Why Forecast? The Value of Forecasting to Political Science
by Keith Dowding
Many people mistake forecasting with scientific prediction. A scientific prediction is a logical implication drawn from some theory. It need have no future reference. Scientific predictions are existential and a necessary part of explanation. They concern types of objects and events. With enough data scientific models can forecast specific events. Astronomers have sufficient data to forecast eclipses of the sun or moon, but not when a meteorite will land on the White House lawn. Their inability to predict the latter does not besmirch astronomy. Political science can only reliably forecast events with relatively stable patterns, and only then with good data. Our ability to forecast election results depends on good data and when elections follow relatively stable patterns. Forecasts are made for specific events; at times, these will not conform to the overall pattern. Critics may deride the accuracy of the headline predictions and then use this to disparage the science in political studies. This is to misunderstand the nature of scientific prediction and is liable to instill expectations of our ability to foretell future events with complex causal determinants in a manner never expected of natural scientists.
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The editorial team at PS: Political Science & Politics is pleased to release of the 2020 Presidential Election Forecasting symposium. This year, due to the amazing work done by Ruth Dassonneville and Charles Tien, we have 12 forecasts and three critical reviews. We hope teachers, journalists, and the general public will read, reflect, and comment. For the latest updates, follow PS on Twitter.