Midterm Sweep? We Already Predicted It!

March 21st, 2010 at 4:50 pm | 9 Comments |

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As you may have heard, the Democratic Congress just passed a big health care bill on a close-to-party-line vote, the Democratic President is about to sign it, and–oh yeah–the Democrats are expected to get slaughtered in the upcoming November elections.

But, as the timing of the above links reveals–the 2010 election prediction was made in September, 2009–it would be a mistake, when November 2010 rolls around, to attribute a Republican sweep to the events of March, 2010. During all those months from September through February, a period when passage of the heath care bill was far from certain, the Republicans maintained their lead in the polls and thus their anticipated midterm election gains.

And I think that, when November rolls around, the pundits will realize this. Sure, one or two might say something about how the voters were punishing Obama and the Democrats for going too far in March, but then the more clueful pundits will get on their case and say: “No! Remember, the Republicans were expected to do well in the midterms, with authoritative predictions being made as early as September, 2009.”

One thing that interests me here is the role of the political science profession in this story. By laying out our 2010 predictions early, we short-circuited what could otherwise have been a popular narrative about the election. This is something I’ve been thinking about for over 20 years–ever since Michael Dukakis’s election loss was attributed (inappropriately, according to our research) to campaign strategies rather than to general economic and political conditions.

It feels good for once to be ahead of the story. And I think we as quantitative researchers should be proud of this, whether we’re happy or sad about the new health bill, and whether we’re happy or sad about the possibility of a Republican takeover in November.

Quantitative research is not just about making predictions; it’s also about changing the storyline.

P.S. Here’s the key graph (from Bafumi, Erikson, and Wlezien):


Follow the first link above for more discussion of the research.

Recent Posts by Andrew Gelman

9 Comments so far ↓

  • TerryF98

    Chickens, Hatch, Before, Counting,Your,They.
    Rearrange to form a popular saying.

  • ottovbvs

    …Can you also predict the outcome of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont?…..I so I’d like to have a private consultation

  • balconesfault

    It is quite possible that last September might represent close to the high point of predictions for Democratic losses.

    You were coming off a month of August where the tea partiers took over town hall meetings across the country and got a ton of publicity as a result. At that point, the animosity directed against health care reform had already reached 11, and there really wasn’t much more room to go.

    Everyone who was really, really pissed off at the Democrats over healthcare reform were already really, really pissed off … and motivated to vote Republican next November. Passage of the bill itself is kind of irrelevant – the atrocity was that such a comprehensive health care reform bill was proposed in the first place.

    So the question now is … do some number of the people who were outraged over a government takeover of a huge percentage of the economy start to become less outraged as the reality of a signed bill trumps all the horror stories circulated in countless e-mails?

    When people find out the bill really doesn’t give free insurance to illegal aliens … or require doctors to provide abortions … or force the elderly into manditory “death panel” reviews every 5 years in order to keep their Medicare … or interfere with their ability to keep their company provided health insurance, or see the doctor they’ve been seeing for year … they’re going to take a deep breath.

    When they begin to realize that if they lose their job, or decide to go into business on their own, that they’ll now be guaranteed of being able to buy insurance on the open market, even if their 7 year has a pre-existing condition … and that if their company decides to drop health coverage and they only make 50k/year, they’ll have government assistance to buy a policy to cover their family … there are going to be a lot of people warming up to this thing.

  • DFL

    I would expect a 4-7 Republican Senate gain and 25-40 House seats. Not too bad for the Democrats as two straight landslides in their direction in 2006 and 2008 exaggerated their strength.

  • cporet

    “Meep, meep”.

  • sinz54

    It’s way too early to know how the public will react to this.

    Just three months before Scott Brown’s victory in MA, no pundits gave Brown any chance to win.

    And after the GOP took over Congress in 1994, nearly all pundits–even Dems–wrote off the young presidency of Bill Clinton.

    Be patient. As the summer starts, we’ll have a better feel of public reaction.

    One more thing. Pundits are always good at rationalizing events–after the fact. Once candidate Smith wins the election, you see a zillion stories of “How Smith Did It!”

    Just once, I would like to see a reporter for the Washington Post or New York Times write a front-page story entitled “We Didn’t See That One Coming.” :-)

    They didn’t even do that after Pearl Harbor or 9-11.

  • ottovbvs

    DFL // Mar 22, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    ……A completely worthless prediction as are any in mid March……the extent of GOP/Democratic gains/losses depends entirely on the state of play in late summer/ early fall……however I would say this is not going to be a tidal election and Republicans generally(but not David) think it is…..we’ll see whose right

  • aDude

    One thing weighing against Republicans this fall with regard to the Senate is that this is the class of 2004, which was a good year for Republicans. So this was always going to be more of an uphill battle for Republicans than, say 2012 or (especially) 2014. There is almost no chance of Republicans taking back the Senate this fall. I would expect a net pick up of some four to six seats in the Senate.

  • JonF

    Assuming there are no major events that are highly favorable for the Democrats (e.g., capturing bin Laden or uncovering a major GOP scandal) and no events highly negative for them (a double dip recession or a — God-forbid– terror attack here) then DFL has pretty much nailed it. The Dems will keep a small lead in the Senate; if they hold the House it will be by the narrowest of margins.
    Of course it’s not November now, and life is full of surprises.