After the verdict: Why the pundits got it wrong

Five factors that led conventional wisdom astray

Dan Diamond This is adapted from a column in the Daily Briefing's sister publication, California Healthline.

Dan Diamond, Managing Editor

Gamblers, economists, reporters writing about health policy—they all love the prediction website InTrade. The site's users make real-world wagers on everything from whether President Obama will be reelected to whether "The Dark Knight Rises" will break box-office records.

To be fair, InTrade isn't a perfect market. (For example, it was still reading on Friday morning that the Supreme Court had a 2.4% chance to strike down the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate; economist Justin Wolfers tells me that the site isn't to be trusted at levels below 10% or above 90%.) But it is an interesting barometer of public opinion, as bettors put their money where their mouth is.

And if there was a single moment when predictions on the ACA shifted, from confidence that the Supreme Court would uphold the law to certainty that the mandate would be struck down, you can see it in the InTrade wagering patterns.

Entering the Supreme Court's hearings on the ACA in late March, bettors on InTrade thought there was about a 35% chance that the mandate would be struck down. Exiting the week, with pundits warning that the Obama administration had blown its case in oral arguments, gamblers had flipped their positions. Nearly 65% began betting that the mandate would fall—a number that rose to nearly 80% this week, and generally paralleled the conventional wisdom.

How did public opinion, and even expert prediction, get led so astray? Here are five major reasons.

1. The ACA makes an easy target

The White House promised that the law would grow more popular after passage. That Americans would come to know and love its many provisions.

Based on opinion polls, that clearly hasn't happened.

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That's partly because many measures have yet to be implemented, notably the broad expansion of health coverage.

But as Duke University professor Don Taylor notes, it's also because it's harder to play defense than offense—and defenders of the ACA have never been able to develop a sound bite that wins on cable news. How do you summarize the law's ambitious, complex attempts to revamp health care provider payment and expand health insurance coverage in 30 seconds?

Read the rest of the column here.

 


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