Students at Hamilton College analyzed the predictions of a couple dozen pundits and found that the majority of them aren’t all that good at it. Best of the lot, however, was the liberal economist and Nobel Prize winner, Paul Krugman. Coming in last was conservative Cal Thomas. Overall, liberals scored better than conservatives. Interesting findings.
Pundits as Accurate as Coin Toss According to Study
Krugman Tops, Cal Thomas at Bottom of Accurate Predictors
By Vige Barrie
May 2, 2011
Op-ed columnists and TV’s talking heads build followings by making bold, confident predictions about politics and the economy. Rarely have their predictions been analyzed for accuracy.
Five seniors directed by Professor of Government Gary Wyckoff have analyzed the predictions of 26 prognosticators between September 2007 and December 2008. They found that most of them were not significantly different, in a statistical sense, than a coin flip. The students responsible for this study include seniors Holly Donaldson, Russell Doubleday, Scott Hefferman, Evan Klondar and Kate Tummarello.
The Hamilton students sampled the predictions of 26 individuals who wrote columns in major print media and who appeared on the three major Sunday news shows – Face the Nation, Meet the Press and This Week – and evaluated the accuracy of 472 predictions made during the 16-month period. They used a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being “will not happen,” 5 being “will absolutely happen”) to rate the accuracy of each and then divided them into three categories: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.
The students found that only nine of the prognosticators could predict more accurately than a coin flip. Two were significantly less accurate, and the remaining 14 were not statistically any better or worse than a coin flip.
The top prognosticators – led by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman – scored above five points and were labeled “Good,” while those scoring between zero and five were “Bad.” Anyone scoring less than zero (which was possible because prognosticators lost points for inaccurate predictions) were put into “The Ugly” category. Syndicated columnist Cal Thomas came up short and scored the lowest of the 26.
Even when the students eliminated political predictions and looked only at predictions for the economy and social issues, they found that liberals still do better than conservatives at prediction. After Krugman, the most accurate pundits were Maureen Dowd of The New York Times, former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – all Democrats and/or liberals. Also landing in the “Good” category, however, were conservative columnists Kathleen Parker and David Brooks, along with Bush Administration Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson. Left-leaning columnist Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post rounded out the “good” list.
Those scoring lowest – “The Ugly” – with negative tallies were conservative columnist Cal Thomas; U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC); U.S. Senator Carl Levin (D-MI); U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman, a McCain supporter and Democrat-turned-Independent from Connecticut; Sam Donaldson of ABC; and conservative columnist George Will.
Landing between the two extremes – “The Bad” – were Howard Wolfson, communications director for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign; former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, a hopeful in the 2008 Republican primary; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican; Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic nominee for president in 2004; liberal columnist Bob Herbert of The New York Times; Andrea Mitchell of NBC; New York Times columnist Tom Friedman; the late David Broder, former columnist for The Washington Post; Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page; New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof; and Hillary Clinton.
The group also found a link between conditional predictions and accuracy, that is, a prediction that was conditional (“If A, then B”) was less likely to be accurate. Finally, those prognosticators with a law degree were more likely to be wrong.