A simple, surprisingly good election forecasting method

By The Economist online

PUNDITS, journalists, campaign hands and others spend an awesome amount of time during election season trying to work out what factors will swing the vote one way or another. Could it be a candidate’s likeability? Differences in policy? Her ad strategy? His habit of insulting large swathes of the electorate?

Campaign choices matter, but political science research suggests that the lay of the electoral land is largely shaped by factors beyond candidates’ control. People vote retrospectively, based on their perception of how things are going for them and those around them. But their perceptions are shaped by all sorts of things. As Christopher Achen, of Princeton University, and Larry Bartels, of Vanderbilt University, describe in Democracy for Realists, a book published earlier this year, voters sometimes punish politicians for bad weather, random misfortunes—an outbreak of shark attacks appears to have cost Woodrow Wilson votes in the 1916 election—and the performance of the local American football team.

Perhaps more importantly, voters are extremely myopic. They care about their economic welfare, and especially about whether or not their…

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Category: Business and finance, Free exchange

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