Rehabilitating the single-factor models

Lots of people — myself included — have mocked the penchant of a certain kind of political scientist who like to say that all the superficial busyness of election campaigns is just a distraction, it matters not at all, nor do the candidates really. Presidential elections are decided by the “fundamentals” — usually one or two economic variables. Except that the models work much better for the past than they do for the present or future, and so end up with lots of corrections: So much for an ongoing war, so much for incumbency, or for a party having been in office too long, and so on. They seem kind of ridiculous. Obviously people care who the candidates were. And, of course, these experts agreed that those things weren’t irrelevant, they just tended to cancel each other out, because both major parties choose reasonably competent candidates who run competent campaigns.

And last year they said the fundamentals mildly favoured the Republican to win a modest victory. But the Republicans chose a ridiculous candidate who ran a flagrantly incompetent campaign. So of course this couldn’t be a test of the “fundamentals” theory. But after all that, the Republican won a modest victory. Kind of makes you think…

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