Predicting an election

For Larry Sabato, predicting elections is about art and good old-fashioned hard work.

While many analysts wait until October of an election year to begin making projections, Sabato said, his team at the University of Virginia Center for Politics starts scrutinizing every state, race and district in early January.

Sabato said his emphasis on early, in-depth analysis allows his group of analysts to get a real sense of which way a district will swing.

“We don’t drink on New Year’s Eve and we start right in on Jan. 1,” Sabato joked.

But, when it comes to predicting elections, hard work and artful insights seem to pay off.

After all, Sabato not only accurately predicted that the Democrats would seize control of both houses of Congress in the midterm elections, but he accurately forecasted the victor in every single at-risk Republican seat.

Sabato, a national election expert and author who has been declared the most quoted American college professor on any subject by The Wall Street Journal, made his remarks during a speech at the Hinckley Institute of Politics on Tuesday morning. He was recently named the Institute’s Fellow for Fall Semester.

Now that the Democrats are at the helm of Congress, Sabato said, the next two years could be a turbulent time for the party as they try to push an agenda with a slim majority in the Senate and a Republican president.

“It’s a careful wire-balancing act for the Democrats,” Sabato said. “We’re going to see if they stay on the high wire or fall off.”

He said the Democratic Party will struggle to pass legislation while balancing its liberal wing with the more recently elected conservative group of Democrats referred to as the “blue dogs.”

Sabato, who prefers to call conservative Democrats “red dogs,” said Utah Congressman Jim Matheson is similar to the group of Democrats who take conservative stances on issues like abortion and gay marriage.

“They have been elected in red and purple districts, and they want to stay in office,” Sabato said.

He said the party will likely struggle to pass a minimum wage increase, even though the far majority of the public supports the move.

Nate Keyvani, a junior political science major who attended Sabato’s speech, said that while the Democrats will face Republican criticism and internal disputes, he thinks they can maintain control of Congress past 2008.

“If the Republicans can do it for 12 years, I’m sure the Democrats can,” Keyvani. “Its not going to be easy, (but the Democrats) have momentum on (their) side.”

Although the Democrats will face hurdles, Sabato said the party will likely maintain control in the future.

“They ran up the score enough, so I think they can keep control for awhile,” Sabato said.

Kim Peterson

Larry Sabato explains how he predicted the outcome of the midterm election to a full Hinckley Caucus Room in OSH on Tuesday.