Thursday, November 1, 2012

Election Predictions Invariably Off Base

Obama's prediction
The predictions about Tuesday’s elections are flying fast and furious.  A team of astrologers picked (eventual winner) Barack Obama to win a second term. On the other hand, an octopus in Spain selected Mitt Romney.

News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch predicted a “nightmare for Israel if Obama wins” re-election, while radio host Rush Limbaugh said that, “If Obama’s re-elected, it’s gonna be ugly. It’s gonna be gut-wrenching, but the country’s economy is going to collapse. I don’t know how long: a year and a half, two years, three years.”

Limbaugh predicted that California’s economy would vanish first, setting off a disastrous chain of events.

“California is going to declare bankruptcy, and you know what Obama will do? He’ll go to states like Texas or Arizona, Florida to bail them out. That’s what he’ll do, and that’s gonna precipitate this stuff. California is showing where we’re headed in every which way,” Limbaugh said. None of that happened.

Of course, Limbaugh also predicted that an Obama victory in 2008 would end with this country becoming Socialistic with no cars on the streets.  His success rate is right up there with the octopus and the astrologers.

There’s nothing unusual about such predictions.  They are commonplace in everyday life: weather forecasters make predictions every day.  So do sports analysts.  That’s what keeps Las Vegas bookies busy raking in money. 

They really can’t lose because there’s a serious flaw with any predictions: they are based on past events.  What has happened isn’t always a good guide to what will happen.  For example, forecasters predicted hurricanes would hit the U.S. this year – a safe bet since the big storms head in our direction from Africa every year.  On the other hand, no one predicted Hurricane Sandy would devastate Manhattan. 

That kind of event is simply impossible to foresee.

Biblical prophet by Mattia Preti
Bible prophets knew that.  Today, we think of prophet as someone who predicts the future.  Actually, then, it only meant someone who is a conduit of divine messages.  However, they did make predictions.  The forecasts are invariably couched with “maybe” or “could.”  The prophets counseled people to follow God’s law or he “would” respond negatively.

Scholarship has demonstrated that when actual predictions were made and included in the Bible, they are written after an event took place.  Prophets are much more accurate when “predicting” anything long after its happened and backdating the prediction.

Jesus’ prediction about the destruction of the Temple is an example.  The Gospel texts containing the prediction were all written after the Temple was destroyed.

Modern prophets are no better.

I recently re-read a long book of prophecies published in the 1970s.  The prophecies ended around 2000 and were drawn from scientists as well as prominent psychics and astrologers.  In the entire 400-page book, only one prediction was accurate: home computers would become popular.

That’s it. 

In reality, any predictions are colored by personal feelings and aspirations.  That alone can mitigate any hard facts.  Unforeseen developments finish off shoving the process into the incorrect category.

That’s why a so-called “expert” can predict that a victory by Obama will hurt small business, even though small businesses are showing surprising growth in his administration.  That’s because the author John Gustavsson represents a conservative think tank.  His predictions are necessarily slanted to support his views.

He also predicted Israel will attack Iran.  That’s OK; author Hal Lindsey has been living for years on his failed 1970s prediction that World War III will start when the Soviet Union attacks Israel.  He says now that his timing was off.  No kidding.

Other forecasters have had the same problem.  For example:

 “It will be years not in my time before a woman will become Prime Minister.”  That’s what Margaret Thatcher said in 1969.  The “Iron lady” became England’s Prime Minister a decade later and stayed in power for 11 years.

“A rocket will never be able to leave the Earth’s atmosphere,” predicted the New York Times in 1936.  In 1946, the first American-built rocket was launched from White Sands, New Mexico.

 “Rail travel at high speed is not possible because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia,”according to Dr. Dionysius Larder, an English professor otherwise forgotten except for his notoriously incorrect view of the abilities of humans to travel.

 “Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible,” insisted Lord Kelvin, in 1895, just eight years before the Wright Brothers proved the eminent scientist completely wrong.

One of the more notoriously poor predictions came in 1876, when Western Union decided the telephone had no future: "This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us."

“Guitar music is on the way out,” a DECCA  Recording Co. executive said while rejecting the Beatles in 1962.

“The bomb will never go off. I speak as an expert in explosives,” insisted Admiral William Leahy shortly before the atom bomb exploded over Hiroshima in 1945.

Lincoln at Gettysburg
And, of course, there’s Abraham Lincoln prediction in his famed Gettysburg Address: “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here today.”

He was wrong about the speech, but his predictions can be applied with much greater accuracy to the bleating of today’s pundits about the 2012 election..

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at

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