Political scientists and political pundits have different views of presidential elections and different methods of estimating election results. The average American citizen receives information about a political candidate through the media and the campaigns themselves. Campaigns use informative methods such as canvassing, mailers, phone banking, and advertising in different media outlets to get messages about their candidate to voters and hopefully attract more votes. Political scientists conduct experiments to determine which method most effectively achieves this, based on the population at hand.
Campaigns are not the only source of political advice in the media during elections; journalists and political pundits report on and give their analysis of political campaigns and candidates throughout the election as well. While political pundits and their opinions of candidates and campaigns are widely available to the electorate in media outlets, political scientists have access to more information on the campaign and voter preferences than political pundits, allowing them to conduct more in-depth research, and use hard data to determine how to deliver their messages. Political scientists have a more accurate and data-driven view of elections than pundits and journalists, who have more visibility. While their views differ because of their access, methods, and research (or lack thereof), in 2012, some political “pundits” adopted the mathematical methods used by political scientists and predicted the election results almost perfectly. In the future, political pundits have the decision to embrace political science and empirical methods, or stick with their methods and erroneously predict election outcomes.
Political scientists and political analysts have different perspectives of presidential election campaigns. Political scientists use elections as a time to conduct experiments that will eventually help campaigns catch more votes. Elections give them a chance to gather voter information and data on the effectiveness of different methods of contact so that they can develop an improved voter database, micro-target voters, and make better predictions of election results. They use empirical data from their experiments to decide what methods to employ in their campaigns and who is most likely to vote based on the tailored messages and field campaigns. Political pundits, on the other hand, view presidential election campaigns as a time to share their “knowledge” and opinion, increase viewership, and influence the public. They analyze the campaign and polls to inform listeners and viewers of how they predict the election will turn out and how the candidates and campaign events will impact the polls, and ultimately, the election results.
Political scientists and political pundits also use different methods to collect information and their dissimilar methods also accounts for their varied views of campaigns. Political scientists use experiments in field campaigning, diverse mailers, phone banking with scripts and with robo-calls, and different ads to find out more information about the electorate. They also use this data to determine what information and contact method is most likely to cause citizens to come out to the polls or to switch their vote. Campaigns collect data points on voters in order to connect them to larger election data and draw patterns in society. This allows the scholars to micro-target ads and canvassing scripts or materials to individual voters. Recent campaigns use social media platforms to reach out and advertise to younger voters as well. Conversely, political pundits use news, polls, and other public information as the basis of their analysis and the material used in their show or article. Most pundits do not use the empirical approach that scientists use; they use consumer data to identify voters. For instance, Issenberg reports that journalists stereotype Republicans with products such as bourbon and Jaguars and associate Democrats with cognac and Subarus, even though these categories do not necessarily indicate political preference (Issenberg 160).
The type of voter information and the degree to which political scientists and pundits can access it is important. Political scientists have much wider access to voter information and more hard data and statistical information from experiments to back up their polling predictions than pundits do. Scientists working with campaigns have access to voter databases with identifying information that allows them to micro-target voters (Issenberg 263). In contrast, journalists and pundits have access to public pollster data, but not voter databases.
The most accurate political pundit in the 2012 presidential election, Nate Silver, used statistics and mathematical formulas based on multiple polling sources to determine his election prediction (Engber). Silver took the approach political scientists use and was more accurate than the political pundits who based their predictions on reasoning and what they have observed in the polls throughout the campaign (Plummer). The results of pundit predictions and political science predictions show that the mathematic, data-driven approach political scientists take is more accurate than the non-scientific approach political pundits take (Plummer). Pundits have the decision to learn from Silver’s example, or keep their non-empirical methods and inaccurately predict election results. Which will they choose?
Engber, Daniel. “Silver Medal.” Slate. The Washington Post, Web. 7 Nov. 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2013. < Engber, D. (2013). Silver Medal. <http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2012/11/nate_silver_obama_s_big_win_doesn_t_mean_the_538_guru_is_an_electoral_genius.html>.
Issenberg, S. (2012). The Victory Lab. New York: Random House, Inc. Print.
Plummer, Brad. “Pundit Accountability: The Official 2012 Election Prediction Thread.” The Washington Post. The Washington Post, 5 Nov. 2012. Web. 20 Feb. 2013. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2012/11/05/pundit-accountability-the-official-2012-election-prediction-thread/>.