Professor assesses prospects for change in Congress

October 4 2006

A new method for predicting the outcome of Congressional races suggests Republicans will retain control of the U.S. House of Representatives, but a political scientist who developed the model says the mood of the electorate could change in favor of Democrats by the Nov. 7 election.

By analyzing the political make-up of districts, attributes of individual candidates and national political tides, Carl Klarner, assistant professor of political science at Indiana State University, predicts a net gain of seven seats for Democrats, not enough to wrest control of the 435-member House. Republicans currently hold 233 seats in the House, compared with 202 seats for Democrats.

The analysis uses polling data from early September and shows a sharp decline in Democrats' prospects from April, when Klarner projected a net gain of 22 seats for Democrats, enough for a slim majority in the House.

But there is still time for the tide to shift back the other way, Klarner says, citing several recent developments that may influence voters. Those include journalist Bob Woodward's latest book that is critical of the Bush administration's policy in Iraq; intelligence reports suggesting the Iraq war has actually caused more terrorism; and the still-developing scandal that centers on Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) and whether GOP House leaders knew in advance about sexually explicit e-mails Foley wrote to a House page.

"Those are things that might actually hurt the Republicans," Klarner said. "In this election, all you have to do is switch a small percent of the public and it's enough to switch control of the House."

Klarner said his method of election forecasting differs from previous models in that in takes into account national factors such as the economy, district factors such as how many votes Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry received in 2004, and whether candidates are incumbents or have held other elected offices.

"People talk about the rise of uncompetitive seats in Congress and they say that national level forces will have less of an impact on Congressional elections because there are so many safe seats now," Klarner said. "My model actually takes that into account because I'm looking at each district separately."

Republican House seats that have the highest probability of switching to Democrats, based upon Klarner's analysis, include Indiana's 9th District where former Democratic Congressman Baron Hill is challenging incumbent Republican Mike Sodrel.

While current data suggests Republican John Hostetler will retain his seat in the 8th District, Klarner said the so-called "Bloody 8th" is one district where the mood of the electorate may be changing.

"When new data comes out for October, I think that will show more people saying they will vote for Democrats, and that in turn will make it more likely that Brad Ellsworth will win," Klarner said.

Klarner has conducted a similar analysis for the U.S. Senate and predicts a net gain of three seats for Democrats, leaving them in the minority by a margin of 52-47, with one independent.

Articles by Klarner and ISU colleague Stan Buchanan detailing the model for predicting Congressional races appear in the October issue of the journal Political Science.

Contact: Carl Klarner, assistant professor, political science, Indiana State University,(812) 237-2436 or cklarner@isugw.indstate.edu

Writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Indiana State University, (812) 237-3743 or dave.taylor@indstate.edu

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Story Highlights

A method of forecasting the outcome of U.S. House and Senate races, developed by Carl Klarner and Stan Buchanan, assistant professors of political science, suggests Republicans will retain control of Congress in the Nov. 7 election. However, Klarner says there's still time for the mood of the electorate to change and some still developing issues may influence the outcome.

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