Opinion: Daily Journal

Notes on the 2010 Elections

RALEIGH – As I prepared for Monday’s election-preview presentation at the John Locke Foundation, I accumulated several interesting pieces of data or analysis that didn’t quite merit a full-length column. So today, I’m emptying my notebook on the 2010 campaign season.

• The single-biggest reason why swing voters have turned their backs on President Obama and the Democrats, towards whom they swung in the past two election cycles, is that the American economy has yet to manifest a significant recovery from the 2009-10 recession.

A recent Christian Science Monitor article on the country’s employment deficit – America has nearly 8 million fewer jobs than it did in 2007 – used an excellent graphic to illustrate how the most-recent recession has far underperformed others in employment. Follow the link and click on it. Small increases in GDP, such as the 2 percent annualized rate just announced for the 3rd quarter, aren’t going to make much of a dent in chronic joblessness.

And won’t, therefore, help the party in power when people are so worried about their economic futures.

• Generic polling and careful analysis of individual congressional and legislative races are certainly viable tools for predicting election outcomes. But there are others.

Some economists and political scientists, for example, have constructed models using economic data such as jobs and income growth to predict elections without recourse to traditional metrics such as polling or campaign expenditures. These models are fairly accurate, which ought to make pundits and political consultants more humble in their opinions and modest in their claims.

Ought to, but doesn’t.

The Harvard Crimson published a good piece about election modeling several days ago. The student newspaper noted that one of the pioneers in the field, Yale professor Ray Fair, has yet to release the final predictions of his model for the 2010 elections. But another modeler, political scientist Douglas Hibbs, has predicted a 45-seat gain for the GOP in the U.S. House, enough for a majority but now considered on the low end of the range of predicted Republican wins.

• Yet another useful tool for predicting elections is to consult the prediction markets. There are several of them. Investors are putting their own money on the line, though the amounts are usually small. In a sense, prediction markets are a handy way to get a handle on all the various data available to the public – generic polling, district polling, candidate resources and performance, etc. – as these data are converted into bets in the market.

Two popular prediction markets are run by Intrade and the University of Iowa. As of late Sunday night, the Intrade market indicated that a Republican takeover of the U.S. House was considered a near-certainty (92 percent chance) while a Republican majority in the U.S. Senate was close to a 50-50 proposition. Trades forecast a 47 percent chance that the GOP’s House gain would be at least 60 seats. In the Iowa market, Republicans were also given a 90 percent+ chance of taking the House but their prospects in the Senate were considered far less bright.

• Everyone who watches North Carolina politics closely knows by now that Republicans have a decent chance of winning both houses of the General Assembly for the first time in more than a century. But they may not know that North Carolina isn’t the only state with highly competitive, high-stakes legislative races this year.

According to the latest analysis from Ballotpedia, the GOP may gain as many as 18 legislative chambers this week (my own list had previously identified only a dozen such takeover targets, but I made it several weeks ago). The best bets for Republican takeovers are in the Alaska and Iowa senates and the houses of representatives in Indiana, Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

Notice the prevalence of Midwestern states on the list. It’s a trend. In Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, legislative gains will probably also be accompanied by takeovers of previously Democratic governorships. In Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, the same is true of previously Democratic U.S. Senate seats.

Interested in more analysis of the 2010 election? If you happen to be in the Triangle area today, perhaps you and I should have lunch and chat about it.

Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.

p.s. Also, if you want to read up on the key races that define the 2010 election cycle in North Carolina, there’s no better place to go than Carolina Journal’s Exclusive Series Covering the 2010 Elections.