The nature of predictions

This General Election campaign has given me pause for thought about the nature of prediction. When we make a political prediction we use information that is available to us such as polls, statistical calculations based on data such as turnout and past performance and what we hear on the doorstep when campaigning. But we also use our past experience of such matters and our hopes. Computing all of this we come up with a prediction of likely outcome. Our predictions are important to us personally as they reflect the quality of our judgement, an aspect of our being that we hold dear, as it relates to our sense of competence and thus strongly relates to our sense of self. Because of this we can become over attached to our predictions which can lead to negative effects.

If our prediction is positive such attachment can lead us to be overconfident and unresponsive to the reality of what is going on around us, as possibly happened to Theresa May at the start of her campaign.

If the prediction is negative such attachment can lead us to becoming despondent in our campaigning, playing down our message when talking to people, not bothering to campaign so vigorously for example not delivering that extra round of leaflets and demotivating our fellow campaigners. Such negative responses can contribute to our negative prediction becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. To avoid such negativity we need to develop equanimity in relation to our prediction always having the humility to say, at the back of our minds, “but I might be wrong”. With this balanced approach, in spite of whatever prediction we make, we will continue to campaign in a positive constructive way. During campaigning obviously the results of polls are useful in deciding the sensible direction of the campaign but we should always take them with a pinch of salt and not allow them to make us negative in our approach.

Ever since the EU referendum I have had a sort of instinctive sense that actually, eventually, the UK will not Brexit, something else will happen instead. In spite of the result of this last election I still have this deep sense. I believe that the British people, when it really comes to it, do things in a quite sensible way. I just do not believe they will want to jump off a cliff. My hope is that we Liberal Democrats will not give up on our pro-European and internationalist convictions.

* Jane Reed is a Liberal Democrat member and activist in York

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