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In a recent issue, Young and Sigelman (2008) present evidence of a “Dakota effect,” in which persons born in the Dakotas are disproportionately likely to represent their home state, other states, and also generate government spending directed toward the Dakotas. These authors are unable to explain the causal underpinnings for overrepresentation in Congress or the Dakotan natives' keen ability to direct pork back to these two states.
This symposium presents 10 articles forecasting the 2008 U.S. national elections. The core of this collection is the seven presidential-vote forecasting models that were presented in this space before the 2004 election. Added to that group are one additional presidential forecasting model, one state-level elections forecasting model, and one model forecasting the relationship between congressional votes and seats won by the parties. Some of the articles that are focused on the presidential race have also taken the opportunity to forecast the congressional elections as well.
With another Bush looking weak, many Democrats are feeling good about their prospects in November, even without the dream of a job in the White House for themselves. Yet this time, a Bush won't be on the presidential ballot in November, nor will someone closely affiliated with his administration, such as the vice president. Whatever the Bush legacy may be, the 2008 presidential election shapes up as an open-seat contest. A key predictor of the model used here to forecast the outcome of that contest is the showing of the presidential nominees in primaries (hence the sobriquet Primary Model). Since American elections in November are typically preceded by primary elections earlier in the year, it is natural to inquire whether the voting in presidential primaries is a leading indicator of the vote in the general election? Remarkably so, as it turns out. How the presidential candidates do in primary elections foretells their prospects in the November election with great accuracy.
The statistical modelers are back. The presidential election forecasting errors of 2000 did not repeat themselves in 2004. On the contrary, the forecasts, from at least seven different teams, were generally quite accurate (Campbell 2004; Lewis-Beck 2005). Encouragingly, their prowess is receiving attention from forecasters outside the social sciences, in fields such as engineering and commerce. Noteworthy here is the recent special issue on U.S. presidential election forecasting published in the International Journal of Forecasting, containing some 10 different papers (Campbell and Lewis-Beck 2008). Our contribution in that special issue explored the question of whether our Jobs Model, off by only 1 percentage point in its 2004 forecast, was a simple product of data-mining (Lewis-Beck and Tien 2008).
At first glance, the outcome of the 2008 presidential election would appear to be very difficult to predict. For the first time in over 50 years, there will be no incumbent president or vice president in the race. Instead, the Republican Party, which has seen its popularity and electoral fortunes plummet since 2004, is pinning its hopes of retaining control of the White House on Arizona Senator John McCain—an individual who has frequently clashed with his own party's leadership. And McCain's Democratic opponent will be Illinois Senator Barack Obama, the first African American ever to receive a major-party presidential nomination.
The trial-heat forecasting equation grew out of an examination of Gallup's trial-heat polls (“if the election were held today, who would you vote for?”) at various points in election years as predictors of the November vote (Campbell and Wink 1990). My co-author Ken Wink and I found, not surprisingly, that polls as literal forecasts were not very accurate until just before the election, that taking the historical relationship between the polls and votes into account through a bivariate regression significantly increased their accuracy, and that taking the contemporary context of the election as measured by economic growth in the election year into account increased their accuracy even further. Corroborating Lewis-Beck and Rice's earlier finding (Lewis-Beck 1985, 58), we found that an equation combining the Labor Day trial-heat poll standing of the in-party candidate and the second-quarter growth rate in the economy produced the most accurate forecast of the national two-party popular vote.
On the eve of the election, the impending result of the presidential vote can be seen fairly clearly from trial-heat polls. Earlier in the election year, the polls offer much less information about what will happen on Election Day (see Campbell 2008; Wlezien and Erikson 2002). The polls capture preferences to the moment and do not—because they cannot—anticipate how preferences will evolve in the future, as the campaign unfolds. Various things ultimately impact the final vote. The standing of the sitting president is important. The economy is too. Both can change as the election cycle evolves. To make matters worse, late-arriving economic shocks have a bigger impact on the electoral verdict than those that arrive earlier. This complicates accurately forecasting the vote well in advance.
At the time of this writing (early August, 2008), the political landscape would appear to bode well for Barack Obama and spell almost certain disaster for John McCain. With presidential approval hovering in the high-20 and low-30% range for more than a year, and levels of economic satisfaction bottoming out, it “should” be a terrible year for the Republican Party in general and the Republican presidential nominee, John McCain, in particular, at least if the retrospective model holds. One factor that could mitigate the impact of negative retrospections, however, is that George W. Bush himself is not on the ballot to absorb the full impact of the national angst; in fact, for the first time since 1952, neither the president nor vice president is on the ballot.
This article is about a simple two-variable equation forecasting presidential election outcomes and a three-variable equation forecasting seat change in House elections. Over the past two decades a cottage industry of political forecasting has developed (Lewis-Beck and Rice 1992; Campbell and Garand 2000). At the 1994 meeting of the Southern Political Science Association, several participants offered their forecasts of the upcoming midterm House elections. Unfortunately, not one of the forecasters was within 20 seats of the actual outcome. If, however, these forecasts had been pooled, as Gaddie (1997) points out, then they would have come remarkably close to the actual seat change that occurred. Moving forward, at the 1996 APSA Annual Meeting the collection of forecasters did a much better job with that year's presidential election. The forecasters also got the overall popular vote outcome correct at the 2000 APSA Annual Meeting for that year's presidential election. We all forecasted a victory for Al Gore, with James Campbell coming the closest to the actual total (50.2%) at 52.8%. At the panel at the 2004 APSA Annual Meeting almost every forecaster predicted the actual outcome correctly. Forecasting elections holds us accountable—we cannot go back and change our forecast for an election after it has occurred. Moreover, if we stick with one forecast, it easy to judge the overall accuracy of our equations.
In 2004, for the first time the fiscal model was employed for the purpose of real-time, ex ante forecasting of a presidential election. The results were encouraging (Cuzán and Bundrick 2005). This year, however, the model encounters a set of challenging conditions, relevant only to it, never seen in the data before. In this paper, we briefly summarize the model, describe the problem, wrestle with ways to address it, and conclude with a forecast for November.
This paper applies the forecasting models of Klarner and Buchanan (2006a) for the U.S. Senate and Klarner and Buchanan (2006b) for the U.S. House of Representatives to the upcoming 2008 elections. Forecasts are also conducted for the 2008 presidential race at the state level. The forecasts presented in this article, made July 28, 2008 (99 days before the election), predicted an 11-seat gain for the Democrats in the House of Representatives, a three-seat gain for the Democrats in the Senate, and that Barack Obama would obtain 53.0% of the popular vote and 346 electoral votes. Furthermore, Obama was forecast to have an 83.6% chance of winning the White House and an 85.9% chance of winning the popular vote.
The 2008 U.S. House elections mark the first time since 1994 that the Democrats will seek to retain a majority. With the political climate favoring Democrats this year, it seems almost certain that the party will retain control, and will likely increase its share of seats. In five national polls taken in June of this year, Democrats enjoyed on average a 13-point advantage in the generic congressional ballot; as Bafumi, Erikson, and Wlezien (2007) point out, these early polls, suitably adjusted, are good predictors of the November vote. As of late July, bettors at intrade.com put the probability of the Democrats retaining a majority at about 95% (Intrade.com 2008). Elsewhere in this symposium, Klarner (2008) predicts an 11-seat gain for the Democrats, while Lockerbie (2008) forecasts a 25-seat pickup.
The 2008 presidential election has been widely touted as historic because a woman and an African American became viable candidates for a major party, thereby thrusting gender and race into the spotlight. Of course, gender and race have always been present as informal criteria for U.S. presidential candidates. At the constitutional founding, only white propertied men with sufficient affluence to be gentlemen of leisure were deemed suitable for national office (Wood 1991). Following the traditions of kings and military leaders, the executive was assumed to be an elite man and the institution itself became associated with men and fashioned in the preferences of its founders (March and Olsen 1989). For the presidency, founding fathers sought a heroic man, capable of leading in the extra-legal realm that they recognized could not be fully anticipated in law (Kann 1998). Since then, presidential campaigns have always been about what kind of man should hold an office predicated upon masculinity. While certainly presidential candidates' characters have been most discussed, the quality of each candidate's masculinity has been embedded in the sizing up of presidential timber, character, and the person.
When Barack Obama delivered the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, he was well on his way to claiming the open U.S. Senate seat once held by the only other black Democratic senator since Reconstruction, Carol Moseley-Braun. Although mostly unknown, the self-professed “skinny guy with the funny name,” made a lasting impression. Secure in his own Senate race, Obama, a rising political star, spent much of the fall traveling the country as a surrogate for Democratic candidates.
“Clinton Eclipses Obama and Edwards on Leadership” a Gallup Poll report headlined in January 2007. Gallup chose eight characteristics to determine this assessment, including being most qualified to be president, is the strongest leader, would be the best in a crisis, would manage the government most effectively, and would work the best with Congress. In a summary of its findings, the report concludes: “Among the characteristics and qualities tested, Clinton's strong points are almost uniformly related to presidential leadership. She holds a formidable lead on many items in this category, including being qualified to be president and being a strong leader” (Saad 2007).
Although Latinos have grown substantially as a percent of the American population to now comprise the largest ethnic-racial minority group in the U.S., whether or not this national population growth can translate into direct political influence in presidential elections has always been unclear (DeSipio 1996; Fraga and Ramírez 2003–04). At least since the 1988 election, however, scholars of Latino politics have argued that Latino voters could serve as key swing voters if certain contextual and strategic conditions existed in specific contests (Guerra 1992). Among these are: a competitive election in states where Latinos are a determinative segment of the electorate; strategic mobilization of Latino voters; active engagement in the election by Latino elected officials, related organizational leaders, and Latino campaign strategists; a viable Latino candidate; and issues of specific relevance to Latino voters (Guerra and Fraga 1996).
Placing the 2008 election in the context of political development reveals the gendered nature of the presidency and presidential elections. The institution of the presidency is predominantly masculinist. It privileges conventional masculine attributes of strength, determination, and decisiveness. Yet the degree to which the institution requires masculinist leadership attributes varies throughout political development and according to different types of time. Viewed through a chronological linear lens, developments in “historical time” magnify the most masculinist aspect of the presidency—the role of commander in chief. On the other hand, in 2008 “political time” signals the end of the neoliberal era and a shift away from confrontational, partisan politics toward the building of a new consensus that emphasizes domestic welfare. As a result, the nature and stage of the regime cycle or moment in political time favor feminalist features of leadership such as collective engagement, cooperation, and conciliation. In the 2008 election, these two types of time collide, and the collision helps explain the gender-specific character of the campaigns, the candidates, and the next president.
One of the more entertaining pastimes during the presidential campaign is the “veepstakes,” or speculation about who the presidential nominee will select for a running mate. While much of this speculation occurs after the nomination has been decided (Alter 2004; Feldmann 2004; Kennedy 2004; Lehigh 2004; Starr 2004), speculation about the 2008 selections had begun as early as 2007 (Cain 2007; Klein 2007; Mackowiak 2007; Sanderson 2007). Most are grounded in a good understanding of what presidential candidates look for in a running mate, but one writer has not unfairly referred to the veepstakes as a “largely fact-free parlour game” (Harding 2004).
In the provocatively titled Indoctrination U., David Horowitz argues that radical members of college faculties have “intruded a political agenda into the academic curriculum,” engaging in propaganda rather than scholarship and indoctrinating students rather than teaching them (Horowitz 2007, xi). Although allegations of liberal bias in academia are nothing new, the issue has gained increased attention as the result of efforts by Horowitz and the Center for the Study of the Popular Culture (CSPC) to promote the Academic Bill of Rights for American colleges and universities.
A variety of measures indicate that income inequality has grown significantly in the United States during the last three decades (APSA 2004; Brandolini and Smeeding 2006). In a flurry of recent research, scholars have attributed this trend to the failure of the national government to represent the preferences of ordinary citizens in general and less wealthy citizens in particular (APSA 2004; Bartels 2004; 2006; Gilens 2005), who participate in politics less consistently and contribute fewer resources to political candidates than their wealthier peers (Verba, Schlozman, and Brady 1995). The American Political Science Association's (APSA) Task Force on Inequality and American Democracy summarizes this representative failure hypothesis: “disparities in participation ensure that ordinary Americans speak in a whisper while the most advantaged roar” (2004, 2).