Posted by: Jeff | November 2, 2010

Don’t Panic

One last pre-election night post: I wanted to write something on why I thought Democrats could buck the solidifying conventional wisdom and hold both the Senate and the House. But it would appear Nate Silver has beat me to it. His reasons are a bit different than mine, but he’s smarter than me so I’ll just excerpt:

The case that Democrats could do better than expected — not well, by any means, merely better than expected — rests a little more in the realm of what artists call negative space: not what there is, but in what there isn’t. There aren’t 50, or even more than about 25, districts in which Republican candidates are unambiguous favorites. There isn’t agreement among pollsters about how the enthusiasm gap is liable to manifest itself. There isn’t any one poll or one forecasting method that is clairvoyant, or that hasn’t made some pretty significant errors in the past.

Instead, the case for Democrats is basically: yes, the news is bad, it just isn’t exactly as bad as you think, or at least we can’t be sure that it is. This isn’t a sexy argument to make.

Nor, probably, will it turn out to be the correct one; more likely than not, Republicans will indeed win the House, and will do so by a significant margin. But just as Republicans could beat the consensus, Democrats could too, and nobody should be particularly shocked if they do.

I’m with Ross Douthat that Democratic losses in the House would have to reach or exceed 50 before we could definitively say it’s a reaction against the Democrats’ agenda — as opposed to the mere mechanical swings we see every election cycle. And a mere 45 losses would be enough to give the Republicans the House. So who controls the House after tonight may very well mean nothing, as far as “what Americans are saying” goes.

But getting back to Silver’s post, the more important point is just that nobody knows anything. Really. All the analysis and predictions you’re hearing (Including from me!) are derived from the speaker’s pre-concieved notions and ideological preferences. And they’ll probably draw lessons from tonight’s results that reinforce those same notions and preferences — no matter what the results actually are.

Whether what we see tonight is a surprisingly strong showing by the Democrats that holds (smaller) majorities for them in both the House and the Senate, the reasonably universally expected swing of the House to the Republicans, or a Republican blow-out that gives them both chambers, nothing should surprise you. And while all of those results will mean something, they won’t mean all that much in the grand scheme of things. So, to quote The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Don’t panic.

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