Election forecasts cloudy with a chance of being dead wrong

Monday, November 1, 2010; 6:08 PM

Election results won't come until Tuesday night at the earliest. But luckily, you don't have to wait. This is because you have prognosticators.

The Economic Club of Washington hosted three of this species Monday for a luncheon and panel discussion titled "The Mid-Term Election Results a Day Early."

Pundit No. 1, Time magazine's Mark Halperin, informed the assembled lawyers and business people how many seats Republicans will gain in the House: "at least 55, and I think it could be as many as 85." While admitting his predictive science is imperfect, Halperin added: "If you want an exact number, 75.2."

"I'm going with 58," offered pundit No. 2, ABC News's Claire Shipman.

"It's possible it could be lower than 50," submitted pundit No. 3, Politico's Jim VandeHei. Or, he added, "Maybe 85. I don't think it's inconceivable it could be much bigger both in the House and Senate than everyone's anticipating."

So, to recap: Republicans will probably gain 75 seats, or perhaps 58, but their possible pickup range is from 55 to 85 -- except if it's lower than 50, or higher than 85.

It's time again to haul out that hoary convention in journalism and punditry: the biennial election prediction. Participants must state with conviction that which they cannot possibly know.

The first Monday in November is, of course, the busiest prognostication day of them all. In this case, it began with a memo from Politico's Mike Allen, author of the "Playbook."

"SIREN," he wrote. "Nine GOP Senate pickups are now possible. . ."

Or are they? A few paragraphs later, Allen reported the latest forecast from handicapper Charlie Cook, who is changing his "outlook to reflect a net gain for Republicans of six to eight seats, down from seven to nine."

Allen forecast gains for the GOP in the House "in the mid-60s or (maybe much) higher."

Dissenting from that forecast were Allen's bosses, VandeHei and John Harris, who in the Outlook section of the Post on Sunday forecast a 46 seat pickup for the GOP.

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