Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Beware of those who predict

By Donna Brazile
February 25, 2014 -- Updated 2122 GMT (0522 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Donna Brazile: We like to predict future because uncertainty makes us uncomfortable
  • Brazile: In politics, we have to be careful to distinguish between analysis and prediction
  • Brazile: An angry electorate is a voting electorate

Editor's note: Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of "Cooking With Grease: Stirring the Pots in America." She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000.

(CNN) -- I suppose we like to predict the future because uncertainty makes us uncomfortable. Or maybe we just like the game of analysis.

Before a baseball season starts, for example, you'll find experts predicting who will win the pennant races and the World Series. Indeed, it's not even a month after the Super Bowl and you can find confident assurances of who will be in the big game next year.

Politics is no different, of course, although the prediction business has more important consequences. I think we -- and by "we" I mean all of us in the news and commentary business -- have to be careful to distinguish between analysis and prediction.

True, the predictive powers of polls has improved since Thomas Dewey "defeated" Harry Truman in 1948, but as any meteorologist will tell you, the farther away the weather system, the more difficult it is to predict its behavior on a given day.

Donna Brazile
Donna Brazile

Analysis, on the other hand, can give us a better understanding of issues, effects of policies, and the all-important "mood of the electorate," even though those can change as quickly as the path of a tornado.

What brings all this to mind is a recent article by Sahil Kapur for the online Talking Points Memo, "Four Reasons the GOP Has a Huge Advantage in the 2014 Elections."

The article argues that, "For all their internal divisions and long-term worries as a party, political scientists and historical trends give Republicans a clear advantage in the upcoming 2014 congressional elections."

I'm not refuting the Four Reasons (good thing they're not Four Horseman). I just question if they are so predictively absolute. I see other factors at play.

The first factor Kapur writes about is "the six-year curse for presidents." He notes, "Since the ratification of White House term limits, five of the six two-term presidents have lost seats after re-election." What intrigues me is the exception: Bill Clinton in 1998, because of a strong economy and voter backlash against the Republican-led impeachment. Democrats that year fought back hard by recruiting good quality candidates who gained the trust of the people.

Speaking of President Clinton, he's campaigning for Alison Grimes in Kentucky. Despite all the recent attacks, the Clintons' popularity remains sky high across the country, including in the South. Democratic candidates are hopeful they will be able to campaign for them across the country. See Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

Clinton 'cult' in South Carolina?
Who would win if election was tomorrow?
Hillary attack a GOP façade?

So that's X-factor one. Midterm elections are only partly a referendum on the president. With the Clintons campaigning, the equation changes.

The second reason is "Democratic voters don't turn out in midterms." The historical trend shows that age is a factor: "Older voters disproportionately turn out in midterms, and they've moved to the Republican Party in recent decades," argues Kapur.

And yet, the Republican attempts at voter suppression may well backfire. Perhaps the GOP's current campaign to block attempts to extend unemployment insurance, block a raise in the minimum wage and take away health care will motivate some voters to turn out because it's in their self interest.

We all know that an angry electorate is a voting electorate. I expect young people and minorities to surprise the pundits. I expect women to organize and vote in surprising numbers. A threatened electorate is also a voting electorate.

Voter turnout comes down to organizing, educating, activating. From what I've seen in my travels around the country, there's a grass-roots groundswell that may very well resemble the 1998 "backlash."

The third factor Kapur cites is that "Republicans have a mathematical advantage in the Senate." They need to pick up a net of six seats. Democrats are defending 21 seats, many in conservative states such as Arkansas, North Carolina and Louisiana.

Here's the thing: In the 12 states that Mitt Romney won that also had a Senate race, Democrats won five of them: North Dakota, Montana, Missouri, Indiana and West Virginia. These states are at least as conservative as the Southern states above.

Generally, Senate races are not a referendum on the president or on any one issue, but a choice between the two candidates on the ballot.

Thus Democrat Mary Landrieu remains strong in Louisiana, while in Kentucky, Republican Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, is in trouble.

As Tip O'Neill observed, "All politics is local."

In each competitive Senate race there's a clear contrast between a Democratic candidate -- focused on creating opportunity for the middle class and willing to disagree with the party leadership -- and a Republican candidate beholden to the tea party, the Koch brothers and a small group of right-wing billionaires who support an agenda that will not enable the middle class or working families to prosper.

While some Democratic senators and a handful of congressional candidates may disagree with the President on specific economic priorities for their state, they all support his efforts to provide better wages for workers, fairness for women in the workplace and affordable opportunities to go to college and prepare for high-skilled jobs.

Despite an influx of negative ads underwritten by the Koch brothers and their allies, Democrats must find a way to stay on message and reach people where they live, work, eat and pray.

Finally, Kapur mentions that "the House map is skewed toward the GOP." There's no disputing this, just as there's no disputing the fact that Republican obstructionism in the House has prevented the country from moving forward.

How much did Republican gerrymandering after 2010 lockjaw the House? Political scientists may debate that, but House majorities do change, and sometimes unexpectedly.

My point is that the "season" hasn't started. We can analyze strengths and weaknesses, but let's see how the teams play over the long haul, starting now with the upcoming primary elections.

Once the primary season has ended, we can start keeping score. Until then, the sideshow is simply a distraction.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Donna Brazile.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1338 GMT (2138 HKT)
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1127 GMT (1927 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1356 GMT (2156 HKT)
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 2015 GMT (0415 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1535 GMT (2335 HKT)
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1157 GMT (1957 HKT)
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
July 19, 2014 -- Updated 0150 GMT (0950 HKT)
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1755 GMT (0155 HKT)
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1953 GMT (0353 HKT)
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1933 GMT (0333 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 2016 GMT (0416 HKT)
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1729 GMT (0129 HKT)
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1804 GMT (0204 HKT)
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1518 GMT (2318 HKT)
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 0124 GMT (0924 HKT)
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT