Tag Archives: predicting elections

Tea Leaves and Prognostications

There are..what? Seventeen Republicans contending for the party’s nomination? How does one tell which one –if any– has “legs”?

Predicting political outcomes is perilous. I’ve lived long enough–and seen enough “pundit predictions”–to take all of them with a whole shaker of salt. With the possible exception of Nate Silver, political “analysis” is mostly the analyst’s wishful thinking.

That doesn’t mean they can’t be fun to read. Especially the ones that tell you things you want to believe.

One such “analysis,” I came across was written not long after the 2014 midterms–midterms that Republicans won big– by a GOP columnist for the Houston Chronicle, Chris Ladd. Rather than celebrating those victories, Ladd declared the week of the Midterm Elections “a dark week for Republicans.” 

And why was what looked like a resounding victory “a dark week”?

The Midterms of 2014 demonstrate the continuation of a 20 year old trend. Republicans are disappearing from the competitive landscape at the national level where the population is the largest utilizing a declining electoral base of aging, white, and rural voters. As a result no GOP candidate on the horizon has a chance at the White House in 2016 and the chance of holding the Senate beyond 2016 is vanishingly small.

Ladd identified a “blue wall” on the electoral college map, and noted that in 2014, GOP support had gotten deeper, but no wider.

The Blue Wall is a block of states that no Republican Presidential candidate can realistically hope to win. On Election Day that block added New Hampshire to its number and Virginia is shifting At the outset of any Presidential campaign, a minimally effective Democratic candidate can expect to win 257 electoral votes out of the 270 needed to win. If Virginia joins New Hampshire that number will be 270 out of 270.

To win, a GOP  candidate has to win all nine “tossup” state and one solidly Blue state. Thus, in the next, and into the foreseeable future, Presidential elections will be decided in the Democratic Primary. What are the chances that a Republican candidate capable of appealing to the increasingly right wing GOP will appeal to enough Democrats to win in tossup and Blue states?

Ladd makes a number of other points (my favorite: “Voter suppression is working remarkably well, but that won’t last.” Glad to see someone willing to call it what it is..), and the whole piece is well worth reading, especially if you are a Democrat looking for a feel-good few minutes.

The problem with taking this–or any– analysis at face value is that things change. Predictions are particularly hazardous in state-level races: Favored candidates do stupid things (RFRA, God intended that rape, etc.), or get caught playing footsie in public restrooms. A hurricane keeps voters away from the polls. Even at the national level, parties have been known to nominate people who are simply unelectable– unsalable even to the party base.

National trends can also change. At some point (admittedly, probably not 2016), the GOP is going to realize that a strategy that depends on playing to the anger and fear of old white guys isn’t viable, and the party will revert to its more rational roots.

The only political prediction that is usually true is: the party that gets more voters to the polls, wins.