• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

SPRING FUNDRAISER

Is it time for our Spring fundraiser already? If you enjoy what we offer, and have the means, please consider donating. The sooner we reach our modest goal, the faster we can get back to business as (un)usual. Please, stay safe and we’ll see you down the road.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Seven Deadly Sins of Political Punditry

shutterstock_378437224

It’s high season for political punditry.   Pundits offer their take on who is ahead or behind and what every insignificant event or utterance means.  But before anyone gets too excited over what they spin,  their observations should be taken with a grain of salt because more often than not their analysis is faulty, corrupted by the seven deadly sins of political punditry.  What are these seven sins?

Confirmation Bias. 

People seek out information that confirms their pre-existing political biases and ignores that which contradicts it.  We surf the web and find memes which confirm what we already know to be the truth and repost and send to others.  One great example–the legendary meme that quotes Donald Trump in  a 1998 People Magazine story saying “If I were to run, I’d run as a Republican. They’re the dumbest group of voters in the country. They believe anything on Fox News. I could lie and they’d still eat it up. I bet my numbers would be terrific.”  To my Democrat friends the meme must be true but alas it is fake and there is no such story.

Cognitive Dissonance. 

Cognitive dissonance refers to the process of having or holding contradictory beliefs and the resulting stress in tying to reconcile and act upon them.  Look at how GOP presidentialswingcandidates and consultants put their best face on in supporting Trump, twisting over issues such as the recent controversy involving his attack on the Khans.  Or how liberals can embrace Clinton even though she supports the death penalty, free trade, and a muscular foreign policy.  One tool to relieve the pressures of cognitive dissonance is by appeal to confirmation bias–simply dismissing contradictory data or evidence.

Making Too Much Deal About the Polls. 

There are lots of reasons to question the infatuation of pundits with polls and how too much of a fuss is made over statistically  insignificant changes in their results.  Post RNC and DNC, a lot of noise was made in  terms of convention bumps and who was in the lead.  Historically presidential candidates get convention bumps but after a couple of weeks it fades.  No news here.  Pundits  nonetheless angst over them, especially when they pay for them and make them their main news story, such as what CNN has done recently.

Finally, aggregate public opinion polls in presidential races are meaningless–remember it is not the popular but the electoral vote that determines the president.  The race for the presidency is really 51 separate elections, of which only about ten really matter because that is how few swing states there are.

Misuse of Statistics and Selective Quotations. 

Mark Twain once said there are three kinds of falsehoods–lies, damn lies, and statistics.  Political punditry excels in th art of creative lying with statistics.  Candidates do it by only quoting those statistics that support their views, ignoring those which do not.    They also understand that most people are confused by statistics, don’t know the truth, or simply will not bother checking the sources of claims made.

Pundits do the same, especially on all the cable talk shows. Look too at Facebook and the social media.  There is literally very little posted that anyone can really trust.  People repost stuff with full knowledge and reliance upon the belief no one will every check to see if facts are true–such as the Trump meme noted above. This is also the case with posting stories long after they were originally published and now out of context, conveying the impression that it is new when it fact it is out of date or simply wrong now.

Confusing Short and Long Terms Horizons. 

What is true or news today may not be true on election day let alone tomorrow.  The Trump-Khan controversy is a great example.  Yes, it is great news and copy today buts its longer term impact is unclear.  Polls that reflect convention bumps, as noted above, fade, and one should not read too much into short term fluctuations.   Many pundits love to declare events as game changers.   Rarely do we see something as a game changer when it happens and it may take a long time to appreciate what really matters in a campaign.

Thinking what Happens Between Boston and Washington is all that Matters. 

Richard Nixon was famous for asking whether it will play in Peoria.  His point was that what the pundits think is important within the Boston to DC corridor may simply not matter to folks in the rest of the country.  Pundits are too obsessed with inside baseball, thinking that what matters to them and their friends is what matters to the rest of the country. Pundits simply talk to one another.  Watch CNN, MSNBC, and FOX.  They have the same cadre of insiders talking to insiders, predictably saying what you think they would.

Reacting to the Reaction.

Finally, the inside baseball problem of thinking only what happens between Boston and Washington is closely related to the problem of reacting to the reaction, or to unverified rumors.  Too much punditry is about one pundit saying something and then others react to that statement and then others react to that reaction.  At some point pundity is not about real politics but instead is a game of reporting on who pundited about what.  Punditry becomes so wrapped up in itself that it defines its own truth and logic–punditry for the sake of punditry.

So there you have it–the seven deadly sins of punditry.  The next time you see a post on social media or a comment by a pundit on television or elsewhere watch to see how many of these sins they commit.

More articles by:

David Schultz, Professor in the Department of Political Science at Hamline University and editor of the Journal of Public Affairs Education (JPAE). His latest book is Presidential Swing States:  Why Only Ten Matter.

Weekend Edition
May 29, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Nick Pemberton
White Supremacy is the Virus; Police are the Vector
T.J. Coles
What’s NATO Up to These Days? Provoking Russia, Draining Healthcare Budgets and Protecting Its Own from COVID
Benjamin Dangl
Bibles at the Barricades: How the Right Seized Power in Bolivia
Kevin Alexander Gray - Jeffrey St. Clair - JoAnn Wypijewski
There is No Peace: an Incitement to Justice
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Few Good Sadists
David Schultz
Trump isn’t the Pope and This Ain’t the Middle Ages
Joshua Frank
In Search of a Lost Socialism
Charles Pierson
Who are the “Wrong Hands” in Yemen?
Andrew Levine
Trump Is Unbeatable in the Race to the Bottom and So Is the GOP
Ramzy Baroud
Political Ambiguity or a Doomsday Weapon: Why Abbas Abandoned Oslo
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
A Growing Wave of Bankruptcies Threatens U.S. Recovery
Joseph Natoli
Conditions Close at Hand
N.D. Jayaprakash
No Lessons Learned From Bhopal: the Toxic Chemical Leak at LG Polymers India 
Ron Jacobs
The Odyssey of Elias Demetracopoulos
J.P. Linstroth
Arundhati Roy on Indian Migrant-Worker Oppression and India’s Fateful COVID Crisis
Melvin Goodman
Goodness Gracious, David Ignatius!!
Roger Harris
Blaming the COVID-19 Pandemic on Too Many Humans:  a Critique of Overpopulation Ideology
Sonali Kolhatkar
For America’s Wealthiest, the Pandemic is a Time to Profit
Prabir Purkayastha
U.S. Declares a Vaccine War on the World
David Rosen
Coronavirus and the Telecom Crisis
Paul Buhle
Why Does W.E.B. Du Bois Matter Today?
Mike Bader
The Only Way to Save Grizzlies: Connect Their Habitats
Dave Lindorff
Pandemic Crisis and Recession Can Spark a Fight for Real Change in the US
Nyla Ali Khan
The Sociopolitical and Historical Context That Shaped Kashmiri Women Like My Grandmother in the 1940s
Louis Proyect
Does Neo-Feudalism Define Our Current Epoch?
Ralph Nader
S. David Freeman: Seven Decades of Participating in Power for All of Us
Norman Solomon
Amy Klobuchar, Minneapolis Police and Her VP Quest
Maria Paez Victor
Venezuela in the 2020 Pandemic
Ron Mitchell
Defending Our Public Lands: One Man’s Legacy
Nomi Prins 
The Great Depression, Coronavirus Style: Crashes, Then and Now
Richard C. Gross
About That City on A Hill
Kathleen Wallace
An Oath for Hypocrites
Eve Ottenberg
Common Preservation or Extinction?
Graham Peebles
Air Pollution Mental Illness and Covid-19
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
Unearned Income for All
Evan Jones
The Machine Stops
Nicky Reid
Proudhon v. Facebook: A Mutualist Solution to Cyber Tyranny
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
What is a “Native” Plant in a Changing World?
Shailly Gupta Barnes
Why are Our Leaders Still Putting Their Faith in the Rich?
John Kendall Hawkins
In Search of the Chosŏn People of Lost Korea
Nick Licata
How Hydroxychloroquine Could Help Trump…Politically
Jill Richardson
Tens of Millions of Are Out of Work, Why on Earth is Trump Trying to Cut Food Aid?
Susan Block
Incel Terrorism
Mitchel Cohen
Masks and COVID-19: an Open Letter to Robert Kennedy Jr and Children’s Health Defense
May 28, 2020
Melvin Goodman
Trump’s War on Arms Control and Disarmament
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail