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What actually happened in 2014

by Eric Ferguson on December 30, 2014

So a year ago, I risked making public predictions for 2014. It was mostly for fun, just to see what I could get right, either show off or get humbled depending, but I also wondered if I’d learn something about which thought processes are more useful than others.
Pardon the spoiler, but going from your gut is a bad idea. Maybe, strictly speaking, going from my gut is a bad idea, but I think my gut feeling is at least as good as anyone else’s, but that’s not all that good. Let’s say that looking at which predictions were based on knowledge, and which were a gut feeling, was a good predictor of which predictions would prove accurate.

So here is what will happen in 2014, judged by this grading system:
100% correct: Hello Nate Silver!
75%: Somebody’s been paying attention.
50%: Coin flipper.
25%: Should have stuck with the coin.
0%: Professional psychic. (if you’re a psychic, you might not find that humorous, but you should have seen it coming)

I give myself either a “coin flipper” plus, or a “somebody’s been paying attention” minus. What the heck, it’s still the holidays, so I’ll be nice to myself, and give an arguably inflated “somebody’s been paying attention”. So, prediction by prediction, here’s how I did.

OK, first serious prediction: the legalization of marijuana will result in only a small increase in the percentage of people who use it. By small, I mean a percentage increase in the single digits. My thinking is few people wanting to try it have been deterred by illegality, and most non-users have other reasons for declining to use, like thinking legal marijuana still stinks, it tastes foul, or has unacceptable health risks. Of course, if the statistics on usage aren’t all that reliable, then maybe we’ll never know for sure, so I’ll just plan on claiming I was right.

I was right! Of course, my claim is nonsense, but now I correctly predicted that I’d claim it. How’s that for getting meta? To the point, I’ve seen no statistics on usage, and presumably it’s just too soon. I do think we’ll see statistics eventually because both sides want to know.

I predict both Sen. Al Franken and Gov. Mark Dayton win reelection. If someone wants to argue that the polls, the prospective opponents, and their fundraising make those a bit too easy to predict, I can only say I can’t really ignore the top of the ticket. I’ll be a touch more daring though about our other DFL statewide incumbents seeking reelection. There’s no hard data and probably won’t be until the votes are counted election night, but I predict State Auditor Rebecca Otto and Attorney General Lori Swanson win reelection.

I could have been more confident about constitutional offices (I still don’t get that phrase: are there unconstitutional offices?) but then again, the certainty of a prediction and its accuracy have no connection. There’s that liberal nuance thing again. Hesitant and right over certain and wrong. I was really hesitant about secretary of state:

Am I wimping out by not predicting secretary of state? Maybe. I’m seeing that as a coin flip because although the DFL has the stronger ground game and maybe will be overall better funded between now an election day, even including independent expenditures, I predict the MNGOP will focus on the SOS race. My reason for thinking so is that they want to win something statewide pretty badly, and the vacant seat offers the best chance. By “focus”, I mean putting more resources into that race than AG or auditor, again including independent expenditures. So here’s hoping the Democrats overcome a disturbing tendency to take these constitutional offices too lightly.

Is calling something too close to call a prediction? Actually it is, just that it predicts a close result rather than which way. So I was sort of right about that. I might have been wrong about the independent expenditures on that race (thanks to dark money, we can never know for sure), but the rest was spot on. And I would say the hopes Democrats would overcome our disturbing tendency were fulfilled, at least here. Can’t say about the rest of the country. Why was SOS so much closer? Partly that the MNGOP emphasized it as I predicted, partly the lack of an incumbent with name recognition. Ticket-splitting isn’t as common as it used to be, but there are still some who do that (a Star Tribune analysis found about 25%, which they thought was high, but my recollection is the percentage used to be much higher), and finding themselves voting for all one party, some pick the other party when they don’t know the candidates. That almost put Dan Severson into office. Maybe a good candidate could have won. If the MNGOP wants a suggestion, stop running evangelists for photo ID who want to require people to wait two hours out in the cold.

I predict this is the year we finally see a large amount of money spent on a Minnesota judicial race, and the race or races made more clearly partisan, and I predict independent conservative groups will be the ones trying to make Minnesota like Wisconsin or Texas, where judicial elections are effectively partisan. I have no immediate reason for expecting this, but it seems we’ve been on borrowed time and we’re bound to get hit some year. I guess that’s more a fear than a prediction, but there we go.

Like I said in the introduction, don’t go by your gut. “We’re bound to get hit some year” is apparently a bad basis for a prediction. I still fear big money turning our judicial races blatantly partisan and ideological, but maybe it isn’t inevitable. The MNGOP did endorse a candidate for supreme court, the entertainingly nutty Michelle McDonald, who had her party looking for a way to retract an endorsement, which may be why there wasn’t much effort put into electing her. That actually makes it scary that she lost by fewer than seven points. Those of you who voted for her, which of her histrionics during her drunk driving legal proceedings was your favorite? Here’s a scary thought: would McDonald have won if she had some crank billionaire or astroturf group willing to fund her? The DFL doesn’t endorse in judicial races, but only by party policy. It would be legal, and I wonder how long before we have to choose between abiding by that principle or conceding judicial elections. I’m very uncomfortable with making judicial races partisan, but I also don’t want to hand our court over to the sorts of candidates Republicans have been endorsing.

All five DFL congressional incumbents will win, and only Rick Nolan in the 8th has a serious challenge. Erik Paulsen in the 3rd is the only Republican who cruises. John Kline in the 2nd has a challenge for both the nomination (not sure how serious) and general election from Mike Obermueller, who seems to have the DFL nomination in hand, and this 50-50 district is one of the best pickup opportunities Democrats have in the whole country. So the 2nd is a coin flip, but I’m making predictions, so I’ll use incumbency as the tie breaker and predict Kline wins, but pardon me if I may seek to make the prediction prove wrong (which actually just means some doorknocking in that district). The one open seat is the 6th, the reddest district in the state, so easy to predict the Republican wins. Not that we shouldn’t try, because as Bachmann’s meltdowns showed, you never know when opportunity will pop up. I have no real idea who will win the MNGOP nomination, though my gut tells me Rhonda Sivarajah wins the nomination. I’m still working on rationalizations for thinking that.

I nearly pegged it with the DFL incumbents. Colin Peterson in CD7 had a serious challenge, judging by the money spent on that race, and his nine point win was actually close by his standards. I got the results right in the MNGOP districts, though I was wrong about CD2 being close. As for the MNGOP nomination in the 6th, there my gut was wrong again. I think I stopped working on my rationalizations once Sivarajah decided to skip the endorsing convention. I figured Tom Emmer had it at that point.

In terms of the whole US House, when you hear that the president’s party always loses in midterms, that usually refers to US House seats. I’m not sure how well that applies to the Senate, governors, or on down the ballot, but for House seats, it’s sadly true, with three exceptions. Those exceptions are 1934, 1998, and 2002, which were weird years. It’s not true that second midterms are worse than first. Go back over the midterms of two-term presidents, and they all suffered a real shellacking, but it was as often the first midterm as the second. This mean if Democrats lose just a few seats, that’s an OK result. If Democrats net zero seats, they will have bucked history. To actually pick up a few is a bonus, and I’m going out on a limb: I think the Democrats buck history and actually pick up a few seats. I’ll go further and include governors and state legislators in that. Alas, I predict with high confidence that Republicans keep the House majority, but blowing away precedent, that majority shrinks a bit.

Different phrasing, “going out on a limb”, but same problem. Predictions based on some sort of feeling are likely wrong. No seats picked up, and the loss of seats was small only because there were few left to lose. How did I get it wrong, besides lacking a solid basis? I saw the economy was improving, but I didn’t predict the majority would think it was still bad. We’re actually enjoying our strongest economy since the 1990’s, and though the best news came after the election, it was quite apparent before, so it tells us what we’re up against that the public mostly missed it. Most voters who told pollsters their top issue was the economy voted Republican, though that’s normal for the president’s party to be hurt more by a bad economy than it’s helped by a good one, assuming people are accurate about the economy. Though they aren’t at the moment; something we need to remedy next year. I didn’t predict ISIL would get people scared about terrorism again (until hostages were beheaded on video, at which point that became quite predictable), and then that was followed by non-stop ebola coverage in the media until the election, when the coverage stopped suspiciously suddenly. That matters because frightened people turn more conservative, so while I can’t quantify it or put most of the blame there, I do think ISIL and ebola cost Democrats a few seats. And of course, trying not to be a broken record, Democratic campaigns were frequently awful.

Holding the US Senate is a toss-up. Math and history say the Republicans are bound to flip it in 2014, but their recent insistence on selecting nutty candidates to blow sure-thing Senate races makes me hesitate to predict that. If forced to predict, I’d say Republicans pick up just enough seats to win it 51-49. However, it will be short-lived, as the number of seats they have to defend in 2016, along with the improvement in Democratic turnout in presidential years, makes a flip back to the Democrats seem sure.

The Republicans got a bigger majority than I predicted, and mostly managed to find ideologues who could leave their tin foil hats at home. Retaking the Senate in 2016 is still quite doable, but not the sure thing it would have been.

Back to Minnesota, the DFL will hold the majority in the State Senate. What, it isn’t up for reelection this year? I know. See how deftly I padded my accuracy percentage? The State House is a toss up. I might predict the MNGOP to flip that small DFL majority given that it’s a midterm, but I think the DFL still feels the shock of so many unexpectedly lost seats in 2010 that complacency will not be an issue. If my coin is taken away, I predict diminished DFL majority.

The MNGOP won more State House seats than I expected and won a narrow but outright majority, so wrong on that one, but right that the DFL did not have a complacency issue. Both parties focused on the House for the simple reason it looked like the only place the MNGOP had a good chance to win, and the Republicans found a winning message by driving a wedge between the outstate and metro. Taking back the House might happen just from higher turnout in a presidential year, but I’d rather hedge our bets and find a way to beat the rural/metro divide. We might like to think it’s just a Republican concoction, but there had to be something there for the Republicans to exploit. Even if it’s more perception than reality, perception counts in politics.

Back to national, the congressional Republicans learned their lesson on the shutdown so no repeat of that this year, but they still think the debt ceiling gives them leverage, so I predict another debt ceiling crisis. The economy will take a hit that slows growth, but it will still grow, so Republicans will still refuse to believe crashing into the debt ceiling causes problems. They’ll just figure since Democrats think it’s a crisis, then might as well cause a crisis.

Right on a shutdown, wrong on a debt ceiling crisis. There being no debt ceiling crisis, the prediction it would slow the economy couldn’t pan out, so “will still grow” turned into 5% growth in GDP last quarter, which is 1990’s redux. I will claim to be right that Republicans would refuse to believe a debt ceiling crisis causes problem, based on their frequent campaign pledges to refuse to raise it. I hope Republicans retain their lesson from 2011, but don’t see that they have.

There’s a bunch in this next paragraph, so pardon the ample use of square brackets.

On more issues, some sort of unemployment extension will pass, because Republicans will realize they’re taking damage to no useful purpose. [Wrong. No extension, nor did Democrats bother bringing it up during the campaign, so no damage.] Immigration reform is going nowhere thanks to the House Republicans. [The president finally acted on his own within existing law, but actual reform was blocked, so calling this right.] A federal minimum wage increase is going nowhere [Right, and amazing.], though the state wage will rise. Not to a livable level ($9 at most, because there are always some Democrats who think weakening good ideas is the road to centrist cred), but higher [It was raised, to $9.50, but over several years, so calling this one correct.]. Federal disaster relief will be a big fight again because our climate is more volatile now [Mostly wrong, since I did find conservatives complaining about disaster spending, but I had to look it up.], Republicans have spending off-sets on the brain [Right, unless the subject is a top 1% tax cut.], and no freaking clue about economics [Just my characterization, but one I’m sticking to.]. Speaking of climate, nothing major will be done that requires federal legislation . By “major”, I mean some tax breaks or credits might be retained, and some technical fixes to regulatory authority might get through, but no new big investments in new energy technologies or conservation, no carbon tax or cap and trade system [That was easy.]. On civil rights, Republican state governments will pass yet more voting restrictions [Correct], congressional Republicans will prevent any movement on ENDA or a fix to the Voting Rights Act [correct], but here in Minnesota, our legislature will pass the anti-bullying bill [correct].


The news media will spend as much of October on the presidential election as on the midterms. I’m not sure how to measure that, but that was sure my impression in October 2006, and here we are with another open seat. Maybe they were just tired of Bush. I don’t know if we measure column inches or minutes of air time, but if there is a measure, that’s my prediction on the coverage. And of course, after the midterms, the news media will think there’s nothing going on except the presidential election. Maybe that’s more cynicism than prediction.

That’s weak. All I really predicted was I would have the same impression in October 2014 I had in October 2006. I’ll call that wrong, because even though I thought the media spent too much time on the presidential race, it didn’t seem like more coverage than the midterm. Maybe I was right but just learned how to tune it out. I do know that when it came to midterm coverage, I have a gripe with the media that’s supposed to be partisan on the liberal side. When will they learn they can’t wait until October to tell their audiences about nuts seeking election? For example, when wondering how a Bachmann-wannabe like Joni Ernst could get elected in purple Iowa, put some blame on media that didn’t cover her until October, when almost every voter has already decided, and I wonder if most voters even regard what appears to be a last minute attack. Some media outlets report this stuff early (kudos to TPM and Daily Kos), otherwise I wouldn’t know more outlets were missing it, but I wish the partisan media on our side would learn that it’s too late once the election is close. Minds are already made up, and there’s too little time to get the mainstream media to report it. Even if she wants to arrest federal officials who implement Obamacare — and local media, why wasn’t it more newsworthy the Minnesota candidates said the same thing? Way to give delusional ideologues a free pass.

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