Larry Sabato’s Useless Election Forecast

Larry J. SabatoLarry J. Sabato is a political scientist with a long history of accurately predicting the outcomes of elections. He hasn’t done such a good job during the last two election cycles, so of course, now he’s writing for Politico. He just published, Republicans Really Could Win it All This Year. That’s a pretty stupid title when you consider a few things. First, they obviously can’t win the presidency. Second, they already have the House of Representatives, and no one really expects them to lose it. And third, everyone knows that that the Republicans might take control of the Senate. That’s why I recently argued in Don’t Cry for the Democrats that even if they lose the Senate in 2014, they will almost certainly get it back in 2016. What Sabato should have titled his article is, “Republicans Really Could Win the Senate This Year.” It would have been a boring title, but it would have the advantage of being accurate and just as boring as the article itself.

Sabato claims that there are three things that really matter for the 2014 elections. First, is presidential approval. His argument is that presidential approval often hurts congressional candidates of his party. But not always. He also makes the totally unsubstantiated claim that it is just as likely that Obama’s approval rating will fall as that it will climb. I don’t see that at all. Obama is not Bush the Younger. I think he’s gotten about as unpopular as he can possibly get. What’s more, his current unpopularity is mostly due to the bad Obamacare roll-out, and that is definitely on the mend. Now, I don’t see Obama’s approval rating going way up, but I do expect it to get somewhat better over the next ten months.

The second important issue is the economy. File this one under “Sherlock, No Shit.” Still, he spends only two paragraphs on the subject. Mostly, he uses it to make an incoherent argument that a bad economy will be good for the Republicans but a good economy will not help the Democrats. He concludes with a perfect example of statement that says nothing but appears to, “So even if the economy continues to improve, Obama and the Democrats might not reap an electoral benefit.” That’s right, if the economy is booming, it might not help the Democrats. Alternately, if the economy is booming, it might help the Democrats. In other words: Sabato has nothing to say on the subject.

The final issue can also be filed under “Sherlock, No Shit”: the electoral playing field. This is what everyone is talking about and is the basis of, Don’t Cry for the Democrats: there are a lot more Democrats up for re-election than there are Republicans. There are 21 Democrats up and only 14 Republicans. But in 2012, there were 23 Democrats versus 10 Republicans and the Democrats managed to gain two seats. What’s more, the Democrats can lose 5 seats and still maintain control of the Senate.

Sabato ends his column with nothing more than a bunch of speculation, stated as though it is proof:

At this early stage, the combination of these three factors suggests a good election year for the GOP. The president is a Democrat and his approval is weak. The economy may be improving, based on GDP growth (4.1 percent in the third quarter), but voters still don’t believe their personal economy, at least, has picked up much. Instead, the major national issue of the moment is Obamacare, which at this point is a loser for Democrats. The structure of the election in the House and Senate also bends in the GOP direction.

Basically, all he’s got here is that the 2014 election will be a wash in the House and the Republicans have a decent chance of taking over the Senate with a slim majority. This is exactly what I’ve been saying for at least the last year. But let me put a positive spin on what Sabato wrote:

The president’s approval rating is weak but will likely improve over the next ten months. The economy is improving and people are feeling it more and more. The major national issue may continue to be Obamacare, but that is likely to get better in the next several months, where it will be a winner for Democrats. The Republicans have a structural advantage in the Senate, but they have to win six seats and they’ve shown themselves pretty clueless in picking candidates.

In other words: Larry Sabato has added nothing of value to the discussion of the 2014 election.


I want to be very clear here. My point is that Sabato is adding nothing to the discussion and that he seems to be cheer leading for the GOP. His conclusions are pretty much the same as mine in, The Next Three Election Cycles. That conclusion is that the Republicans will do slightly better than the Democrats but that mostly it will be a wash. But the way that Sabato puts it, it is that it is going to be a great year for the Republicans. It could be, just as it could be a great year for the Democrats. But the information he provides points to a wash. He seems to be pushing back against a groundswell of pundits saying that the Democrats are going to do well in 2014. No one is saying that.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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