Margin of Σrror

Margin of Σrror -

Dick Morris exits Fox News: even he might have predicted this correctly | Harry J Enten

I’ve nothing personal against Morris, but I believe the public has a right to expect pundits to be accountable for their forecasting

I’m not a big one for schadenfreude but I confess to feeling a little frisson on hearing the news that Dick Morris was not getting his contract renewed by Fox News. It’s not that I wish Morris ill tidings; it’s that I want pundits to be held accountable for their incorrect forecasts.

Dick Morris has one of the worst electoral prediction records known to man.

I wrote last August on 10 Morris predictions that turned out to be not just wrong, but horribly off the mark. There were many more I didn’t even cover.

In the 2012 election, Morris topped himself. He kept insisting that Mitt Romney would win the presidential election. He had the “real polls” (whatever those were). His final prediction was Romney taking 325 electoral votes and the national vote by at least 5pt. Of course, it was Obama emerging victorious with 332 electoral votes and a 4pt national vote edge.

Morris’ performance earned him the title of “Worst Pundit of 2012” by Pundit Tracker. That’s an impressive achievement considering all the competition. In mathematical terms, Morris was wrong 80% in his prognostications: if you had placed a dollar bet on each Morris prediction in a prediction market, you would have lost 70% of your money.

I would be more forgiving of Morris if he had just said he was wrong, provided a real reason for his forecasts, and promised to be better in the future. After all, none of us is perfect or even close to it (see my mea culpa for slips in 2012). Instead, Morris blamed the usual “Hurricane Sandy allowed Obama to win” hypothesis, and then said he knew he had been wrong, yet he’d wanted to raise the spirit of Republicans. This sort of action from a person who is supposed to inform the public simply isn’t acceptable.

Analysts and pundits must be held accountable for their misses. They should not just be able to appear on television or in print the next day and say “oops!”, without consequences. Which is why I was glad that Fox News actually acted on Morris’ embarrassingly poor performance. It suggests that Fox executives do actually care, at least at some level, about the accuracy of the electoral analysis being broadcast.

Now, I just hope Fox doesn’t put Pat Caddell on again. They would be far better served by putting their own director of public research, Dana Blanton, on the air.

The only part of the Dick Morris departure that saddens me is that he has been booked to appear on Piers Morgan’s CNN show Wednesday evening. This can only be a misguided ploy to boost ratings, because if Morris’ appearance has anything to do with expertise, then I can only assume Morgan and his producers know very little about American politics.

In the past, Morgan has actually had a couple of great analysts on the show. Republican pollster Kristen Soltis was on more than a couple of times during the campaign. Soltis, part of the great Winston Group, really knows stuff.

Responding to the Morris news Tuesday night, I tweeted Morgan that he’d better off having Soltis back again. Soltis responded that she’d be “more than than happy to debate Dick Morris about the future of election forecasting!” I hope Morgan takes Soltis up on her offer: that would be worth watching.

But at least, Dick Morris being off the air at Fox is a win for anyone who cares about the quality of information being fed to the viewer. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Lance Armstrong’s Oprah PR disaster: polls show confessing is for losers | Harry J Enten

If Armstrong had studied the popularity of steroid-using baseball stars, he would have known: better to keep lying than come clean

Lance Armstrong’s doping admission to Oprah was a public relations nightmare in the making. While we can all agree that Lance would have been better-off not cheating at all (or at least confessing sooner), it’s fairly clear that once he cheated and lied, he probably should have kept lying if he wanted to maintain his public standing.

Yes, Lance’s favorability took a hit with the American public in the past year, but – even after the Usada report revelations in October 2012 – this drop in public approval was stabilizing prior to Oprah. His net favorable rating (+favorable minus –unfavorable) dropped 75pt, as doping rumors became louder and louder, from +76pt, in 2005, to +1pt, in October 2012.

Yet, by early January 2013, only 37% of American sports fans believed he should not get credit for his career accomplishments – including his seven Tour de France victories (sic). This compares with October 2012, when 49% thought Armstrong should give his medals back.

Before Oprah, in other words, Lance had more Americans with him than against him. And there was little sign that this would have changed, had he kept up the charade.

The first public polling on Lance seems to show that all his support is gone. After the Oprah interview aired, only 21% of Americans polled thought that he could now restore his reputation. This scientific poll conducted with Tampa Bay area residents by SurveyUSA demonstrated no gender, race, or real age gap. Polls done in the Portland and San Diego metropolitan areas produced the same findings.

Lance’s confession succeeded in alienating everybody. Only 17% in the SurveyUSA survey thought that Lance was being completely honest with Oprah. Those who thought he was a liar beforehand continue to think so now. Those who defended Lance for years, like ESPN’s Rick Reilly, now just feel they were duped. This is the political equivalent of having your own base turn against you.

This series of events matches the research on athletes who admit to steroid use in US sports, which indicates that it’s better just to keep denying: MM Haigh found that baseball players who apologized to their fans were no more likely to receive positive news coverage than those who did not. Jessica Korn studied polling data (pdf) and discovered that admission and apology actually resulted in decreased favorability, while denial was a more successful PR strategy.

That’s why Lance’s interview was a mistake. Had he just continued lying, history says that he still would have been able to convince many people, perhaps even the majority, that he was telling the truth. Armstrong, after all, was the person who had come back from cancer to “win” the Tour de France; the man who used his legacy to start the Livestrong charity foundation.

Public skepticism about whether Armstrong is even capable of candor will also hurt him if he tries to get back into competitive cycling and triathlon (even assuming he succeeds in getting his lifetime ban reduced). Anti-doping officials claim he cheated during his comeback in 2009 and 2010, while Lance told Oprah otherwise. Lacking almost all credibility, Armstrong is not in a good position to negotiate over that ban.

The only silver lining for Lance is that if he and cycling officials ever agree on terms for his return to competition, the public will be with them: 52% think that, at least at some point, he should be allowed to ride again. The problem for Armstrong is that 45% think he should never get a chance; an additional 26% that he should at least have to wait a few years. In all, a clear majority, 71%, considers that his punishment should stand for some time yet.

Whatever Armstrong’s strategic goal – to return to competition or just to begin a process of rehabilitation that makes him less toxic as a public figure – the trade-off would only be worth it if Armstrong’s favorability could recover. But this stain on his favorability is likely permanent: 63% of Americans say it’s unlikely Armstrong will be able to restore his reputation.

The numbers say that Armstrong has painted himself into a corner by confessing: the problem for this fallen American icon is that few, if any, now even believe in his apologies. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds