Why Political Pundits Need To Stop Making Big Predictions
Political veterans commenting in the media have, in most cases, earned the right to have their opinions taken with appropriate deference to their success and experience.
However, many wise old political grandmasters have struggled to keep the egg from their faces of late which is surprising considering the increasingly volatile nature of politics here and around the world.
Over the past few years we’ve seen an unprecedented number of political results against-the-run-of-play that have shocked pundits and left pollsters scratching their heads. The sharp rise and fall of Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull, both touted as long-term leaders; the unexpected Brexit result; and of course the election of President Trump.
It seems we’re entering a new age of political unpredictability where all bets are off, or at least the odds are much harder to calculate.
In spite of this new reality we still see many doyens of Australian politics emphatically predict, with wilful abandon, the outcome of elections, often many months in advance.
Graham Richardson is a respected political icon who has years of experience serving in the Federal Parliament and analysing politics in ‘retirement’, battling ill health along the way. Yet even this political veteran was spectacularly wrong in his prediction on the recent NSW election.
In early September 2018, six months out from the election, Richardson wrote:
"…Gladys Berejiklian is a Premier in waiting -- that is, waiting for the electorate to put an end to her misery and that of her government."
He went on to say that the Premier had "struggled to make a connection with voters", later retweeting his prediction that the Premier was on her way out.
Six months later the Premier was dubbed the ‘Glady-ator,’ making history as the first elected female Premier of NSW.
And Richo seems to have forgotten his previous dire prediction for the Premier, writing in his regular column this week:
Anecdotally, I never felt Labor and Michael Daley had much of a chance. The biggest single problem facing Labor, Premier Gladys Berejiklian, has run a pretty good government. She and her more-than-capable Treasurer, Dominic Perrottet, have been able to produce surpluses while still pouring heaps of dollars into some big infrastructure programs which will serve the state well into the future.
In fairness to Mr Richardson, circumstances do change as elections draw near. The old adage used to be that ‘a week is a long time in politics’, whereas today it’s more accurate to say a ‘tweet is a long time in politics’. After the Wagga by-election the Coalition Government did indeed seem to have its back against the wall.
However, recent Australian political history is littered with examples of stellar comebacks. In 2001 the Howard Government lost the safe QLD seat of Ryan in a by-election with political pundits calling it the beginning of the end. A few months later, the Coalition won the marginal seat of Aston in another by-election and ultimately won a comfortable victory at the general election.
READ MORE: Michael Daley Quits As NSW Labor Leader
In 2004 the kingmakers of the federal press gallery claimed it was all ‘over for Howard’ as he squared off against a young and dynamic Mark Latham. A forestry deal and a horrible handshake later and Howard was elected for a fourth term.
And in NSW, after a strong start as Leader of the Opposition, who would have bet on Michael Daley being unable to outline his own policies and then being caught out in double-speak on Asian immigration.
The point being that by now, our political elders should have come to understand that in the modern world of ‘gotcha’ journalism and the 24-hour news cycle, calling an election so far out is risky at best and at worst a flying egg waiting to happen.
In contrast stands John Howard, perhaps the last of the true conviction politicians, for better or worse.
Yet when it comes to political predictions, he’s cautious.
Mr Howard seems to assess the political landscape as it stands and highlight the strengths and challenges facing his own brand -- but he never shoots from the hip on what will or won’t happen. He’s been around too long and seen an entire encyclopaedia of ‘stranger things’ happening to make the mistake of reckless prognostication.
With the federal election just around the corner, perhaps our elder political preachers who are called upon to comment on the state of political play should take a leaf out of Mr Howard’s bestselling book -- analyse more and predict less.
Unless of course their secret agenda is to support the egg farmers of Australia.