Stock Market Volatility: Are You Thinking for Yourself?

Election Day is just four days away, capping off a month of daily poll results and major stock market swings.

Is mob mentality to blame?

"There is such panic selling and fear driving the selling that's going on right now," Jason Weisburg, a New York Stock Exchange trader for Seaport Securities, told ABC News.

President Bush told Americans the day after the Oct. 7 stock market plunge that saw the Dow drop 1,400 points that it represented "more than a trillion dollars in losses."

A trillion dollars in losses is a lot of money. Those companies continue to make computers and cars and other goods despite the panic that set in.

"What it really represents is the market changing its mind radically, and changing it very fast," said James Surowiecki, author of the best seller "The Wisdom of Crowds."


Last spring, he told "20/20" that crowds of people can be incredibly intelligent, "even though no one person in the crowd knows everything. If the crowd is big enough, and it's diverse enough, you just have access to so much more knowledge."

Yelling 'Fire' in the Stock Market

An example of crowd wisdom is the betting site, where the collective wisdom of thousands of people trying to win money helped Intrade correctly predict the Oscar winners for best director and best picture -- and so far, election results -- more accurately than any pollster.

The higher the price of a candidate, the more likely that he will win.

But if these bettors are accurate, then what's happening on Wall Street?

"There are a lot of times when people are not wise, when they are crazy," Surowiecki said.

Especially when they are scared.

Some financial experts and analysts have warned of a collapse similar to the Great Depression.

It's a madness akin to screaming "Fire!" in a crowded theater.

"Traders are just bombarded by information about what other traders are doing," Surowiecki said. "So you cannot go through the day without just having people basically yelling in your ear -- this is what other people think, this is what other people are doing, this is how afraid they are."

"And that," he said, "just makes it very hard for people to think for themselves."

Surowiecki said groups are only smart when each individual is thinking for him or herself.

That's what happens on where today John McCain was selling for 16 cents compared with 83 cents for Barack Obama, making him the big favorite.

Has the Public Made Up Its Mind?

The country will find out Tuesday if the folks on are correct again, but political opinion has been much steadier than beliefs about stocks.

Despite small upticks, such as after McCain's choosing of Sarah Palin as a running mate, the Arizona senator has remained consistently behind Obama in national polling.

After Sarah Palin was first announced as the GOP's vice presidential pick, the public liked her, pollster Andy Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, said. But that image that first attracted voters to Palin started to tarnish after her interview with CBS' Katie Couric when she struggled with some questions, including being asked for examples of McCain's pushing for more regulation.

"Three weeks later, we're finding the public saying, no, she's not qualified, and we really don't care for her," Kohut said.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...