Election Scorecard: Predicting the Vote

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The U.S. midterm elections are still weeks away, but at least one influential Web site is already predicting the outcome for some key races. Slate chief political correspondent John Dickerson talks with Alex Chadwick about the site's election scorecard.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Three weeks till the elections now. And four weeks I have been checking a regular feature at the online magazine Slate. It's called Election Scorecard -essentially, a poll round up, predicting the balance of power in the U.S. House and the Senate and governors' mansions.

Slate's chief political correspondent John Dickerson joins us from Washington.

John, you are the editor of Election Scorecard. Tell us how you compile this.

Mr. JOHN DICKERSON (Chief political correspondent, Slate magazine): It's compiled by two wonderful pollster number crunchers for us: Charles Franklin and Mark Blumenthal. And what they do is they look not only at the most recent polls, but at all the polls in these races going back to the beginning of the polling for those particular races, and they take the average of the polls. And the benefit of doing this is it kind of irons out the wrinkles of individual polls, and they get what we believe is a kind of cleaner, real snapshot or sense of where that race stands at any given moment.

CHADWICK: Okay, give us the trends overall in the areas that you follow: Senate, House, governors' races.

Mr. DICKERSON: Well, the trends right now are looking like basically everything's going well for the Democrats. The most particularly striking news is in the Senate, where all of the close races look like the Democrats are ahead, particularly in places like Tennessee and Virginia where they really weren't supposed to be doing well. Democratic candidates have been able to build up a lead that's surprised a lot of people.

CHADWICK: And the House of Representatives, John, this is a big question: would you say the Democrats are likely to take the House at this point?

Mr. DICKERSON: Well, it's awfully dangerous to do any predicting like that, but the polling looks like the House is moving as best we can tell toward the Democrats. It's a little trickier studying the polling in the House, because the polls are less frequent. Some of them are a little quirky, but what we've seen is we've seen Democrats doing well and also the battlefield opening up, the number of seats in play seems to be opening. So the conventional wisdom is that the Democrats have a good chance of taking the House, and we haven't seen anything to suggest that's crazy.

CHADWICK: You mentioned the dangers of predicting. We are getting awfully close to actual voting. But how do predictions at this point play out three weeks before the election? Is there some guide from two years ago or four years ago, maybe even better?

Mr. DICKERSON: It depends. Some of the pollsters have been very good. There's a lot of methodological challenges here. There are some pollsters who do what's called robo-calling, which is where you have automated machines do it. And Rasmussen was for some period of time kind of mocked for doing it this way, and then they turned out to be right in the presidential election.

So we really know who's got the best system until after the - we get the real results on Election Day.

CHADWICK: The most recent Election Scorecard that's up says the big story right now is the Senate race in Virginia. You mentioned that a moment ago. Incumbent George Allen, challenger Democrat Jim Webb. Last night, George Allen appeared in an ad alongside his fellow Virginia Republican, Senator John Warner. Here's a clip:

Senator JOHN WARNER (Republican, Virginia): George is an honorable, thoughtful, and principled man. And we've formed a bond of mutual respect and trust.

Senator GEORGE ALLEN (Republican, Virginia): We make a good team. And we've worked together successfully on many issues that are important to you.

CHADWICK: There's Senator Allen at the end of that clip. John, Senator Warner spent about 40 seconds of that two-minute message kind of saying we have to rethink Iraq, which is not what Senator Allen has been saying. Senator Allen has been one of the big stay-the-course, I'm with the president guys.

Mr. DICKERSON: This is a really tough race for the Republicans. Allen's had a lot of problems. The biggest issue for voters is Iraq, and then Allen has had these various serial miscues and questions about his racial insensitivity. His challenger, Jim Webb, is a veteran and has sort of credentials on this issue to be sure, and so this was an effort to both close ranks in the Republican party, showing the two Republican senators locked in arms, and then also to try to fix Allen's problem on the Iraq war - the biggest problem for any Republicans running.

CHADWICK: John Dickerson, chief political correspondent for the online magazine Slate.

John, thank you.

Mr. DICKERSON: Thank you.

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