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World View: Britain’s Surprise Election and Chaos Theory

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This morning’s key headlines from GenerationalDynamics.com

  • Britain’s polling organizations fail disastrously
  • Pre-election polls and Chaos Theory
  • British and Israeli elections reflected nationalistic surges
  • Trends in American politics

Britain’s polling organizations fail disastrously

Paddy Ashdown promises to eat his own hat, even though he isn't wearing a hat.  He still hasn't kept his promise.
Paddy Ashdown promises to eat his own hat, even though he isn’t wearing a hat. He still hasn’t kept his promise.

I watched a lot of the live coverage of the British election on the BBC on Thursday. My favorite moment, and the favorite moment of a lot of other people, occurred just after the election ended, and the exit polls were announced, indicating that David Cameron’s Conservative Party (Tories) had unexpectedly won an overwhelming victory. At this point, the leader of the Liberal Democrat party said that the announced exit poll results were completely impossible, and that they contradicted not only the Liberal Democrats’ private polling, but also every other poll, and he added:

If this poll is correct I will publicly eat my hat on your program.

Ashdown was not wearing a hat when he said that, but it caused great hilarity, and all the commentators offered him their hats.

This dramatizes what a total failure the pre-election polls had been. I can’t recall any polling disaster ever being this bad. (On the evening of the 2004 presidential election, I originally wrote that “exit polls this evening show that John Kerry will be the next president,” and I later had to add an update that the exit polls now show Bush is leading.)

For weeks, pollsters had been predicting that Cameron and his principal opponent, Labor Party leader Ed Miliband, were so close in the polls that neither party would be able to form a government without weeks of negotiating with smaller parties. Even as late as Thursday morning, commentators were saying that the election would be historic because there would be no clear victory, and it would take weeks to form a government.

So it is not surprising that Ashdown simply did not believe the exit polls. A lot of other people did not either, until the actual election results started coming in from the various constituencies, confirming that the exit polls had been right.

By the way, despite a “#paddyashdownhat” twitter campaign, Ashdown so far has refused to eat any hats, and his opponents are joking that he is just another politician breaking a promise. Independent (London) and Daily Express (London)

Pre-election polls and Chaos Theory

Many people believe that weather forecasting will get better and better, as the science of meteorology and computer models improve. And yet, weather forecasting has gotten only slightly more accurate than it was in the 1960s. It was in the 1960s that Chaos Theory was first developed, and showed that weather forecasting will never improve much, because it was mathematically impossible to improve it more than slightly. That’s why there will always be surprise rain and snowstorms.

The same is true of election forecasting, whether by pre-election polls, or by any other method. Chaos theory also applies to election forecasting, so there will always be surprise upsets in elections.

Long-time readers are aware that I have written thousands of articles containing hundreds of Generational Dynamics predictions since I started in 2003, and all of those predictions have turned out to be right. But there has never been a prediction about an election. That’s because the Generational Dynamics forecasting methodology forbids attempting to predict any “chaotic event,” an event that Chaos Theory says cannot be predicted.

Examples of “chaotic events” are election results, whether it will rain next week, whether stock prices will rise or fall in the next hour, when a panic will occur, when the stock market bubble will burst. The Generational Dynamics forecasting methodology very carefully avoids trying to forecast any chaotic events.

Generational Dynamics forecasts “trend events.” The methodology is to look at long term behaviors and attitudes of entire populations or entire generations, and compare them to historical behaviors and attitudes at similar generational eras in the past. Examples of forecasted trend events that I’ve repeated frequently are: a war between Jews and Arabs re-fighting the 1948 war that followed the partitioning of Palestine and the creation of the state of Israel; a pre-emptive missile attack by China on the United States; a world war in which the US, Iran and Russia will be allies. The exact details of how these predictions would come about, such as the Arab Awakening and the rise of ISIS, could not be predicted, but the overall trend could be predicted.

For those interested in more information, see the following: Generational Dynamics Forecasting Methodology (PDF)

British and Israeli elections reflected nationalistic surges

One of the trends that I have been describing for years is that when a country goes deeper into a generational Crisis era, as most are today, then they show increased nationalism and xenophobia.

The British election is being widely described as a victory for British nationalism. David Cameron emphasized highly nationalistic themes during his campaign: keeping illegal immigrants out of Britain; holding a referendum in 2017 on Britain leaving the European Union; a stronger and more united United Kingdom. These nationalistic themes clearly appealed to British voters so much that even the highly nationalistic UK Independence Party (UKIP) did poorly.

Some people may challenge the above analysis by pointing out that David Cameron’s victory was a right-wing victory propelled by English voters, in contrast to overwhelming left-wing election victories in Scotland. (The United Kingdom is made up of four formerly independent nations: England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.)

However, nationalism is not exclusively right-wing. Extreme nationalism can be Fascist or it can be Communist. In the case of Scotland, the victory was of the far-left Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) which, as the name implies, is highly nationalist. But in Scotland, the nationalism is for Scotland, while in England, the nationalism is for all of Britain.

The victory of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party in Israel’s March elections has a number of similarities to the British election. Netanyahu emphasized nationalistic themes in his campaign, saying such things as “If we don’t close the gap, there is a real danger that a left-wing government will rise to power,” with the implication that the left-wing government would surrender to the Palestinians. In both cases, the pre-election polls were quite wrong, missing the nationalistic turn of the electorate, so that the final election returns were a surprise to everyone.

In the case of Britain, many pundits are saying that the election results show that England and Scotland are very different places. I wrote about this last year in the context of Scotland’s independence referendum.

Many people from Scotland speak with pride about the great victory of the Scottish forces over superior English forces in the Battle of Bannockburn, on June 24, 1314, the climax of the First War of Scottish Independence. Scotland and England fought many wars after that, including the War of the Roses (1459-87), and the Armada war with Spain (1588). The most explosive war that followed Scottish independence was the English Civil War (1640-49), that climaxed with the beheading of the English King in 1649. Scotland was only brought to heel in 1707, when England and Scotland signed the “Acts of Union” between the two countries. Now, 308 years later, the people of Scotland are still talking about independence, and last week’s election has reinforced those attitudes. Independent (London) and Guardian (London) and Washington Post (18-March)

Trends in American politics

Jerusalem Post political editor Gil Hoffman was interviewed last week on al-Jazeera, and was asked whether Benjamin Netanyahu’s political coalition would be able to improve relations with the United States. Here’s his response (my transcription):

Relations with the United States people are wonderful. The polls have recently found that the American people see Israel as one of their closest allies. Both Democratic and Republican parties and all of their candidates for president have good relations with Israel.

There’s a problem with the current president of the United States, who will only be in office for another 19 months. He has a problem with Israel, he has a problem with Arab and Muslim countries, he’s turned off people throughout this region, and soon he will be gone, and things will be better.

It is quite remarkable. When Barack Obama became president, we had good relations with most Mideast countries, except Iran. Obama has been pissing off officials in one country after another, and his “red line” flip-flop after Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad used Sarin gas on his own people has been particularly damaging. As far as Iran is concerned, Iranian leaders have no respect for Obama, and continually mock and insult him and America in their speeches.

However, Hoffman is wrong when he says, “things will be better.” As I’ve said many dozens of times, it’s a basic principle of Generational Dynamics that even in a dictatorship, major policies and events are determined by masses of people, entire generations of people, and not by politicians. Thus, Hitler was not the cause of WW II. What politicians say or do is irrelevant, except insofar as their actions reflect the attitudes of the people that they represent, and so politicians can neither cause nor prevent the great events of history.

When Barack Obama first took office, I said that it made no difference what he said or did, the outcome of his presidency would be no different than if George Bush had a third term.

Time has proven that to be true. Obama promised to close Guantanamo, and it’s still open. He promised to cure global warming, and all his attempts have been farces. He promised to withdraw from Iraq, and he did that, but now he’s back again. He promised to beat the Taliban in Afghanistan, and he’s failed at that. He promised to bring a two-state peace solution to Palestinians and Israelis, and every attempt has been a disaster. He promised to dismantle President Bush’s “war against terror,” but now the rise of ISIS means that the war on terror is far from over. In terms of outcomes, Obama and Bush are pretty much identical.

As Hoffman said, Obama will be gone in 19 months, and there will be a new president, a Republican or a Democrat. But nothing will change. The Mideast will still be headed for war between Jews and Arabs (or the war may already have begun), and China will still be rapidly militarizing in preparation for a massive missile attack on the United States (or the missile attack may already have occurred).

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Britain, David Cameron, Conservative Party, Paddy Ashdown, Liberal Democrat Party, Ed Miliband, Labor Party, Chaos Theory, Israel, Palestine, China, Iran, UK Independence Party, UKIP, England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Benjamin Netanyahu, Battle of Bannockburn, Gil Hoffman
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