Academics Use Formulas to Predict Bush Win
1 hour, 14 minutes ago Add Top Stories - Reuters to My Yahoo!
By Rolando Garcia
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Polls may show the presidential race in a dead heat, but for a small band of academics who use scientific formulas to predict elections President Bush (news - web sites) is on his way to a sizable win.
That's the conclusion of a handful of political scientists who, with mixed results, have honed the art of election forecasting by devising elaborate mathematical formulas based on key measures of the nation's economic health and the public's political views.
Most of these academics are predicting Bush, bolstered by robust economic growth, will win between 53 and 58 percent of the votes cast for him and his Democratic opponent John Kerry (news - web sites).
More in extended...
Their track record for calling election outcomes months in advance has often been surprisingly accurate. In 1988, the models projected Bush's father, former President George Bush, would win even though Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis enjoyed a double digit poll leads that summer.
And in 1996, one model came within a tenth of a percentage point of Clinton's actual vote share.
"You can look at certain fundamental indicators and anticipate how the campaign will play out," said James Campbell, a professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo.
But one glaring error is what the forecasters are perhaps best remembered for: they predicted in 2000 that Democrat Al Gore (news - web sites) would win easily, pegging his total at between 53 and 60 percent of the two-party vote.
This dealt a fatal blow to the models' credibility, said Thomas Mann, a scholar at the Brookings Institution who has written about election forecasts.
"There's really less there than meets the eye, and I get the sense the forecasters will be going out of business soon," Mann said.
These economic-centered models are "irrelevant" for 2004, Mann said, because of the prominence of foreign policy issues and the unpredictability of the war in Iraq (news - web sites).
The forecasters chalk up the 2000 error to Gore's campaign, which distanced itself from the Clinton record. All the models assume the candidates will run reasonably competent campaigns, said Thomas Holbrook, a professor at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.
However, the underlying logic of the models is that each presidential election is a referendum on the party in power, and day-to-day campaign tactics or candidate personalities matter less than the general direction of the economy and voters' partisan inclinations, Mann said.
Each model is different, but all have two common ingredients -- an economic variable, such as gross domestic product growth or consumer confidence, and a political variable, such as presidential approval ratings or head-to-head poll matchups.
There is also what Emory University professor Alan Abramowitz calls the "time for change" factor. The models dock a party if it is seeking a third consecutive term in the White House on the premise voters who might otherwise support the incumbent party may want a change in leadership after eight or more years.
On the other hand, the party in the White House usually has a favorable outcome after one term, a complex calculation that works in Bush's favor. Jimmy Carter was the only candidate in the 20th century who was defeated while seeking his party's second consecutive term.
The forecasters add that while voters still give Bush poor marks for handling the economy, that perception may begin to change as the good news begins to sink in.
Holbrook uses an economic indicator from the University of Michigan's survey of consumers. One question asks whether respondents are better or worse off financially than they were a year before. In May, 45 percent said they were better off. That is lower than the all-time election year high of 54 percent in 2000, Holbrook said, but higher than the 39 percent in 1996 when Clinton was re-elected.
Still, the forecasters admit they are much more skeptical of their own forecasts than in 2000.
"It's an intellectual exercise, and I wouldn't bet the farm on these forecasts," Abramowitz said.