Pundits Get Pasted on Predictions

Punditwatch receives a lot of mail along the lines of, "Who cares what these weekend gasbags think?"

After Tuesday’s election results, who can blame them?

None of the pundits on this past weekend’s shows were particularly prescient. Liberal commentators were far too bullish on Democratic prospects. Conservative talking heads were generally much too bearish.

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields, a PBS News Hour and CNN Capital Gang regular, let his Democratic heart rule his talking head. He predicted a three seat gain in the Senate for Democrats, including wins for Jean Carnahan, Walter Mondale and Jeanne Shaheen.

All lost and the GOP gained seats.

Shields was spectacularly wrong on the Florida governor’s race. He was alone in publicly predicting a Bill McBride upset. He also predicted that Democrats would pick up six state houses (they picked up four). To give him his due, he did predict a Mitt Romney win in Massachusetts, bucking the rest of the Capital Gang.

Bob Novak, Chicago Sun-Times columnist and Shields’ nemesis on Capital Gang, had a better record, foreseeing a GOP gain in the Senate. He correctly called Senate wins for Norm Coleman, John Sununu, and picked Bob Ehrlich in the Maryland Governor’s race.

Novak got the Democratic gain in governorships exactly right, but he was spectacularly wrong in predicting a Jim Ryan upset in Illinois. Ryan lost big to Democrat Rod Blagojevich for governor of Illinois.

If John Thune is able to emerge victorious in the South Dakota Senate race, only Novak and NBC’s Lisa Myers will be vindicated. Michael Barone of US News & World Report is vindicated either way -- he said it was too close to call.

David Broder of the Washington Post, the "dean of American political reporters," appeared on Meet the Press Sunday and predicted a Tim Johnson victory in South Dakota. But he said the Maryland gubernatorial race was "too close to call." Republican Bob Ehrlich won in Maryland over Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, 52 percent to 47 percent.

None of the pundits had arguably the biggest upset of the night -- Republican Sonny Perdue’s victory over incumbent Democrat Roy Barnes in the Georgia governor’s race -- on their radar screens.

It’s easy to just pick on the pundits who appear regularly on the weekend talkfests, but Internet political sites had their share of bad calls. Liberal-leaning weblogs were particularly prone to the "Mark Shields" effect. MyDD, published by J. B. Armstrong, was the darling of the Democrats during the final days of the campaign, predicting a seven seat Democratic gain in the House (the GOP gained 6), a two seat pick-up in the Senate (Republicans added 3), and eight new state house Democrats. Oops.

Joshua Micah Marshall published a comprehensive rundown of predictions by writers and commentators far and wide.

In the academic world, University of Virginia Professor Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball was a remarkably in-depth weekly look at every race in the country. Sabato boldly called all of them by Monday afternoon. His final tallies were close, but he underestimated the Republican tide that he detected.

Another Sabato effort, a middle school/high school Internet voting project called the Youth Leadership Initiative, had overwhelming Republican results overall.

Pundits could have done worse than trusting the students’ choices, picks that included Ehrlich, Coleman, Perdue and Sununu.

Watch for the pundits to quickly gloss over their misreading of the electorate and start a new story line: sure, Republicans have a majority, but it’s going to be tough to do anything with it ….

Will Vehrs is an economic developer in Richmond, Va. Unable to obsess on golf, fishing or a weed-free lawn, he chose to stalk the weekend talk show pundits and their syndicated print brethren. His "Punditwatch" column appears in Tony Adragna's Quasipundit.

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