The worst (and best) election predictions

The Republicans who predicted 80-seat gains and the Democrats who thought they'd keep the House

By Alex Pareene
Published November 3, 2010 4:45PM (EDT)

At the end of the counting, Republicans will probably have gained 64 seats in the US House of Representatives. As election day approached, nearly all serious pollsters and pundits -- most having learned their lesson in 1994 -- ditched early predictions of a 40-50-seat Democratic loss in favor of more realistic projections. Larry Sabato, for example, adjusted his prediction last week from +47 net Republican gain to +55.

The Senate was easy to predict by the end of the race, and most people got it right. The House is more of a guessing game -- everyone sort of randomly picked a number between 40 and 70.

Nate Silver said a 55-seat GOP gain. The Cook Report totally hedged by saying 50-60 seats. Rothenberg hedged in a more accurate direction by saying 55-65. (Just pick a number, prognosticators.)

Chris Van Hollen's public prediction was that the GOP would pick up fewer than 39 seats. Howard Fineman said Democrats told him "privately" that they expected to lose 70 seats. Both of those predictions are examples of setting expectations for the benefit of the media.

The Huffington Post projected a 48-seat Republican gain, even though their own data suggested a 55-65-seat gain.

Jonah Goldberg imagined a 77-seat Republican pickup. Jay Cost said the data suggested a 76-seat pickup, and he upped his prediction from a reasonable 61 seat gain accordingly: " My model suggests a pickup of about 75 seats, give or take."

Political scientist Ray Fair said Democrats would receive 49.22% of the two-party vote, but could not translate that into seats lost.

Henry Olsen was more or less right-on with his 64-seat gain prediction. Josh Green went with a 62-seat pickup, which could still be the final result.

Daniel Larison, still wishing for a less nutty Republican party, sadly predicted that they'd win a mere 35 seats. Oy.

Matthew Yglesias predicted 232 House Republicans. It will end up being slightly more than that.

The National Review predictions "symposium" is a healthy mix of reasonable, accurate projections and gleeful fanfic about the total destruction of the Democratic party (Carl Paladino! Republican congressmen from Massachusetts!). Dana Perino: "House pick-ups: 53; Senate pick-ups: nine. Barney Frank loses to Sean Bielat."

But my favorite prediction -- the most adorable, really -- came from Kathryn Jean Lopez, whose eternal faith in the wiseness of the American people is never shaken by he reality that very few of them share her prejudices:

Republicans win 80 pickups in the House.

Republicans pick up nine Senate seats.

Boxer goes, Murray goes, Feingold goes.

I think Frank goes. I think Kucinich goes.


So much fantasizing about Barney Frank losing his seat! Something about that guy really, really bugs conservatives.

Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at and follow him on Twitter @pareene

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