Pundits analyze the elections; we analyze the pundits.
Oct. 29 1996 3:30 AM


The Horse Race charts the presidential election campaign using two measures: the Iowa Electronic Markets, and our own index of pundit opinion. The Iowa Electronic Markets are a project of the University of Iowa College of Business administration. They are real markets, with shares that pay out after the election. We follow Iowa's Winner-Takes-All market, which will pay $1 for each share in the winner. (Thus WTA share prices reflect the market's judgment, at any moment, of the chance of a candidate winning.) The Iowa folks' thesis is that markets are better prognosticators than the pundits. You be the judge. For more information, or to invest, visit the Iowa Electronic Markets site.

The Iowa Markets also track the battle for control of Congress. See below .

Iowa Electronic Market: as of 11/01/96
  Clinton: 94.0, 0.5 from yesterday Dole: 5.0, 0.5 from yesterday
  Pundits' Index: as of 10/28/96
  Clinton: 98, unchanged from last week Dole: 1, 1 from last week Perot: 1, 1 from last week
  W ith scarcely a week left until Bob Dole's merciful end, the pundits ceased harping on his inferiority to Bill Clinton and began to debate his larger place in history: as one of the worst presidential candidates of all time. The preliminary consensus was that Dole matched Dukakis (the previous record holder) in clumsiness and surpassed him in incoherence. Charles Krauthammer declared Dole's candidacy "the most comically inept in our lifetime." With no significant movement in the polls or the Iowa Market, analysts discussed how long Dole had been doomed and where he had gone wrong. Some faulted him for sticking to his ineffective tax-cut message; others faulted him for faithlessly abandoning it. Still others maintained that he could have made the ethics issue stick to Clinton by hammering the FBI files story over the summer. Economic determinists said the race had been over since the spring, when Dole ran out of money and had to endure months of negative ads from the well-funded Clinton campaign.
     The Perot overture: "Beg," "plead," "desperate," and "nuts" were favored words about Dole sending his campaign manager to ask Perot to quit the race and endorse Dole. Pundits argued simultaneously that (a) Dole had foolishly insulted Perot by sending a mere aide to talk to him; (b) Dole shouldn't have made such a high-profile request for the endorsement without having someone negotiate it quietly beforehand; (c) Dole's entreaty was foolish because Perot's supporters would split in Clinton's favor if Perot dropped out; and (d) Perot's rejection would hurt Dole because they were vying for the same voters. Dole apologists said the overture made sense because Perot needed an escape from the humiliation of a single-digit showing on Election Day. Perot seized the moment to deliver a blistering--and coherent--speech attacking Clinton's ethics; pundits pointedly contrasted this with Dole's lamer efforts.
     The foreign money scandal: Pundits couldn't decide whether to be outraged or amused by the White House's pre-election stonewalling. Conservatives sulked over Dole's mishandling of the issue (focusing on campaign-finance reform instead of Clinton's alleged lawbreaking), sympathized with Dole's disbelief that Clinton was getting away with his cover-up, and consoled each other with predictions of Watergate-scale hearings and impeachment in a second term. "The I-word is being thrown around town," intoned Mort Kondracke. A few sniffed that voters would get four more years of the degenerate tax-and-spender they deserved. Conservatives blamed the press for ignoring the foreign-money story. Liberals blamed the press for deadening the public by crying wolf over previous nonscandals.
     Blaming the media: Outraged by America's lack of outrage over Clinton's misdeeds, Dole bashed the media and the pundits. The pundits bashed back, portraying Dole as whiny, predictably nasty, and nearly unhinged. They mercilessly exploited his strategic error in scolding the voters as well as the press. Chat-show panelists snickered that Dole had committed the cardinal sin of politics: blaming the customer. Mark Shields traced Dole's progression from anger to denial to ranting--"Elizabeth Kubler Ross' stages of death." Candid journalists denied that they had protected Clinton out of liberal bias, but admitted that they had defused public anger by spreading cynicism.
     Clinton's ads: Commentators chided Clinton for exploiting President Reagan's shooting in a gun-control ad, exploiting Polly Klaas' father in a tough-on-crime ad, and touting his signing of an anti-gay marriage bill in an ad confined to Christian radio stations. They declared that Clinton is too far ahead to qualify for the excuse that the end justifies the means. Liberals defended the crime ads as payback for Willie Horton. "People are going to exploit the emotions of people," yawned Carl Rowan. Evan Thomas summarized the sophisticate's view: "Shameless. But you gotta hand it to ... the Democratic ad people. They have been brilliant."
     Congress: The only significant shift in the Iowa Market was an erosion of last week's upsurge in betting on Democratic control of the House. The pundit market, however, was quite active. The consensus was that Republican voters are "coming home" and that the GOP will retain narrow margins in both houses. Pundits who understood nothing about Congress mouthed the ubiquitous theory that "Republican pickups in Southern open seats" would "offset losses among vulnerable freshmen." Pundits who understood Congress argued that the Democratic/labor ad campaign accusing Republicans of cutting popular programs has stopped persuading voters and started grating on them. The old theory that GOP Chairman Haley Barbour was a fool to hoard his money during the onslaught of labor ads gave way to the new theory that Barbour is a genius, since he can spend his money on a massive counterattack now that voters are finally tuning in to the congressional races.
     Meanwhile, the previous consensus that Clinton wants Republicans to retain control of Congress so they can help him pass moderate legislation disappeared in favor of the new consensus that Clinton wants them to lose control so they won't be able to investigate his scandals. Columnists discussed congressional Republicans' desertion of Dole and Clinton's desertion of congressional Democrats, unable to agree which was more craven and contemptible. Calvinists gloated that gutless Democrats who had announced their retirements last year, expecting Clinton to be a lethal albatross, had foolishly forfeited their seats to the GOP.

--William Saletan


Iowa Electronic Market: Congressional Control Gain is a share that pays $1 if the Republicans increase their number of seats. Hold pays $1 if they stay the same or lose seats but retain majority control. Lose pays $1 if the Republicans lose their majority. The IEM site has graphs tracking price changes over time for the House and the Senate. The latest prices as of 11/01/96:


  Senate Gain: 38.9, 5.6 from yesterday Senate Hold: 48.0, 11.5 from yesterday Senate Lose: 15.1, 1.3 from yesterday


House Gain: 17.0, 2.0 from yesterday House Hold: 58.4, 4.6 from yesterday House Lose: 32.0, 3.0 from yesterday



Congressional Pundits' Index: as of 10/28/96


  Senate Gain: 23, 6 from last week Senate Hold: 70, 3 from last week Senate Lose: 7, 3 from last week


House Gain: 2, unchanged from last week House Hold: 76, 4 from last week House Lose: 22, 4 from last week

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

Randy Cohen used to write Slate's "News Quiz." His most recent book—oh, like you don't know.


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