Political Pundits Correctly Predict Wisconsin (As Usual)

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Trump lost Wisconsin, and we all called it. It was like a storm that the meteorologists saw developing weeks in advance. Sometimes the experts get it right. Actually, most of the time they do. We don’t notice when they do; we only complain when someone gets our order wrong, when we get a salad instead of fries. We rarely notice that the kitchen almost always gets our order correct, because that’s what they’re supposed to do.

As Wisconsin demonstrates, short-range political forecasts are usually right. There are exceptions, of course (see Bernie Sanders’ surprise win in Michigan). Generally, though, it is long-range forecasts that are (understandably) hard for pollsters and pundits to call.

This was my personal experience. I saw the trends that led to Trump coming (I wrote a book about it—and penned numerous pieces suggesting there was an opening for a populist candidate who could appeal to working class whites), yet I completely underestimated Trump’s potential to fill this niche. (Few thought Hurricane Trump would make landfall.)

Despite that, I still got almost all of the GOP primaries right—when I was asked to make a prediction within a week, or so, of the primary or caucus.

As Hugh Hewitt wrote,

…The Daily Caller’s Matt Lewis and I are parading our near perfect win streak of predictions after three GOP primary contests. We have both called both races the same way and got only the bronze in New Hampshire wrong. (We both underestimated the damage Chris Christie did to [crscore]Marco Rubio[/crscore].) Eight out of nine win/place/show calls is pretty good, and enough for me to put away my crystal ball for the foreseeable future.

My book Too Dumb to Fail takes a few shots at the people who constantly make egregious predictions (looking at you, Dick Morris!) and get away with it for years. But I think the pendulum might have swung too far, in terms of our mocking political prognosticators.

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Someone made a good point about this recently on Bill Simmons’ podcast. Nobody would expect a sports columnist to accurately predict who is going to win the Super Bowl or World Series before the season starts. There are dozens of teams, and some will get hot while others will suffer a devastating injury—or unexplainable slump.

An example: I’m an Orioles fan, so this is fresh on my mind. In 2014, the O’s won the American League Eastern Division. But here’s the thing: almost nobody saw it coming:

Here on CBSSports.com, only one of us four (Jon Heyman) picked the Orioles to win the division. The other three of us had them finishing fourth. ESPN.com had a whopping 44 people make predictions, and just two picked them to take the East. Of the six prognosticators for SI.com, zero chose the Orioles to win the AL East. One of the 14 MLB.com analysists pegged the Orioles to win the division while none of Yahoo.com’s five did.

Should Sports Illustrated fire their writers for failing to see that the Orioles would emerge as division champions in 2014? That wouldn’t make much sense. Sports writers are great at telling stories as they develop, and helping enrich our experience as readers and fans. They teach us things we don’t know, and put things in context. Is accurately prophesying who will clinch the AL East division a year out really a core competency we ought to expect them to master?

Baseball teams play 162 games a year, and it’s really hard to predict the ups and downs that will occur during the course of a season. As Crash Davis famously says in Bull Durham, “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.” The same is true of political candidates—and pundits!