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October 27, 2010

Jay Cost: As a Prognosticator, My Outer Bruce Banner Tries To Keep My Inner Incredible Hulk In Check, But I'm Being Belted By Gamma Rays, Baby

The other day, on Twitter, I asked Jay Cost about his latest prediction, something like 62 seats, up from something like 55.

T or F, @jaycost : When predicting, you (and other analysts) feel much more comfortable getting it wrong on the low side than high side.

Real Q @jaycost If you have a choice between guessing low or guessing high, by same deviation, it feels safer to be on low side, right?

I ask, @jaycost , because ppl like Charlie Cook keep making projections before immediately saying “but it’ll be much higher.”

I was asking because, as I've said, it's my belief that people have a psychological bias in favor of expecting stasis, or expecting the average; when people guess what their situation will be five years from now, they will usually predict "about the same, just a little bit better." They will tend not to predict they've either come down with a terminal illness or have made $50 million.

Even when they should be predicting one of those things. Like, um, that's why idiots like me continue smoking, you know? I don't have lung cancer now; I "predict" I won't have it in five years. Despite the fact I'm actually at some high risk of just that.

The prognosticators keep making their "official" predictions, but then adding in But it could be higher. Well, of course-- if this is your best guess as to the average number of seats that could be gained under these conditions, it could be higher, it could be lower. We know that implicitly.

So why do you keep stressing It could be higher? Not "It could be lower." But specifically, It could be higher.

My belief is that these guys have a gut belief they are low-balling it but are more comfortable with a less dramatic prediction. But they actually don't believe their predictions. They want credit for both their less dramatic, lowball prediction, but also that asterisked It could be higher semi-prediction.

This isn't about partisan bias but basic psychology. People don't like saying crazy things even when the evidence is in favor of those crazy things. (Things like "Gee, Obama really has no accomplishments or history, does he? And there's not really strong evidence he's particularly smart, either." If only more people had been willing to trust their gut on that "crazy" notion.)

Charlie Cook, by the way, just did this exact thing yesterday. His prediction is for 48-60 seats gained, but he wants you to know, it could be higher.

Karl noted the questions and wrote a post about it, and about his own guesses as to the size of the wave.

And Jay Cost has now written a column on this very point (you're welcome).

Right now, the Gallup traditional model is showing the Democrats at 41% of the vote, and gives the Republicans an advantage of 14 points. That would point to a final result along the lines of 57-43. It’s hard for Hulk to say how many seats that would yield, but it would be way more than 60. Hulk notes that the Democrats have not sustained a share of the generic vote in the RealClearPolitics average higher than 43% since the early spring. With the amazingly unpopular Nancy Pelosi as the face of the party, congressional job approval now limited to legislative aides, and more voters than ever suggesting that their own member doesn’t deserve reelection, just how much higher than 43% should we really expect that final number to go?

The circumstantial evidence in favor of this? As Jim Geraghty’s Obi Wan noted yesterday, it’s all around us. We simply have gotten used to it. Ohio is all but gone for the Democrats, including the swingiest of swing districts in Columbus. Michigan is a lost cause. So is liberal icon Russ Feingold in Wisconsin. Pennsylvania looks like it will go maybe +4-6 for Toomey and Corbett. All of these places voted for Obama, and all of them are basically gone. Weak Republican candidates in Colorado and Nevada keep those races tight, but otherwise the toss-ups are: California, Illinois, West Virginia, and Washington. The last Republican presidential candidate to win all four of these? Ronald Reagan in 1984.


My innate sense of caution induces me to side with Bruce Banner, at least for now. At this point, my honest guess is a popular vote victory of 8-9 points with a 60-seat gain in the House, just as I wrote last week. That being said, I have moments when I start hearing the voice of the Hulk. Yesterday, after Battleground found the "most likely voters" going Republican by +12, Rasmussen by +9, and the Gallup traditional by +14, the Hulk was talking really loudly to me. Next Monday around 5 PM, Gallup will release its final generic ballot numbers. If those numbers are in line with the numbers from this week, I am going to start turning very, very green!

On the other hand, early voting is not really evidence of a super-wave, but more like a Republicans just doing better than in the last several cycles. A good GOP year, but not a historic one.

I've sort of retreated back from the Hulk halfway to David Banner, you know, that stage where he wears green contact lenses but otherwise it's still Courtship of Eddie's Father guy. I do think that, alas, too many conservative-tilting voters are still going to sit this out and leave an awful lot on the table.

As Geraghty indicates today, we may be looking at either Scenario 2 or more likely Scenario 3, but unless people really take a stand and Fire these fuckers' asses, hardcore, and leave everything on the field, we're not going to see Scenario 4.

Scenario 4 is all conservative-tilting voters engaged and turning out the vote. I don't think we're all doing that. Some of us are, of course. Others, though, are leaving it... to others, and to chance.

It's not going to happen that way. If the most super-enthusiastic ideological voters -- blog readers and commenters -- aren't all giving it their all, there's no way a squishy, barely-reads-the-news conservative-tilting couch potato is going to make the effort to cast a vote.

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posted by Ace at 05:11 PM

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