[Paleopsych] NYT Mag: Bush Landslide (in Theory)!
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Thu Aug 19 01:15:09 UTC 2004
Bush Landslide (in Theory)!
QUESTIONS FOR RAY C. FAIR
New York Times Magazine, 4.8.15
Interview by DEBORAH SOLOMON
Q As a professor of economics at Yale, you are known for
creating an econometric equation that has predicted
presidential elections with relative accuracy.
My latest prediction shows that Bush will receive 57.5
percent of the two-party votes.
The polls are suggesting a much closer race.
Polls are notoriously flaky this far ahead of the election, and there
is a limit to how much you want to trust polls.
Why should we trust your equation, which seems unusually
It has done well historically. The average mistake of the
equation is about 2.5 percentage points.
In your book ''Predicting Presidential Elections and Other
Things,'' you claim that economic growth and inflation are
the only variables that matter in a presidential race. Are
you saying that the war in Iraq will have no influence on
Historically, issues like war haven't swamped the
economics. If the equation is correctly specified, then the
chances that Bush loses are very small.
But the country hasn't been this polarized since the 60's,
and voters seem genuinely engaged by social issues like gay
marriage and the overall question of a more just society.
We throw all those into what we call the error term. In the
past, all that stuff that you think should count averages
about 2.5 percent, and that is pretty small.
It saddens me that you teach this to students at Yale, who
could be thinking about society in complex and meaningful
I will be teaching econometrics next year to
undergraduates. Econometrics is a huge deal, because it is
applied to all kinds of things.
Yes, I know one of your studies used the econometric method
to predict who is most likely to have an extramarital
In that case, the key economic question was whether
high-wage people are more or less likely to engage in an
affair. They are slightly more likely to have an affair.
But the economic theory is ambiguous because if your wage
is really high, that tends to make you work more, and that
would cut down on how much time you want to spend in an
Are you a Republican?
I can't credibly answer that question. Using game theory in
economics, you are not going to believe me when I tell you
my political affiliation because I know that you know that
I could be behaving strategically. If I tell you I am a
Kerry supporter, how do you know that I am not lying or
behaving strategically to try to put more weight on the
predictions and help the Republicans?
I don't want to do game theory. I just want to know if you
are a Kerry supporter.
Backing away from game theory, which is kind of cute, I am
a Kerry supporter.
I believe you entirely, although I'm a little surprised,
because your predictions implicitly lend support to Bush.
I am not attempting to be an advocate for one party or
another. I am attempting to be a social scientist trying to
explain voting behavior.
But in the process you are shaping opinion. Predictions can
be self-confirming, because wishy-washy voters might go
with the candidate who is perceived to be more successful.
It could work the other way. If Kerry supporters see that
I have made this big prediction for Bush, more of them
could turn out just to prove an economist wrong.
Perhaps you could create an equation that would calculate
how important the forecasts of economists are.
There are so many polls and predictions, and I am not sure
the net effect of any one of them is much.
Yes, everyone in America is a forecaster. We all think we
know how things will turn out.
So in that case, no one has much influence, including me.
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