Saturday, December 29, 2007

Political predictions

It's the annual new year predictions season, when journalists combine their inside knowledge, speculation, wishful thinking and outright prejudice in the hope of making their word count in the absence of any actual political news. But while news-starved bloggers tend to lap these up and comment on them as a substitute for real news (witness DPF), few people seem to bother checking afterwards whether they came true - that is, whether our political journalists are any better than astrologers, or whether they can predict anything beyond the political equivalent of "there will be bad weather".

I was in particular wanting to do this for the Herald's Fran O'Sullivan, given her list seems to be well towards the "prejudice and wishful thinking" end of the scale. Unfortunately, I can't find her column for last year (if indeed she did one), and the usual suspects didn't blog about it. But I was able to find the Dominion-Post's predictions for 2007 (courtesy of DPF), and they make interesting reading. And at first glance, they seem to have done pretty well: of the 20 predictions made, nine turned out to be correct (numbers 2, 3, 7, 10, 16, 17, 18, and 19). But on closer inspection, their success is mostly illusory - several of their successful "predictions" were obvious to the point of banal ("A senior cabinet minister will surprise everyone by resigning", "Clark will reshuffle her cabinet" - "there will be a war and a major public figure will die"), while most of the substantive facts in the rest (Jones and Cunliffe's promotions, Mallard's non-promotion, Fitzsimons staying, greater minor party cooperation) were also obvious to those who bothered to follow the news. Which leaves them with the two substantive predictions about National's polling and lack of leadership speculation. Meanwhile, every other substantive prediction they made - on tax cuts, National announcing actual policy, Winston being rolled and the Progressives evaporating, and of course the National Party voting to evict money from politics - turned out to be wrong.

It will be interesting then to see how they do with their 2008 predictions. Still, with "predictions" like numbers 8 and 13 ( a retirement and a scandal? Who would have guessed?), they'll probably do at least as well as the astrologers.