Stop trying to predict elections. Just stop it. Right now.

I’m speaking to journalists here.

I thought I’d make that clear because a few days ago, in reaction to a headline that said, “Why early-voting data is an awful election predictor,” I tweeted, “Which is fine, because no one needs such a thing. No one needs to ‘predict’ elections. Discuss the relative merits of the candidates, let the voters vote, then report what HAPPENED…”

When someone who has commented on this blog off and on for years responded, “…A lot of us, for some reason, think that who wins this election may be kind of important,” I had to add, “You do understand that I’m speaking to journalists here, right?”

Well, maybe he didn’t, and maybe that’s my fault. So here, I’m making it clear up front.

You want to know what’s going to happen tomorrow (or rather, in the process that ends tomorrow, since so many of us vote early now)?

Well, I can’t tell you. I can tell you that generally, the party of the president of the United States loses ground in the elections that occur in years when the president isn’t running. Although not always. And even that generality should probably be set aside, since the careful balance between two rational, roughly centrist parties came to an end in 2016. One of the parties basically doesn’t exist any more, and the other is in some disarray.

That’s as far as I’ll go with predictions.

Now, let’s talk about how stupid it is to try to predict these things that are widely and erroneously called “midterm elections.” (Not one position being considered is in the middle of a term. They’re all at the ends of their terms, which is why we’re having elections. The person for whom this is “midterm” is the current POTUS, and in case you haven’t noticed, he isn’t running.)

These prediction stories you see are pretty much always written from a national perspective — as is most of the news you read, since papers that covered — I mean really covered — state and local elections are gone or moribund, and nothing has taken their places. By “national perspective,” I mean they are trying to predict which of those two parties will hold a majority in each of the two chambers of Congress when the elections are over.

Which is insane. That cannot be reliably predicted. Some elections can be reliably predicted. I can predict that Joe Wilson will win re-election. (I would, of course, be thrilled to be proven wrong on that.) I can with even greater confidence predict that Jim Clyburn will be re-elected. But that’s because voters’ choices have been removed from the equation, through the process of gerrymandering.

What you cannot do is reliably, dependably predict what will happen with control of Congress. First of all, you’ll notice I keep saying “elections,” not “election.” There is not one person in America who is voting for one party or the other to have control of Congress. Oh, they might think they are, and tell you they are, thanks to the fact that so many Americans have been trained (largely by what remains of the media) to think that way, in ones-and-zeroes partisan terms.

But they aren’t, because they can’t. Not one person in America can vote for more than one member of the House of Representatives, or more than two (and usually, just one at a time) senator. The rest of the equation — the extremely, mind-blowingly complex equation — depends on what millions of other people do. Each contest for each seat depends on thousands, if not millions, of such separate decisions. And the end result, in terms of which party has control? That depends on an exponentially greater number of separate decisions.

Not only that, but I remain unconvinced that most people can coherently explain, even to themselves, exactly what caused them to vote as they did. It’s complicated. Despite all the progress the ones-and-zeroes folks have had in training people to vote like robots, it remains complicated.

But enough about voters and what they do. Back to the journalists.

Y’all have all heard grandpa tell stories about how he covered elections, back when the country was young and men were men, yadda-yadda. I’m not going to do that in this post. But I am going to complain about the “coverage” we do see in elections.

Practically every story written, every question asked by a journalist of a source, seems in large part to be an attempt to answer the question, “Who is going to win?’ I can practically see those words stamped onto the foreheads of the reporters.

What do the polls say? How much money have you raised? How many more times will that TV ad be aired by Election Day? How are you connecting with this or that demographic group? How strong is your campaign organization? Can you avoid uttering “gaffes” in the upcoming “debate,” and when you almost inevitably fail in that task, can you recover from them?

Folks, the reason we have a First Amendment is so that we will have a free press to, among other things, help voters decide which candidates will represent them. To do that, your job is to report on what each candidate offers to voters, and how well he or she is likely to perform if elected. You start with two things: the candidates’ observable records, and what the candidates say about themselves and the kinds of officeholders they intend to be.

Your goal should NOT be to tell the voters who WILL win. You should give them information that will help them, the voters, make that decision. If you try to tell them who WILL win, the most likely result is that you will convince some supporters of the other candidate not to vote. (Which to many of you might sound like a GOOD thing, because it means your stupid predictions are slightly more likely to come true — but it isn’t.)

Oh, and if you’re an opinion writer, your goal is to present rational arguments as to who SHOULD win. It is not to predict who will win. So, you know, I should not be seeing “opinion” headlines like some of the ones below…

17 thoughts on “Stop trying to predict elections. Just stop it. Right now.

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    I’m here to share HAPPY news, people! So I will share my latest tweet on this subject:

    Oh, and in the spirit of being positive, let me say that the story that links to included a really nice voters-in-line picture (unfortunately, not the image that showed up in the tweet). I have taken a lot of pictures of that sort over the years, but none that looked that good. Nice job, Melina Mara!

  2. Doug Ross

    Once it’s over and Democrats have lost the House and possibly the Senate, can we assign blame for why they blew it?

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      We know how. I explained it. Two years after a president is elected, his party generally loses ground. It doesn’t always happen, but it generally does….

  3. bud

    The folks at are giving the Democrats a 45% chance of retaining the Senate but only a 16% chance in the House. Apparently people put more stock in the price of gasoline than they do in preserving what’s left of our democracy. But I regard outfits like 538 and Realclearpolitics in high esteem. They shed a light on what our fellow Americans are thinking.

    1. Doug Ross

      Democrats are losing because they have consistently exaggerated how awful America will be if Republicans win. They have demonized half the country for not allowing abortions on demand any time, for not supporting cutting off breasts and penises of children, for not thinking drag queens deserve a special place in schools and community events, for being nazis, racists, misogynists, and all the other “ists” that formerly were reserved for actual terrible people…

      You put a barely functioning elderly man at the head of the government and tried to convince people he was what this country needed… and then he lied about what he was going to do and reverted to his typical political roots. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the mental facilities or energy to even do that well any more. Expect his decision to not run again to come after the new year… maybe soon if tonight is a wipeout.

      The best thing though will be watching Democrats claim elections are fixed when they lose.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        “You put a barely functioning elderly man at the head of the government and tried to convince people he was what this country needed… and then he lied about what he was going to do and reverted to his typical political roots. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the mental facilities or energy to even do that well any more.”

        Gee, Doug. Would you stop going on and on about Trump?

        1. Barry


          when he mentioned “barely functioning elderly man” I thought of Trump immediately.

          I was reading some excerpts from his rally. It was hilarious reading his comments as he obviously lost his train of thought and just changed subjects mid-stream. Obvious signs of senility and dementia.

        2. Doug Ross

          Only Biden was the career politician. Trump was a both liar. Biden had to perfect his skills at lying over decades getting rich as government employee.

      2. Barry


        Democrats are losing because inflation is high (of course it’s high in many parts of the world, especially Europe) and Republicans have no plan to curb it as the incoming speaker proved earlier this week when he was asked about his plan for it.

        The nanny state issues that Doug mentioned – and wants the government involved with are window dressing issues – ……..and misrepresenting their views isn’t helpful or honest.

        Of course most Democrats aren’t for “abortion on demand any time.” Most simply don’t want the government involved in the decision. I know I don’t – and the government won’t be in my situation. As I have said, I have the means to keep the government out of it. Many people do – like right wing anti-abortion politicians and clergy that have paid for abortions.

        As someone with a loved one that is transgendered, there isn’t a parent in the country that wants their child to have gender transition surgery. But there also isn’t one that wants damn politicians and the government making the choice over parents, the young person, and their medical provider.

        Again – a total non issue ginned up by right wingers to generate anger and votes given the tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny fraction of transgendered children that even have surgery before they are 18. (The vast majority of transgendered children aren’t interested in surgery before they are 18.)


      3. Phillip

        Doug, Democrats by and large won’t do that, because they’re the only political party that still thinks we should have free and fair elections. The Republican Party will keep quiet about the races they do win, but continue to cast doubt on validity of elections they lose, still in pursuit of the Trumpist goal of undermining faith in (and even support of) free elections and democracy itself. But, hey, as Nikki Haley says, who really cares about that, right?

  4. Barry

    Well, that will never happen. Way too much money in making those predictions.

    The fact is – the election is really over before it even occurs because of the predictions.

    My 22 year old told me today he’s not going to vote this time. I had told him I wasn’t voting and why and he said he had decided it was a waste of time. He voted for the first time in 2018, again in 2020 but will not be voting this time. So that’s 4 in my household not voting. My daughter is too young.

    If we are avoiding it, I have a feeling many others that would never vote a Republican at this point will do the same.

    If a prediction turns out wrong and it’s a Republican that loses, the election was rigged.

    If a prediction turns out wrong and a Republican wins, that’s the will of the voters.

    1. Barry


      We do have an interesting school board race in my county.

      We have an incumbent candidate that seems to be quite popular. I know I see him at almost all of my daughter’s school events at the high school. His facebook page is covered in posts going back years with him at various school events supporting various clubs, groups, etc… He easily won re-election 2 years ago and has been in office about 8 years. From everything I can tell and have heard, he works with all the other members and is focused on building concensus.

      His opponent has been running ads on the local radio station here talking about transgendered children and CRT in our schools. The district has never had a transgendered child seek to play a sport opposite of their birth gender but of course that doesn’t matter. Now it’s a huge, burning issue and apparently 1 out of 2 children are transgendered and want to play sports at the high school. Of course the message is related that these children are nothing but dirty animals and trash. But I realize most Conservatives don’t seem to care at this point.

      Of course we have no “CRT” in our schools and when asked about it, he doesn’t really give any evidence and never names any specific teachers.

      His facebook page has no posts with him at any school events. Most seem to be him hanging out with his buddies.

      I almost hope he wins because one thing our quite cohesive school district needs is a very divisive school board member to get everyone mad at each other and to make sure that nothing at all can be accomplished.

  5. Brad Warthen Post author

    By the way, after saying that journalists shouldn’t predict, let me acknowledge that I’ve done it myself.

    But I did it for a good reason. I thought so, anyway. I did it after years and years of hearing the same stupid comment, over and over, from people who wanted to dis our endorsements. They would say, “The State always gets it wrong.”

    And of course, THAT was wrong, on two counts:

    — First, after hearing that about a gazillion time — and hearing also the accusation (from Republicans) that we always endorsed Democrats, and the complementary nonsense (from Democrats) that we always endorsed Republicans, I went back and tallied the facts from the years I had been on the editorial board. It turned out that our endorsements were split roughly evenly between Democrats and Republicans over time (but not in individual years — sometimes we went mostly for Dems, other years mostly for Repubs). And I found that about 75 percent of the people we endorsed won.

    — Second, it wouldn’t have mattered if NONE of the people we endorsed won, because of the painfully obvious fact that endorsements were about who SHOULD win, not predictions about who WOULD win.

    Finally, I realized that while it was painfully obvious to me, and we explained it to people all the time, some people needed to have the point made a bit more strenuously.

    So I decided to start doing something about that. On my blog, I started predicting who would win. I didn’t make a big deal about it, and I certainly didn’t stain the editorial page by doing it there. I just quickly posted predictions just before each elections, and set them alongside our endorsements, just to make the difference plain to even the meanest understanding.

    I felt bad every time I did it. But I decided, finally, there was no other way to make certain people understand what endorsements were, and what they were not…

    I’m not going to run through the whole list, but I’m less fussy now that I don’t preside over an editorial board, and I’m usually pretty open with you about whether the person I support is going to win. For instance, I don’t believe Judd Larkins is going to win, but he should.

    And I very strongly believe Ellen Weaver shouldn’t be superintendent of education, but she will. If she isn’t, I’ll be very pleasantly surprised.

    And so forth…

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Of course, the very best contests are the ones that are too close to call, and in which the competitors are so closely matched that it doesn’t much MATTER which one wins.

      Like that House election in 1994 in which James Smith was opposed by his late Republican cousin, Robert Adams. They were both good guys, and we liked them both. We endorsed Robert, and James has never let me forget it. But James won, and was a very good representative, as I may have mentioned before.

      I SAY those are (or were — we don’t see them anymore) the best kind of contests, and they were — for our democracy. The voters couldn’t lose.

      But I confess they used to irritate me. We’d have a dozen races in which there simply wasn’t a strong candidate on either side, or not strong enough to suit me, and the best two candidates running that year would come in for endorsement interviews, and THEY WERE RUNNING AGAINST EACH OTHER.

      Which really seemed a waste. I used to wish one of them would simply move to one of the weak districts…

  6. Doug Ross

    After Beto O’Rourke and Stacy Abrams lose again tonight, will they continue to be able to dupe gullible Democrat voters to give them millions of dollars to waste?

    1. Doug Ross

      The same idiots who gave money to Jaime Harrison to blow in SC ($100 million) gave money to Val Demmings ($70 million) and Charlie Crist in Florida to watch them get trounced… Do you understand that this is all a game to make political consultants rich as well as funneling money to mainstream media which couldn’t survive without the political ads? Wake up.. they want you to be afraid and angry. Your stupid anger feeds their bottom line.

      Imagine being dumb enough to think money wins elections. Please cry about the Koch brothers some more.


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