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.