Opinion polling and election predictions

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Northcott, Robert
conference paper description
Election prediction by means of opinion polling is a rare empirical success story for social science, but one not previously considered by philosophers. I examine the details of a prominent case, namely the 2012 US presidential election, and draw two lessons of more general interest: 1) Methodology over metaphysics. Traditional metaphysical criteria were not a useful guide to whether successful prediction would be possible; instead, the crucial thing was selecting an effective methodology. 2) Which methodology? Success required sophisticated use of case-specific evidence from opinion polling. The pursuit of explanations via general theory or causal mechanisms, by contrast, turned out to be precisely the wrong path – contrary to much recent philosophy of social science