Nate Silver (The Signal and the Noise – the art and science of prediction) and website FiveThirtyEight uses an old idea to distinguish pundits as hedgehogs or foxes. Originating with Archilochus through Isaiah Berlin to it can be summed up as “the fox knows many little things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” The test for hedgehogs is “Do your predictions improve when you have more information?” Foxes do – hedgehogs’ don’t.
So every time there’s an unfavourable poll for Labour and another post on this site says that it is because of right-wing bias, or media motives, or moves away from landlines, or the two blocs are still neck and neck and that’s all that matters, or the pollsters analysis has got it wrong, or there is some magic law that pulls the polls together at election time, I must confess I think they have must been written at night and the hedgehogs are out.
Silver famously made his reputation as a fox in the 2012 US election campaign where he used a whole variety of polls to draw his conclusions, that in the end proved the most accurate. The best we’ve got is the poll of polls, and that shows a steady divergence in favour of National and away from Labour since the beginning of the year. I think they are a powerful wake-up call; my worry is that Labour is still dozing.
In my experience, the polls change because the parties change what they are saying and how they are saying it. Wishful thinking doesn’t cut it. I’d like to see us discuss what we think Labour should do differently to shift the polls in our favour so we do win the one that matters. I don’t think it is impossible, but my view is that the sooner things do change the better. I’ll offer what I think tomorrow – I’m interested in what others think.