[Posted by Karl]
I think it is a healthy development that more bloggers are taking the slow news period at year’s end to audit their own work. It is a practice that ought to be adopted more by those in the establishment media who are actually paid for the opinions and predictions. Thus, it seemed only fair that I promote the trend by auditing my own 2011 blogging.
First, I will note the task of scanning an entire year’s worth of blogging — even my relatively modest output — helped show me why more people do not audit their work, quite aside from not wanting to revisit one’s own errors.
Second, my preexisting awareness of and annoyance with establishment punditry’s lack of self-awareness has meant that I am generally careful to couch my own analyses in terms of what is likely or probable. On the plus side, this means I rarely went out on a limb and embarrassed myself. On the minus side, it could be argued that not freely offering bold opinions is itself a blogging error. At the very least, it turns out that a list of my outright errors turns out to not be entertainingly embarrassing.
The vast majority of my minor errors tend to exhibit a common sin of political punditry — the straight-line projection from the current situation. For example, in “Destination Florida,” I think the basic point that the GOP nomination may be decided in the Sunshine State holds up, but in making that point, assuming that Bachmann would remain the frontrunner in Iowa, just as Rick Perry got into the race, was obviously a mistake several times over.
Speaking of Rick Perry, his candidacy is the focus of my biggest blogging error in 2011. Although I am not a supporter of any of the GOP candidates, my bias for a more conservative candidate than Mitt Romney caused me to discount the potential for gaffes to derail Perry’s campaign (perhaps because I thought Romney supporters were overstating that argument). Thus, “Why Rick Perry is the likely GOP nominee” still works as an academic exercise in political science, but I should have added the obvious caveat that the actual candidate matters above and beyond record and regional factors. I ultimately addressed the issue, but should have been on it much sooner.
I have considered the related issue of whether I was wrong about the impact of the GOP debates this year, but still believe the answer here is “yes and no.” Yes, insofar as Perry’s debate performances helped knock him out of the top spot, both because he insulted base voters in his defense of Gardasil vaccinations and in-state tutition for children of illegal immigrants, and in his seeming lack of debate preparation. Indeed, I may have underestimated the degree to which those stumbles reminded Perry of George W. Bush. Both consciously and subconsciously, GOP voters may have recoiled against a candidate who could help strengthen Obama’s near-inevitable attempts to blame Bush for his own failures and remind people how much they grew to disapprove of the prior GOP administration.
On the other hand, even upon further reflection, I believe it is fair to say that this was not a function of debates mattering per se, but largely a function of Perry’s splashy, late entry to the race. That late start meant the debates — and the media coverage of them — became the way most outside Texas formed their first real impressions of Perry (fairly or not). There is other circumstantial evidence for my point here. A look at Google search volume for Perry and the subsequent poll average (see the charts here) tends to suggest that people were losing interest in Perry even before he started debating. Perry’s rise may have been even more of a hype-driven bubble than even his critics believed. (Of course, lest I fall into the straight-line projection error again, I must add that if ever there was a cycle where someone like Perry could pull out of a campaign ditch, it would be this cycle.)
In sum, my biggest blogging error in 2011 was failing to recognize how easy it is to make the basic mistakes of punditry — straight-line projections and letting one’s personal preference color one’s analysis — even when consciously trying to avoid them. These are lessons establishment pundits could take to heart without auditing their work each year — but it helps.