am a Kerry supporter, how do you know that I am not lying or behaving strategically to try to put more weight on the predictions and help the Republicans?
I don't want to do game theory. I just want to know if you are a Kerry supporter.
Backing away from game theory, which is kind of cute, I am a Kerry supporter.
I believe you entirely, although I'm a little surprised, because your predictions implicitly lend support to Bush.
I am not attempting to be an advocate for one party or another. I am attempting to be a social scientist trying to explain voting behavior.
But in the process you are shaping opinion. Predictions can be self-confirming, because wishy-washy voters might go with the candidate who is perceived to be more successful.And there, my friends, you have the essence of the journalistic bias against reporting Bush-favorable news, in black and white.