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Reads & Reactions

In this edition: Romney’s strategy, Pennsylvania plans, special election tea leaves and hurricane-centered media criticism. Also, a special edition of Reads.


The Daily Beast’s Peter Beinart wrote an interesting breakdown of why he thinks former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts can’t win the Republican presidential nomination. In that article, Mr. Beinart references FiveThirtyEight’s “Perry Surges in Polls, Testing Romney’s Strategy.” The Washington Monthly’s Steve Brenen also thought Mr. Romney’s campaign was in trouble, and also advised the former Massachusetts governor to change his campaign strategy.

James Taranto, in The Wall Street Journal’s opinion section, pointed to “Pennsylvania Electoral College Plan Could Backfire on G.O.P.” as one of the reasons the plan is “folly.” Mr. Taranto was kind enough to call Nate a “smart liberal,” although that’s probably meant as a somewhat backhanded compliment.

Special elections for House seats in Nevada and New York yielded two decisive Republican victories and much debate about what the results portend for 2012. Nate’s conclusion: It’s not looking too rosy for Democrats. At the blog Greg’s Opinion, Greg Wythe counsels caution. Mr. Wythe wrote, Nate is “committing a grievous error by focusing on the final percentages and ignoring the turnout levels. Yes, the issues he lists are certainly important in the case of NY-09, just as any other issues would be important in other contests. But whether those drove the enthusiasm gap or got voters to change their minds isn’t known.”

After Hurricane Irene rumbled past New York and up into New Hampshire and Vermont, FiveThirtyEight measured Irene’s impact against the media spotlight that tracked its approach. The verdict: Irene lived up to the hype.

At Hot Air, AllahPundit mostly agreed and assembled a roundup of differing views on the matter. The Poynter Institute’s Julie Moos — in an insightful exploration of media hype — also thought the coverage was warranted, listing six “objective criteria for determining whether news is hype, disproportionate to its relative impact.” And Mediaite’s Colby Hall advised against buying the ” ‘media hype’ hype.”

But not everyone concurred. Howard Kurtz, at The Daily Beast, wrote, “The tsunami of hype on this story was relentless, a Category 5 performance that was driven in large measure by ratings.” (Our colleague Brian Stelter, wrote a good article about hurricanes and television ratings). Michael Graham, writing at The Boston Herald, saw a metaphor for the media’s performance in a D.C. Fox affiliate reporter who became covered in sewage while reporting on the storm. Mr. Graham wrote, “A reporter did his entire broadcast covered in what many Americans think the media is slinging at us already.”


Philip Tetlock, a professor of management and psychology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School, has launched a new endeavor called The Good Judgment Project, which will test the ability of both experts and laymen, and both individuals and groups, to forecast political, economic and foreign policy events.

The project represents a sequel of sorts to Mr. Tetlock’s book “Expert Political Judgment” (one of Nate’s favorites), which found that forecasts of political events made by credentialed experts often do quite poorly. For certain types of experts, in fact, they may be no better than random chance. (Mr. Tetlock’s study found, for instance, that media appearances tend to be inversely correlated with forecasting skill — so the people you see on television a lot may be the last people you should listen to.)

The Good Judgment Project has finished its initial recruiting process, but is still looking for forecasters to join its waiting list. Something worth keeping an eye on over the next several years.

Micah Cohen is FiveThirtyEight’s former managing editor.