by Ryan Adler
This past April 13th, while completing my evening routine of news reading, I came across a Squawk on the Street segment on CNBC (a staple in my house). Former Speaker of the House John Boehner appeared on the network and said, among other things:
“Mark my words. Give it about six months, and [the deficit] will become the number one issue.”
Immediately, I did as instructed and marked his words in a note on my calendar to check back in about six months. After completing half a lap around the sun, I started digging around for data to see if Boehner’s prognostication would ring true. Thankfully, our friends over at Gallup regularly engage in polling on just the right question: what do Americans mention the federal deficit/debt as their number one issue?
In April, when the former Speaker made his prediction, the percentage of Americans polled who mentioned the federal deficit/debt as their number one concern stood at a mere 3%. How much had the needle moved when Gallup published its results for October this week? Not far and in the other direction, to a solid 2%.
While 2% may be a fine threshold for a gallon of milk, it reflects neither what the Speaker had in mind, nor the urgency that the subject merits. I will concede that Boehner may have intended this statement to be a rhetorical tool to highlight a serious policy concern, perhaps meaning that the deficit should be the number one issue, not that it actually would be anywhere close to that. And, of course, throwing in “about” of course muddied the waters a bit. Regardless, this is another teachable moment among many: the time component of any prediction can scuttle a forecast as quickly as anything else.
Ryan Adler is a Superforecaster and Director at Good Judgment who specializes in legal analysis for Good Judgment’s question writing team. Ryan can be reached at email@example.com.