Monday 13 April 2015

Election2015: Predicting the future

Are you enjoying the election campaign? Perhaps some of you are fed up of it already and can't wait for it to be over.

As much as I'm a political geek, I want the election to be tomorrow rather than having to wait another 3 and a half weeks enduring the campaigning. It feels like we've been campaigning for the last 12 months!

We're now being bombarded by policy promises from the two main parties, telling us how they're going to reduce the deficit, how much money they will spend on the NHS, and who they'll give tax breaks to. It can feel like being in a room listening to lots of people shouting where you can't actually understand what's being said or who to listen to you.

My problem with the election at the moment is that you hear all of these pledges and promises but how do you know whether any of the parties will deliver them? It's easy to be cynical and say they'll say anything to get people's vote, but when one party says they will reduce the deficit how do we know it will happen in the next 5 years?

Maybe I've reached that age where I've watched enough politicians and seen enough elections to question how many policy commitments actually come into effect. Who can forget in 2010, the Lib Dems pledge to abolish student tuition fees. We all saw how long that lasted once the Lib Dems got into government.

I've started thinking more about how we can make predictions about the future after reading a book by the American writer and statistician Nate Silver, it's called the Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction. Silver came to many people's attention in 2012 when he accurately predicted the results of every single state in the 2012 US Presidential election.

The book looks at how we routinely fail to forsee or predict significant events, ranging from the 2008 financial crisis to natural disasters and terrorist attacks.

It's one of those books that's had a big influence on me, and one of the things I've taken from it is that when we try and think about what will happen in the future, sometimes we have to accept that we don't know. We don't have enough information, evidence or data to be able to predict what will happen.

Going back to the election, how do I know whether Tory plans for spending an extra 8 billion on the NHS will make a significant improvement? How do I know whether Labour will be economically more responsible and better equipped to manage the economy than the Tories?

I don't know and I can't predict what will happen. Who knows what economic or political events may take place in the next few years which could impact on each party's plans? In the end I'm just left with my own gut instincts and political beliefs and prejudices to go on. I don't feel I can predict anything with great certainty.

To echo the title of Nate Silver's book, I'm hearing a lot of noise from the parties but I can't make sense of it. I don't know if there is enough evidence for me to confidently believe in one policy pledge or another. Where are the hard facts and stats I can rely on?

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