Predicting the Future

I'm getting closer to thinking like Dilbert

I predicted Roy Moore’s win. Before you call me a fool, hear me out. I based my prediction from a totally different perspective than I ever have before, and I suspect I’ll be more right than wrong in the future.

Okay, so I was only mostly right. Moore nearly won, and at the moment (4:00 a.m. MT on Wednesday) Judge Moore has not conceded. I don’t blame him: the final result is within 1% of a court-mandated recount. Elections have turned around when this close (ask Al Franken). I doubt it will turn to his favor now, but he’s opting to play this out till the end.

I consider myself a decades-old student of persuasion. My undergrad is in English and teaching, but my career path has made me a debate coach, many of my students and my own children becoming national champions. I publish curriculum for extemporaneous and oratory communication. I run speech and debate camps for kids—have been for decades. I’ve read Plato and Cialdini and others, my bookshelves are filled with volumes of persuasion books, it’s what interests me more than any other disciplinary study. But a most recent release has opened my mind to the possibility of predicting the future.

Scott Adams is more famously known (for now) for his comic strip Dilbert. In November he released a book on the subject of persuasion, Win Bigly: Persuasion in a World Where Facts Don’t Matter. In the past couple of years, he has attracted much attention to his prediction of a Donald Trump win, something he predicted at the beginning of the Republican primaries. His book explains the thought process behind his prediction.

I, too, predicted a Trump win, so Adams’ work naturally interested me. But my prediction was more of a criticism of the media and an analysis of the undercurrent of anger they ignored (in other words, the facts). Adams saw in Donald Trump an extraordinary ability to persuade, something he claims is unlike anyone he has ever seen. I can’t say I agreed with him (at first). But after reading Win Bigly, I now see this as a very convincing argument. Adam’s book is, by all means, a fascinating read, even if you are a radical liberal (which, by the way, Adams is).

I decided to give his ideas a test with the next big spotlight election: Roy Moore vs. what’s-his-name Jones. It was the most perfect scenario for a wild prediction. The entire nation, it seemed, was against Moore’s win, every imaginable gun pointed against him. I called his win when he most certainly looked like toast: the day Mitch McConnell, the majority leader of the Senate, withdrew his support and called on people to write in an alternative.

This is how I changed my prediction theory: I stopped hoping or opining. This is how the Internet makes their predictions, and it is greatly inferior to the Adams filter of persuasion. The “facts don’t matter,” Adams claims, but that is exactly what every politician and talking head and social media junky in the online world assumes. I used to participate in the “stump for whomever” club, but not anymore. My prediction was through a filter of persuasion.

Moore was no persuader. In fact, when he came out with his awful press conference rejecting any validity of the accusations against him, I was doubtful of my prediction (read my post Judge Moore: In the world of persuasion, Roy Moore is failing miserably). But Jones, in my opinion, was no better. Perhaps the best move Jones could have done (but didn’t) was to lighten up on his most radical positions on abortion. Jones double-downed. Polls seemed to show that Jones was equally weak as a persuasive candidate.

I still held firm on my prediction, but notice my minor premise: “If Trump decides to campaign” for Moore. This qualification of my prediction was extremely purposeful. Trump sort of campaigned for Moore, but not quite. Trump attended a Florida rally, one where many Alabamans were most likely in attendance, and he stumped strongly for Moore. But he never entered side-by-side with Moore. Though his Tweets called for a Moore victory, they were always noticeably distant from full support. He was late to the game, too, only showing his support a week before the election.

This is a persuasion technique Adams explains in his book as a win-win. Trump won’t stump for Moore 100% because there was a chance he would lose. The talking heads today are going to try to frame this as a loss for Trump’s persuasive power, but Trump will be able to say that he wasn’t 100% in. I am convinced (and I suspect Adams would agree) that Trump knew full well that this could turn out to be a loss, so he purposely kept distance from Moore to be able to turn this into a win. Trump can now claim that if he was all in, the scales of the results would have tipped in Moore’s favor.

In a way, or through the filter of persuasion, Trump predicted the future. And he was right.

My prediction mixed in quite a few other variables. I’m still learning. Alabama supporters were largely ignored by the media (with only this exception, an interview that Scott Adams posted on Twitter, otherwise I would have missed it). Confirmation bias was all over the place, the Internet ripe with forwarded articles of this accusation or that justification, all confirming biases from whatever presupposed opinion was. The media played up Moore’s allegations, but they were never more than allegations. I foresaw incredible shock from the media if Moore won (remember, I was mostly right). I guarantee you that if Moore won last night, the headlines would be complaining about how stupid Alabamans are. Why? Because when you are holed up and see the world of opinion as one-sided, you see the rest of the world as stupid. That’s cognitive dissonance, and the media would have been beside themselves today.

Instead, the media will be reporting today about how the tide is changing, that this is a huge upset for Republicans, and that 2018 is the year for a Democratic comeback. Perhaps. But in the world of persuasion, they’re still suckers for their own biases and delusions.

This is how persuasion relates to predicting the future. It isn’t magic or prophesy or a sixth sense of any kind. It is based on psychological understanding of how humans think. I was wrong this time (by the way, Adams was wrong, too). But I suspect I’ll be right more often than when I used an emotional or political filter.