Senate Forecast Update, and a Generational Gap Among Forecasters
by Chris Bowers, Wed Sep 13, 2006 at 07:29:46 PM EDT
I also wanted to highlight what I think is a very insightful comment by Charlie Cook on a generational gap among election forecasters. From his latest column:As a general rule, election-watchers under the age of 40, regardless of their party or ideology, see the contest for control of the House as fairly close. They foresee Republicans' losing at least 10 seats, but certainly no more than 20, and they put the odds of a Democratic takeover at 50-50, give or take 10 percentage points. As for the Senate, these observers tend to expect Republicans to lose three or four seats, but probably not five and certainly not the six required for Democrats to take charge.
Observers over age 40, meanwhile, tend to see a greater likelihood of sizable Republican losses. They think that the GOP could well lose more than 20 House seats and more than five Senate seats.
Most of the professionals toiling in the vineyards of the party campaign committees and watching individual races most closely are in the under-40 cohort. They tend to see control of the House as a close call and tend to be most conservative on their House seat counts. They're also the least likely to think the Senate will change hands. Invariably, these younger pros acknowledge that for Republicans this is a "very challenging election cycle," the euphemism that GOP spokesmen use to keep from saying that 2006 is shaping up as "a really bad year" for their party. Yet these younger observers focus almost exclusively on where each contest stands right now, employing a sort of political version of the literal interpretation of the Bible.
Older pros, while often one or more steps removed from the day-to-day developments in each contest, appear to read a bit more into the races, placing greater emphasis on the national political environment and what it is likely to mean for contests that are currently too close to call or for Republican incumbents with precarious leads. These relative old-timers vividly remember the midterm elections of 1994, 1986, 1982, and 1974, as well as the presidential year of 1980, when the late Speaker Tip O'Neill's adage "All politics is local" clearly didn't apply. I think that Cook is absolutely correct in what he writes here. As someone in the under-40 crowd, the only wave election I remember was 1994. I don't even remember that election very well, since I was in England during my study abroad year at that time. For me, the House has basically been static and local, with the exception of one huge landslide that I was unable to follow closely. When I was 12 years old in 1986, I did not follow congressional elections much at all.
In addition to what Cook wrote, I think there is something else fueling this generational gap. Younger people who follow politics closely are used to Republicans winning. I remember brutal Republican landslides from 1984, 1988 and 1994. I remember Republicans pulling out tight elections in 1998, 2002, and 2004. I remember outright Republican theft in 2000. In my experience, with few exceptions, Republicans have consistently won elections, while Democrats have consistently lost. For an older generation, the opposite was true--and how!--for a very, very long time. I have often thought that this difference in experience has led to a different political attitude by the older and younger generations in the Democratic Party and progressive ecosystem, where one generation views us as the natural governing party, and one does not. I think that this leads to a desire for much fiercer opposition tactics from the younger generation, as well as a desire to shake up existing infrastructure (especially advocacy and consulting infrastructure). We don't view our return to power as the natural course of things, we are convinced that the old ways have failed, and we have grown utterly paranoid of Republicans pulling out any election no matter how dire the circumstances seemed for them. Thus, in addition to the differences I just described, generally speaking we also view the 2006 situation as slightly better for Republicans than an older generation might. Most of my friends don't really believe that we will win in November, and while I am not as pessimistic as some, I am certainly not the most optimistic forecaster out there. In fact, among the professional forecasters, I think only CQ politics rates the situation as worse for Democrats than I do. I want to believe in a national wave, but there is no way I am going to let my hopes get that high. Until Election Day, I will try to stay away from a focus on national trends, and instead look at races on a district-by-district basis. Back in 2004, I used a theory known as the Incumbent Rule to predict a narrow Kerry win, but it did not pan out. Even leaving aside my own personal hopes for the moment, the last thing I want is to once again be the person who caused 250,000 people to get their hopes too high, only to se them dashed to the curb on a Wednesday morning in early November.