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Friday, February 22, 2013

Political bubbles

From my March column at Research magazine:
Since the November election, there has been increased discussion of a “conservative bubble,” whereby pundits and activists on the right rely excessively on shared ideology and shared information sources. (This criticism sometimes uses other metaphors, such as “cocoon” and “echo chamber,” but these convey essentially the same point.)
Such a bubble seems to have shaped expectations among some conservatives that Mitt Romney was going to win—and even win in a landslide—despite polls indicating he was likely to lose. A conservative following grew around UnskewedPolls.com, a site that purported to uncover polling bias. “All the vibrations are right,” Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan wrote just before the election, predicting a Romney win. 
At this point, I should make some disclosures. First, I too predicted that Romney would win, back in the August issue of Research, taking a position contrary to that indicated by polls and prediction markets at the time. My reasoning, that the October debates would give Romney a decisive boost, later seemed prescient, but not for long. 
Second disclosure: In retrospect, some wishful thinking surely was involved in my prediction, as I am a longtime Republican who voted for Romney. 
Third disclosure: During the Obama presidency, I have been one of those internal GOP critics—sometimes derided as RINOs or Republicans In Name Only—who argue for the party to move more toward the political center. A prominent proponent of such a stance is CNN and Newsweek commentator David Frum, with whom I’ve collaborated in blogging ventures. 
Having said all that (and, I hope, helped readers take my biases into account) let me now suggest that indeed it’s true: There is a conservative bubble, or tendency to disregard or distort information that doesn’t match conservative desires and expectations. Let me suggest as well that such a tendency is not unique to conservatives, but also afflicts people belonging to other ideological persuasions and interest groups.
There's much more, including about Occupy Wall Street and Wall Street itself both involving bubbles. The piece's target audience is financial advisors, but it has a broader relevance, I believe.

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