Wild Predictions for 2006

The Conventional Wisdom has the Democrats picking up somewhere between 20 and 30 seats in the House and between 4 and 7 in the Senate, enough to win the former and to make the latter a nail biter. Still, there a professional pundits and pollsters willing to go out on a limb making predictions well outside those ranges.

John Harris notes that there is a phenomenal variance in the ballots in WaPo’s annual Outlook Section contest.

Mary Matalin, a Republican who has been at this game for years, is obviously very smart when it comes to elections. So, too, is Paul Kirk, a Democrat who has been at it even longer. It is a bit odd, then, that when asked for their most coldly objective expertise on the question of who will control the House after Tuesday’s voting they would differ by 34 seats. What would we make of doctors who differed so wildly in their perceptions? Cancer, says Kirk. The flu, says Matalin.

With rare exceptions, Republican professionals are a bit over-optimistic of the chances of their party pulling out close races (Dick Wirthlin, Mary Matalin, Kellyanne Conway, and Montgomery Blair pick an Allen-Talent-Corker sweep). Ditto the Democrats (Paul Kirk thinks it’ll be a Webb-Ford-McCaskill sweep). Tucker Carlson is the lone holdout, a conservative commenter who picks a Democrat sweep.

Then there’s American Spectator senior editor Quin Hillyer. He predicts that the GOP will actually hold on to the House and lose “no more than two” seats in the Senate. He’s even got Rick Santorum–down by double digits in the weekend polls–pulling off a comeback because he is “famous for being a strong closer while Democrat Bob Casey Jr. is known for having blown a huge lead in a previous statewide race.”

Harris gives some plausible reasons for these disparities among seasoned pros, ranging from people voting their heart over their head to not wanting to publicly go against the people paying their salaries.Those are all reasonable enough.

I think, too, that there’s a simple risk-reward calculation going on here. Making a wildly outrageous prediction and being proven right will make these folks look like geniuses and get them invited on television more, whereas throwing a Hail Mary and missing has essentially no consequence. Conversely, playing it pretty close to the conventional wisdom and being right has virtually no upside; you’re just in a big pack with dozens of others who did the same thing.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. legion says:

    Not to mention it also sets the stage for whatever post-election spin the losing party wants to put out…

  2. cian says:

    If real change is to occur, a powerful statement needs to be sent, and only a Dem win of more than 20 in the House and 7 wins in the senate will deliver that kind of message.

    Should the senate hold and the house barely slip to the Democrats, Bush and the republicans can claim a victory of sorts. Certainly that’s how the media will play it.

    Fear and smear will have won out yet again and one of the most incompetent administrations in American history will continue to do great damage to the country’s prestige and ideals.

  3. I think a good example of the high side wave is dissected over at RCP.

    He looks at one prediction which calls for 34 to 40 seats flipping (the high side of the democratic wave theorists). He then looks at the 57 individual races assessed and finds they don’t add up to the same number. Assuming the races labeled as “pure toss up” are 50-50 (a reasonable assumption unless we want to get into Clintonian word definitions of ‘toss up’), and that leans/likely etc to one party has a probability associated with it that is the same regardless of party (if not, then upgrade the lean to likely for the disfavored party).

    Net result is 25 to 26 seats, not 34 to 40. In fact if you assume the democrats will win every tossup, leans democrat and likely democrat, you see a 36 seat change (plus four democrat seats held). There are another 21 seats that are tilted toward the republican (0 democratic seats identified as tilted towards the republican). The bottom line is that they are predicting between 60% and 70% of all the identified house races for republicans will go to the democrats and 100% of the democrat held seats will be held, though 37% of the seats are listed as tilting to some degree towards the republicans (their designation of the tilt). Looking at the toss-up, tilting towards the republicans with toss ups, 72% of the races are either a toss up or tilting towards the republicans, but they are predicting 100% hold on democrats and 60 to 70% of the seats going to democrats.

    The numbers just don’t add up.

    So gather the predictions to help you sort the wheat from the chaff in 2008 pundits. But be prepared for a surprise if you are relying on any prediction that doesn’t identify the seats to make up their numbers (identifying could be ‘3 out of 4 of these seats will go democratic’).

  4. RJN says:

    Dems pick up 14 seats in the House. Dems pick up 3 seats in the Senate. You heard it hear.

  5. gar swafur says:

    from cian
    Should the senate hold and the house barely slip to the Democrats, Bush and the republicans can claim a victory of sorts. Certainly that’s how the media will play it.

    nope, if the dems pick up only one seat in the House and one seat in the Senate.
    It will be hailed as the second Coming of the Libyarul Wave!
    The Liberal media bias is too strong to allow anything except a positive spin – no matter what.

    Reality though seems to me, if the Dems can’t pick up clear majorities in both houses of CONgress, they need to fold up their tent and start a different party. maybe a re-birth of the Whigs or something else. Because if they don’t get the majorities they’ve been bragging about, the Dem party is dead.[and rightfuly so.]

  6. Steve says:

    Those who can, do. Those who can’t, opine.

    I take anything a professional political operative says with a grain of salt. I presume that those who pay them get “the truth” and us po’ folks who get the free opinions get what we pay for.

    On the other hand, I would like to see some truth in advertising on cable TV. From now until election 2008 I would love to see a little info box appear underneath Chris Matthews, Bill Kristol etal that reads “Predicted XX result in 2006 Congressional Election”.