On the Race for Congress, Don’t Bet on It

On the Race for Congress, Don’t Bet on It


You can always count on Vegas to give you a good feel on someone’s odds to win. And believe it or not, Vegas bookies actually do a good job of predicting wins and losses in Superbowls, NBA finals and Tennis. However, somehow when it comes to politics we don’t look to Vegas much. I guess the idea of gambling on members of the Congress, presidency and a bunch of governors just seems a bit inappropriate since they’re all managing aspects of the free world and all.

So where does the degenerate gambler go when they just have to place a bet but don’t want to go to the unseemly underbelly of Las Vegas to get their fix? A College Campus, of course.

Now I can’t quite tell you if a Crystal Ball is any more reliable than a Vegas bookie but Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball from the University of Virginia is one of the better political prognosticating websites in politics.

Their most recent article suggests that this fall will not go to well for the Democratic Party, to the tune of not re-capturing the house and likely losing the Senate as well. I can concur with most of their conclusions except for one key concept. The math behind the predictions is fairly sound:

CRHS = (1.35*GENBALLOT) + (.21*PRESAPP) – (.36*PRHS) – (19.6*MIDTERM) + 86.1

Change in Republican House Seats = The Generic Ballot Support of Democrats v.s. Republicans plus Presidential Approval rating minus Previous Republican House Seats minus the difference between Mid-Term and Presidential year turnout.

As good and realistic as this mathematical formula is there is one element that is missing. The role of the challenging candidate in the presidential election year. Mitt Romney is not a weak candidate in a direct match up with Barack Obama, but I do believe he is a weak candidate when it comes to having any coattail effects on other candidates throughout the nation.

It is very telling that Rick Santorum has been invited to come up and stump for embattled Wisconsin governor Scott Walker but Romney is just campaigning for the primary. I don’t believe that Mitt Romney is going to have a positive effect on candidates across the nation for the GOP. In fact, I believe that he will often need to be propped up by local candidates in order to gin up support among the conservative base. There is not one state this fall where I believe that Mitt Romney campaigning on behalf of a candidate will improve their chances – besides, perhaps, raising more money or, perhaps, giving them a temporary press boost.  But, it is abundantly clear through these primaries that Romney’s words do not carry enough weight to move the needle.

So how does that affect the Crystal Ball math above?

In a presidential election year there is a very symbiotic relationship between the candidates and Congress, with both feeding off of each other in order to gain strength in tight areas. Sometimes the president needs the support of a local governor to prop up their chances, sometimes a congressional candidate needs the challenger to show up and help them out in a tight race. That effect will only apply to one side in this race, and thus presidential approval and the midterm vs. presidential year effect may be questionable. Obama can improve Democrats chances in some congressional races, Romney can’t. Romney may beat Obama in the general election but he won’t really carry anyone with him.

So while it may still be safer to go to the ivory tower than the Vegas bookies, we have to look at this most recent analysis with a grain of salt. The Crystal Ball for the 2012 Congressional elections is a lot cloudier than Larry Sabato would like to think. Maybe he’d have a better chance of picking the winning Mega Millions ticket.

DR. JASON JOHNSON, Politic365 Chief Political Correspondent, is a professor of Political Science at Hiram College in Ohio and author of the book Political Consultants and Campaigns: One Day to Sell. You can read more at www.drjasonjohnson.com or follow him on Twitter @Drjasonjohnson


  1. Politics, like communication generally, can be approached with statistical analysis, but the sheer number of variables in most communication events is immense, and often virtually impossible to isolate and assign a constant value. For example, 90% of information exchanged between individuals in live conversation is said to be nonverbal. Any communication student will tell you that the meaning of the message, both the 90% nonverbal and 10% that is words, is in the receiver. While statisticians have increased their efficiency in predicting voter response, the Sabato prediction and the formula he uses is worthless on its face. Many states new voter registration laws, gas prices at election time, economic events in China and the EU, the Iran situation, etc., will be more important variables than any present in the formula. It won't be coattails as much as money and incumbency vs. money in many elections, money vs. money in most and money vs. narrative in some. One statistic does seem to hold. The candidate spending the most money wins 94% of the time. That's why getting-the-money-out should be our very top priority (by "our" I mean the people's). Until that happens, we are just switching crooks. Dem example: Feinstein and Boxer co-sponsor SOPA, to strangle the Internet. SOPA pushers gave over $1 million to each of them. Well-known "Progressive" Al Franken of Minnesota supported SOPA, too, but it only cost something over $700,000 in contributions to buy his vote. So much for integrity. Here is a test. Regardless of party affiliation, ask your representative if he/she will actively push to reinstate Glass-Steagall. If they say no, or say Dodd/Frank is sufficient – he/she is a crook.