One autumn out of four, election forecasting surpasses baseball as America's national pastime. Then, everyone wants to know who will win, and everyone has a guess. Now, with the ballots carefully counted, forecasters await their awards. Below, I evaluate the quality of a wide range of 1984 presidential and congressional forecasts. The evaluation proceeds from nonscientific to scientific approaches, although this distinction is sometimes blurred. To lower the level of suspense, I should say that some forecasts turned out to be quite good. By way of conclusion, I offer a set of rules for selecting a high-quality forecasting instrument.
Many popular election forecasting rules take advantage of chance, which has been working in their favor. Perhaps the most famous is the World Series forecast, which says, “If the American League wins the World Series, then the Republican presidential candidate will win.” This technique was accurate from 1952 to 1976, missed in 1980, but worked again in 1984 with the victory of the Detroit Tigers. A lesser known rule of this type, which is my personal favorite, is based on the Beaujolais wine harvest. Accordingly, “If the Beaujolais vintage looks bad, then the Republican will take the presidency.” This has held post-1960, and continues to do so with the poor 1984 crop (yielding a wine too light, with little color). There are other such rules that relate more directly to the candidates themselves and, in that sense, have more verisimilitude.