<$BlogRSDURL$>

 

Preposterous Universe

Saturday, August 21, 2004
 
Fair's election equation

VOTE = 55.57 + .691*GROWTH - .775*INFLATION + .837*GOODNEWS

The media hook is obvious: distinguished scholar defies conventional wisdom to predict Bush landslide. So, it's probably not surprising that Ray Fair's election equation has generated so much attention. Over the last few months Fair's predictions have been cited by such influential sources as the The New York Times, The New Yorker, MSNBC, and the National Review Online. Eugene Volokh has even commented the Fair coverage, so we know we've got a phenomenon on our hands.

Unfortunately, the press has glossed over the reasoning behind Fair's predictions. The celebrated election equation is just a linear regression. Fair plotted vote share against economic data for American presidential elections (1919-2000). His model weights the following factors: incumbency, economic growth and inflation during the election year, and "goodnews" (how many of the last 15 quarters saw growth >3.2%). The election equation is based on correlations, but Fair believes that his model captures a causal relationship between the economy and voting. He claims that his model predicts electoral outcomes because people vote to maximize their expected utility. He makes the further claim that voters make their decision based prevailing economic conditions and the assumption that they are better off under an incumbent with a reasonable economic track record.

Some question Fair's assumption that the economy will receive historically typical consideration in 2004. But even if we set aside these Humean worries, Fair's model is seriously compromised. The unreported story is that bad economic news has steadily eroded Bush's projected lead. Even so, Fair steadfastly maintains that Bush has this election in the bag (unless his model is deeply flawed). To satisfy his readers that Bush's projected advantage is not due to overly optimistic projections for Q3 2004, Fair allows readers to plug their own data into his equation. The model projects a Bush victory even for dire Q3 predictions. Why? Largely because incumbents have historically enjoyed such a big advantage over challengers.
One reason for Bush's strong standing is that he gets a substantial head start by virtue of the incumbency effect. As calculated by Fair, any member of the incumbent presidential party is presumed to derive some benefit, but none more than a Republican whose party has been in office for only a single term. Based on Fair's analysis of elections since 1916, Democrats always have a slight disadvantage, and voters tend to tire of the incumbent party the longer it has occupied the White House. [MSNBC]


Fair is predicting one of the biggest landslides in American political history, a prediction sharply at odds with polling data. The latest polls give John Kerry a slight edge in a very close race.

When asked to explain the gap between his predictions and the best measures of political opinion, Fair dismisses polls as "flaky" [NYT]. Fair can't afford to be so cavalier. His model ought to fit the preliminary data, but it doesn't. The model assumes that voters deliberate rationally and that they assign the same weight to each variable as the model does. Fair believes that people vote their economic self interest based on the assumption that an incumbent with a decent economic track record will help them.

If Fair is right, voters already have most of the information that they will use to make up their minds in 2004. They know who the incumbent is. They know about the disappointing second quarter data. They know that Bush only has two "goodnews" quarters in his entire presidency.

Today's polls must already reflect Bush's incumbent's advantage and his economic performance to date. If Fair's model is correct, Bush should already enjoy a substantial lead. The fact that he's tied or trailing is already worrisome from Fair's point of view. Moreover, if the electorate were to shift its opinions to match Fair's projections, his theory couldn't explain why. Fair claims that his model is successful because it captures the rational weighting process that voters use to choose their candidates. But if voters do stampede for Bush in the waning days of the campaign, their behavior won't conform to Fair's weighted averages. We know this because the public already knows most of what Fair says they need to know to make up their minds. So, Fair is in a double bind. If his model gives the right answer, we will know it did so for the wrong reasons.

[x-posted with Majikthise.]

 
Ideas on culture, science, politics.
Sean Carroll


Preposterous Home
Atom Site Feed (xml)
RSS Feed
Technorati Profile
Bloglines Citations
Blogroll Me

Elsewhere
3quarksdaily
About Last Night
Alas, a Blog
The American Sector
apostropher
applecidercheesefudge
archy
Asymmetrical Information
Big Brass Blog
Bitch, Ph.D.
Blondesense
BlogBites
Body and Soul
Brad DeLong
Chris C Mooney
Collision Detection
Creek Running North
Crescat Sententia
Crooked Timber
Daily Kos
Daniel Drezner
Decembrist
Deepen the Mystery
Dispatches from the Culture Wars
Dynamics of Cats
Electron Blue
Eschaton
Explananda
Ezra Klein
Fafblog
Feministe
The Fulcrum
Girls Are Pretty
Grammar.police
Jacques Distler
James Wolcott
John and Belle
Julie Saltman
Lawyers, Guns and Money
Leiter Reports
locussolus
The Loom
Majikthise
Matt McIrvin
Matthew Yglesias
Michael Bérubé
Michael Nielsen
Mixing Memory
Mr. Sun
Not Even Wrong
Obsidian Wings
Orange Quark
Paige's Page
Pandagon
Panda's Thumb
Pharyngula
Playing School, Irreverently
Political Animal
The Poor Man
Quantum Diaries
Quark Soup
Real Climate
Rhosgobel
Roger Ailes
Rox Populi
Shakespeare's Sister
Simple Stories
Sisyphus Shrugged
Smijer & Buck
TPM Cafe
TigerHawk
uggabugga
Uncertain Principles
Unfogged
Volokh Conspiracy
Wonkette


Powered by Blogger
Comments by Haloscan
RSS Feed by 2RSS.com


Archives
February 2004
March 2004
April 2004
May 2004
June 2004
July 2004
August 2004
September 2004
October 2004
November 2004
December 2004
January 2005
February 2005
March 2005
April 2005
May 2005
June 2005
July 2005