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Thinking Inside the Box: A Capitol Hill Approach to Political Forecasting

by Ross Margulies // Published July 6, 2006
The monopoly politics tag-team (myself and the vivacious Maggie Zetts) had the pleasure today of attending the Midterm Election 2006: Forecasting Panel presented by The George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management. Featuring a distinguished panel of pollsters and consultants, including Peter Fenn of Fenn Communications Group and Kellyanne Conway of The Polling Company, the panel addressed such issues as incumbency advantage/disadvantage, the War on Terror's effect on the upcoming House Election, and party advantage. The comments were varied, insightful and well validated -- yet, beneath the political and academic jargon, surprisingly shallow. Systemic issues were utterly ignored; while I pressed the panel to elaborate on their benevolence to the problem of deeply entrenched incumbents, Bernadette Budde, Senior Vice President of BIPAC, merely assured me that the electorate was too aware to elect a candidate on the sole basis of incumbency.

BACKGROUND:

With election day little more than five months away, the 2006 Election Forecasting Panel will discuss the much anticipated and hotly debated upcoming midterm Congressional elections. The panelists include:

- Moderator: Christopher Arterton, dean, GW's Graduate School of Political Management - Bernadette Budde, senior vice president, Business Industry Political Action Committee (BIPAC) - Kellyanne Conway, president and CEO, The Polling Company - Rhodes Cook, editor, The Rhodes Cook Letter - Peter Fenn, president, Fenn Communications Group - William Greener, founding partner, Greener & Hook - Mark Mellman, president and CEO, The Mellman Group

Our Monopoly Politics numbers say something quite different -- congressional incumbents are receiving, on average, a bump of ten percentage points above their district partisanship. If faced with the choice of having incumbent credentials on my C.V. or not, I would surely vie for that extra ten percentage points. Yet, Ms. Budde, as well as Ed Brookover of Greener and Hook, continuously argued throughout the panel of an 'incumbency disadvantage.' They spoke of a public disenchanted by the current congress, ready to strike back and fill the House with newly seated members; they spoke of 1994 and the Republican take-over. The facts on the ground, however, say something quite different. Day by day, electoral cycle by electoral cycle, our system becomes ever more uncompetitive and our districts become ever more 'safe' for the incumbents to which they belong. Surely the panel discussion provided for a lively debate, but did it truly address the issues at hand? The mere fact that a group of pollsters can predict with a high degree of accuracy the results of a future race indicates a deeply rooted problem with our electoral system. This is what Monopoly Politics is about -- exposing what our electoral system truly is: a noncompetitive safe zone for entrenched politicians.

Perhaps the most intriguing comment of the discussion came from Mark Mellman, President and CEO of The Mellman Group. Mr. Mellman metaphorically described the upcoming race as a wave hitting a wall -- a wave of increasingly discontented voters facing an incredibly stable political system (the wall.) If the wave of discontent is able to rise above the wall, Mellman argued, we may just see a massive Democrat takeover in the House. My doubt, however, is just how much impact that tide of discontent will have on such a formidable fortress.