There's a case to be made that people who write about politics should just avoid making predictions altogether. There are plenty of substantive matters to talk about, and one's readers aren't much enlightened by your average opinion-monger's call on what's going to happen on Election Day, or whether a particular bill will pass, or which country we'll invade next. There is certainly value to be had in systematic examinations of polling data, but is there really anything to be gained from your average ideological writer's call on what will happen on Tuesday? Maybe it's best left for the office pool.
Yet the temptation is so strong. There's an equally powerful temptation to have your assessment of what is likely to happen be colored by what you want to happen. We're all extremely good at convincing ourselves that unlike everybody else, we've looked at things objectively. Yet if you look around at all the pundits and bloggers making predictions about the election, you'll find that almost all of them are convinced their guy is going to win.
Let's take a couple of particularly sad examples from the right. At the National Review, Michael Novak says that Romney will win by a rather remarkable 52-46 margin. Why? "To keep one's feet on the ground in the United States, one must watch which candidate working males—steelworkers, miners, gas-station attendants, truck drivers, and so on—are favoring. And which way married women are trending." If by that he means white working males and married women (and I'm pretty sure he does), then it just happens that he's picked two of the demographic categories in which Republicans have done unusually well in recent years. They're the ones to watch!
Furthermore, "Recently every day shows more strength for Romney, especially in the most hotly contested states." You may argue that polls in most battlegrounds actually seem to be showing exactly the opposite, but you're just not looking in the right place. Novak declares that although there are many, many polls, "The one I count most trustworthy is Rasmussen (which came closest to hitting the exact result for 2008), and the oldest and best known is Gallup." By sheer coincidence, these are the two polls that have consistently showed the most favorable numbers for Romney.
Over at The Weekly Standard, Jay Cost has a similar take. Though the polls may not seem to herald a Romney rout, he declares that they do if only you focus on the right questions, like who has the advantage on the economy, and which way independents are leaning. In other words, if a poll shows Obama ahead, but shows Romney ahead among independents, then it is actually showing Romney ahead.
And those are just a couple. Here's Karl Rove explaining why "Sometime after the cock crows on the morning of November 7, Mitt Romney will be declared America's 45th president" Here's Powerline Blog, with an article entitled "Why Romney Will Win," the same title as on Michael Novak's piece (Jay Cost's was more carefully titled, "Why I Think Romney Will Win"). Here's Republican consultant Frank Donatelli, with "Why Romney Will Win." Here's Republican columnist Rich Galen, with "Romney Will Win." And for good measure, here's Dick Morris predicting not just a Romney win but a Romney "landslide."
Do they all believe it? With the exception of Morris, who is just a con artist, I'm sure they all do. As I said, we can all fall prey to this kind of confirmation bias, where when confronted with a dozen pieces of evidence, we home right in on the one or two pieces that confirm our prior beliefs and what we'd like to be true. If you asked liberals you'd find an equal level of confidence in an Obama win. I'm not saying I'm immune; eight years ago I was sure John Kerry was going to win. But I do think that the more you work to be aware of your own biases, the less you'll allow them to distort your thinking. It's something we could all benefit from.