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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

How math failed pundits

In April 2010, Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics saw something his elders did not see: the coming historic flip of the House six months out. While others were saying Nancy Pelosi would remain speaker, Trende said it could be a tsunami bigger than the 1994 Gingrich Revolution.

It was. Trende had looked beyond the poll numbers and saw something the rest of the crowd missed.

Therefore, I was surprised he missed the Trumpvolution. He fell in line with his contemporaries in producing the conventional wisdom, which is -- well this is what he wrote:
Throughout this primary season, I've had an ongoing fight with a co-worker about whether Donald Trump could win the general election. I was pretty firmly in the “if the economy collapses, maybe, but he is much more likely to drag the entire Republican field down with him” camp.
To resolve this, my co-worker invited me to set up some benchmarks: what we would have to see in order to believe that Trump really could win the election – not just that he had some sort of outside shot in a perfect storm, but that he had a legitimate, realistic chance of winning.
To cover my bases, I tried to set benchmarks that I thought would be really difficult for Trump to meet: He would have to pull within five points of Hillary Clinton in the RCP Average within a month of wrapping up the GOP race (this was back when he was down by 10), and then he would have to prove that he could lead her in a polling average (rather than in the occasional outlying poll) by the end of the Republican convention.
So, here we are. Last week, Trump was up by 0.2 percent in the RCP Average, meeting both of my goalposts two months ahead of schedule.
Lesson learned and a promise to do better?


He wrote this:
I still believe that he is the underdog, but I have to concede that he can win. I would put his chances more around 30 percent today.  If at some point he establishes a durable lead (he returned to trailing Clinton Friday morning), or if he can push his average up into the high forties, I will revise things accordingly.
Dude, 30 percent when they are virtually tied?

Trende is a victim of math. Most writers do not understand science, but they can handle simple math, which to them is writing with numbers instead of letters. You attach a number to a subject and voila, science.


This is how socialists promoted global warming even during a time when the world cooled a little. Say 97% of the scientists agreed. Instant proof. Debate over.

In recent decades polls have replaced common sense in political punditry. And if the polls are wrong -- as the Iowa Poll has been since it began in 1988 -- the explanation is that the candidate did better or worse than expected, rather than admit that the poll was crap.

What Sean Trende missed is what had brought him to my attention six years ago; this time he failed to look up from the numbers and view what was actually happening with his own eyes. As Charles Murray wrote in the National Review:
I know that I am unlikely to persuade any of my fellow Establishmentarians to change their minds. But I cannot end without urging you to resist that sin to which people with high IQs (which most of you have) are unusually prone: Using your intellectual powers to convince yourself of something despite the evidence plainly before you. Just watch and listen to the man. Don’t concoct elaborate rationalizations. Just watch and listen.
This election is a referendum on Donald Trump. Plain and simple. That is all we talk about: Trump, Trump, Trump. He ran against 16 boring candidates -- although Lyin' Ted Cruz's crybaby antics at the end were rather entertaining -- and now he is running against the Lucrezia Borgia of American politics. It should not be close on November 8, 2016, but we shall see.

We have such referendum elections from time to time. It happens when the public wants a big change from what it has in Washington. All the newcomer has to do is prove that he is capable of doing the job without to much embarrassment. We saw this with FDR in 1932, Ronald Reagan in 1980, Barack Obama in 2008, and now Mister Trump.

I am surprised Sean Trende missed it.

Available on Kindle on July 1 -- "Trump the Press: Don Surber's take on how the pundits blew the 2016 Republican race."


  1. The difference is in the balance of the mind between ratio and intellectus. Ratio is perhaps best described as analytical thinking, and is the predominant form of thought used today because it lends itself to educational processes readily. Intellectus in the classical sense is what an angel does. An angel looks at a situation and comprehends it with a glance. No need for analysis or going through any algorithm or logical template. Humans do not have this capability in a raw sense, but it is there. We develop a little bit of this capacity by experience and habit, but because it cannot be taught in schools other than encouraged by rote methods it has become completely neglected. Most educators don't even discuss it directly but hint at it when they talk about non-analytical reasoning, which sound like an oxymoron. It is not. This is the problem that people like Trends and Silver have, and their inability to see outside the numbers starts with a prejudiced view of human capability that pervades our culture. It is so obscure that it isn't even discussed in departments of philosophy or theology any more.

  2. That guy does math the way Charlie Brown does baseball.

    1. Speaking of Peanuts, I have to wonder whether Don Surber ever feels like Linus, trying to educate the usual suspects of the Press.

  3. Barry will try to make the Fall contest a referendum on him, the way he did in '10 and '14.

    If so, watch the Demos get creamed.

  4. Replies
    1. "Hard", in the sense of unforgiving. Unlike the "Ouzo Economics" of Greece, Europe in general and the Dems. Or Climate "Science". They're much softer "sciences". To the point of being mushy.

  5. As Scott Adams says, Trump brings a flamethrower to a stickfight by engaging in persuasion at the most important and compelling level, while others insist that details and policy matter because we are rational creatures who use logic and reason to make our voting ... LOL I can't even finish typing it. The battle being won by Trump right now is not the battle pundits and "experts" are watching. Different levels, and most of the experts are still stuck in a prior century.