Pundits analyze the elections; we analyze the pundits.
Nov. 5 1996 3:30 AM

William Saletan William Saletan

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


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 11/05/96
  Clinton: 92.4, 0.7 from yesterday
Dole: 6.5,
3.1 from yesterday
  Pundits' Index: as of 11/04/96
  Clinton: 97, 1 from last week
Dole: 2,
1 from last week
Perot: 1, unchanged from last week
  B ob Dole concluded his presidential bid with a 96-hour "campaign-a-thon." The pundits matched him with a 72-hour complain-a-thon. Their gang-vivisection of the Republican nominee failed to resolve competing theories about his demise: 1) He was too old, inarticulate, and Washington-bred to win in any case; 2) he was cursed, first with a bad economy in 1976, then a good one in 1996; 3) he doomed himself a year ago by letting Gingrich lead the GOP into the government shutdown; 4) he ran, unconvincingly, against his own 35-year record of fiscal responsibility and cultural moderation; 5) he fell back into his bad habit of overruling and dumping advisers and throwing his campaign into chaos; 6) he excluded his potential ally, Perot, from the debates; 7) he foolishly abandoned the Midwest in a futile bid for California. The theory kindest to Dole was cruelest to the voters: As Jim Glassman vicariously put it, "The electorate is stupid."
      Several pundits turned spiritual, contemplating Dole's mind-set as he faces oblivion. "Has Bob Dole accepted the fact that this is going to be a landslide loss?" asked Ken Bode. Others recalled the poise and dignity with which McGovern and Mondale had gone to their deaths. Sentimentalists lauded Dole's "gallantry" in the final push, "giving his all" for his party. Hardheads scoffed that he was ad-libbing his schedule, wasting everyone's time with dead-of-night rallies in irrelevant states, and coming unhinged with fatigue. The Iowa market was far more charitable, bidding Dole's stock up to nearly a dime on hopes of an upset.
      Weeks ago, when they gave up on Dole, the pundits shifted their attention to the Democrats' bid for Congress. Now that they're giving up on the Democrats, they've found new questions to wager on. The first is whether Clinton will get a majority of the popular vote, or just a plurality, which would doom him to four more years as a "minority president" without a mandate. The late betting line put this proposition at even money, with forecasts averaging 50 for Clinton, 40 for Dole, and 10 for Perot. Speculation on Clinton's electoral-vote tally ranged from 350 to 390. Conversely, pundits devised new hurdles for Dole, low enough to attract wagers on his performance. One was whether he would become the second consecutive GOP nominee to finish below 40 percent; another was whether his team would outscore previous presidential losers. "They may be pulling their way out of the history books," suggested Ron Brownstein hopefully.
      The foreign-money scandal: Pundits responded according to ideology, with conservatives holding Clinton personally responsible and liberals blaming the system. The fast-growing web of intrigue finally overloaded the pundits' RAM late in the week, with the discovery that more than one John Huang had been visiting the White House. At that point, pundits gave up on comprehending the scandal and went back to their trusty craft of reducing it to its political impact. Most agreed it was hurting Clinton but helping Perot, rather than Dole. Analysts predicted that Perot's piquant tirades against foreign money and Clinton's sleaze would help the Texan repeat his 1992 last-minute surge. Meanwhile, Clinton's stonewalling and apparent lack of shame kindled pundit lust for his comeuppance. Tim Russert suggested that Clinton's "hubris and greed" might cost him a landslide and a Democratic Congress.
      Most pundit talk turned toward Clinton's second term. Commentators predicted that the campaign-finance scandal wouldn't prevent his re-election, but would headline a parade of controversies, investigations, hearings, and trials in his next four years. They gloated that it would be "pure hell" for Clinton and "wonderful" for themselves, providing a steady diet of exhibitionism (Paula Jones), voyeurism (Filegate), and blood sport (congressional and legal roasting of administration officials). Pundits also looked forward to Clinton aides' desertion of their beleaguered boss as they "bail out" to safer and more lucrative jobs after the election. However, the pundits remained scrupulously balanced, flaunting their simultaneous delight at the prospect of a post-defeat bloodbath in the GOP. Twisted prognosticators managed to combine these two pleasures in a deliciously ironic scenario: Clinton appoints the vanquished Dole to chair a bipartisan commission to cut Medicare.
      Congress: Republican bullishness rocked the Iowa market in the campaign's final days. The closing share price for a GOP pickup of Senate seats more than doubled overnight, ending up at 53 cents. The share price for a Republican gain in the House jumped from a nickel to a quarter, finishing at 20 cents. Pundits agreed that the campaign-finance scandal had erased fears of a Democratic tidal wave and turned congressional momentum in the GOP's favor. They also cited a last-minute influx of special-interest money and party advertising to prop up Republican candidates. Counting on a Republican sweep in the South, analysts predicted on average a net Democratic gain of a dozen House seats and a net Democratic loss of one Senate seat, leaving the GOP in control of both chambers. Pundits rejoiced that in addition to Clinton, they would still have Gingrich to kick around. Meanwhile, the old complaint against organized labor--that Republican workers were getting ripped off because their dues were being spent on an anti-Republican ad campaign--was replaced by a new complaint: Democratic workers are getting ripped off because the ad campaign isn't working.

--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 11/05/96:


  Senate Gain: 66.7, 13.5 from yesterday
Senate Hold: 24.0,
14.2 from yesterday
Senate Lose: 8.6,
6.3 from yesterday


House Gain: 22.6, 2.6 from yesterday
House Hold: 50.0,
4.3 from yesterday
House Lose: 21.9,
8.2 from yesterday



Congressional Pundits' Index: as of 11/04/96


  Senate Gain: 62, 39 from last week
Senate Hold: 35,
35 from last week
Senate Lose: 3,
4 from last week


House Gain: 5, 3 from last week
House Hold: 83,
7 from last week
House Lose: 12,
10 from last week


William Saletan covers politics for several magazines and is the author of a forthcoming book on the politics of abortion.



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