Political InQueery: Crystal Ball Persuasion
Many people who fancy themselves political science pundits have offered their predictions for Election Day on Tuesday, and as one combs through their numbers rackets—I mean, educated guesses as to who will win what—one finds some significant biases—I mean, measurement error—toward their own political affiliations. But this only made one more determined to identify sturdier means of projecting likely results in the 2010 midterm elections. What I list here are the rigorous, the coincidental, and the laughable predictions for this voting cycle.
Fairly balanced reporters and analysts predictions—Toby Harnden of The Telegraph picked 20 races in giving his assessment of Tuesday's winners and losers. Among the winners: Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Ken Buck; losers include Democratic control of the House, Harry Reid, and Lisa Murkowski. The New York Times, which runs a series of simulations to arrive at a comprehensive map of the predicted results, shows only a 16 percent chance that the Democrats will retain control of the House. The Washington Post's latest poll suggests that the Republican surge is weakening, but many races are now just too close to call.
Interesting methods of guessing election results—Nate Silver had his 15 minutes of fame in 2008 when he used statistical methods he'd developed for major league baseball toward the presidental primaries and general election. Now Silver does work for the 538 crew at the New York Times. Because he uses a complex weighting system, and because more polling is done on House races now than in previous years, Silver makes what sound like very broad statements related to these races; according to him, the GOP will pick up anywhere between 20 and 80 House seats. Yes, he's not making grand claims as some biased pollsters would, but he also leaves open a lot of room to the unknown.
Astrologer Lynn Hayes doesn't think that the energy generated by Tea Party, a group caught between "Saturn (the establishment) and Uranus (the rebel)" will carry through to election day. Many polls say different, but we'll know shortly, won't we?
Other methods that tout their accuracy are merely coincidental or certainly not causally related to who will go to the polls—these include the strength of the US Dollar, certain economic indicators, and so-called "bellwether" districts, as with pointing out that Ohio has gone the same way as the winner of the presidency in every presidential election for several decades now, and no Republican has won a ticket to the White House without winning Ohio since Lincoln. But given that Ohio votes with the rest of the country, it's not exactly helpful in making predictions and anyway, this is a midterm election year.
A few things we do know about this election—Nearly $4 billion will be spent on the 509 House, Senate, and Governors races, the largest money amount ever for a midterm cycle. Shadow and outside groups, opened up by the Supreme Court's ruling on campaign financing, have infused anywhere from $150 million to a quarter of a billion dollars, and much of that money can not be traced back to individual donors. One of the aspects of this election that people will mull over in advance of 2012 will certainly be what effect all of this money had on everything from turnout to messaging to the results. And we're sure to debate what all of this means just like we debate everything else.
In the "post-racial" US, race played a huge part in several races, serving as various threats to individual liberty (Muslim terrorists), the economy (undocumented workers from Latin America), urban blight (African-Americans), and then of course there were all those anti-Obama signs at Tea Party rallies and on billboards plastered across the country.
The Internet, through blogs, social networks, texting campaigns, and online media, served to dillute conversations about issues relevant to Americans and instead pushed the frame of debate to reductive attacks on candidates and slanted stances on only a few topics meant to strengthen one's own party or weaken one's opponent. It seems clear to me that whereas we were all talking in 2008 about whether campaigns would gain Internet savvy, in 2010 they seem to have abused it.
With less than 24 hours until Election Day, please find a way to vote. We can argue about government, democracy, and the problems of our two-party system on November 3.
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