Man Without Qualities

Monday, October 11, 2004

The Other 97.5% III: Learning From Australians

On October 8, the New York Times understood that Australia's Iraq involvement was a substantial issue in that country's imminent elections:

[Incumbent Prime Minister] Howard is also in a tight race nationally against the Labor Party, led by Mark Latham. ... The latest polls give the Liberals a slight lead, but in many respects it is surprising that the race is close at all. .... On Iraq, the differences are stark. Mr. Howard has defended his decision to go to war and has said the 800 Australian troops in the Persian Gulf region will stay there as long as needed. Mr. Latham has said that he will have the troops home by Christmas. Opponents of the Iraq war got a lift in August when 43 retired senior military commanders and senior diplomats issued a public statement saying that Australia went to war "on the basis of false assumptions and the deception of the Australian people." The signers included a former chief of the navy, a former chief of the air force and a former secretary of defense. Australia's "unquestioning support for the Bush administration" has harmed Australia, they wrote. "Terrorist activity, instead of being contained, has increased."

Then the Australians voted, Mr. Howard won big, and by October 10 the Times understood that Iraq hadn't been an issue of any real significance:

Prime Minister John Howard of Australia .. was decisively re-elected Saturday, according to official returns. ... Iraq loomed in the background during the campaign, but Australian political analysts cautioned that the voting was not a referendum on the war. The main issue was the economy, and that is booming.

Similarly, back here in the United States, the mainstream media, including this Associate Press item, is suggesting that it's time to disregard economic models in favor of peering into the chicken entrails of opinion polls and overt partisan speculation:

The Iraq war has deeply torn the nation. National polls show a neck-and-neck race. Yet economy-based projections still show a decisive Bush victory on Nov. 2. What gives? Political scientists and many economists say this may be the year to throw the economic models out the window. Forecasters are flummoxed about the impact of Iraq, uncertain about the true state of the economy, and less sure about their projections than in any recent election.

Opinion polls are largely inconsistent with each other - so this is hardly a campaign that pits the economic models against the polls. On the other hands, the well documented problems in polling methodology, including "party norming," seem to explain a lot of the polling inconsistency - and further undermine reliance on those polls in lieu of the economic models.

But in the recent Australian experience economics won out nicely over the polls and everything else.

I'm betting on the economics here in the United States, too.

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