A confession: We can’t predict who will win Iowa

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Former NFL quarterback and current ESPN commentator Ron Jaworski is one of the smartest football analysts out there. Each week, “Jaws” looks at stacks of stats and watches countless hours of film. And then he goes on Tony Kornheiser’s radio show on Friday and predicts which teams he thinks will win and lose.

And you know what? A monkey is beating him this season. By a lot.

That’s right, a monkey named Reginald has a much better win/loss record on The Tony Kornheiser Show this year than Jaws (Note: I’m sure there is no “monkey” — it’s a radio schtick. But the point is that random guesses perform much better than a so-called “expert”.)

Why does this matter? If you’re watching cable news right now, there are a lot of Ron Jaworskis making predictions about Iowa. They are looking at the latest polls, and — depending on which poll just hit the news — they are predicting that Ron Paul or Mitt Romney will win Iowa. And they are writing Newt Gingrich’s obituary, while predicting that “Rick Santorum might just surprise a lot of folks.”

(Of course, I’m guilty of this to some extent — though I would argue I’m not as obsessed with the up-to-the-minute polling or the horse race stuff as some of my colleagues.)

But you know what? A monkey would probably out-perform most of the talking heads.

Predicting who will actually show up at a caucus is hard. There are countless variables to consider.

And it’s important to confess that we have a track record of getting things wrong.

You don’t have to go terribly far back in history for a good example of the experts having egg on their faces.

In 2008, the everyone just knew Barack Obama would win the New Hampshire primary. I was on the ground in the Granite State, and I can attest to the fact that all signs indeed indicated Obama would easily win there.

And then Hillary Clinton won.

The experts got it wrong in New Hampshire four years ago — and they might get it wrong in Iowa (or New Hampshire) again this year. Polling has its place, but anything can happen. We might be surprised by what happens on Tuesday. As they say, that’s why they play the games.

Matt K. Lewis