Wednesday November 8, 2006

Students Challenge Political Pundits

Seventy-six percent of the students in a legislative politics class accurately picked the winner in the Congressional race assigned to each of them.

Future Congressional interns from the University of Dayton put weeks of research and a 20-page term paper where their mouths are the day after the election. Seventy-six percent of the students accurately picked the winner in the Congressional race assigned to each of them. They also had to predict the margin of victory.

The legislative politics class is required for UD students interested in the Congressional Internship Program. The students made their final guesses in class the day before Election Day.

Michael McDermott wondered aloud about getting FOX News' Bill O'Reilly's job someday after nailing his pick of Melissa Bean winning Illinois' 8th Congressional district by 6 percent.

"If I want to be well-known, I'd go national," said McDermott, from Beavercreek, Ohio. "If I want to be more accurate, I'd stay on the local level."

Alex Buskirk, who correctly picked Sherrod Brown to down incumbent Mike DeWine in the Ohio's Senate race, said national pundits are on base most of the time but sometimes miss the finer points, because they are looking at so many races.

"Alex is right," McDermott said. "In political science, people forget the human element. It's a complex process. The best we can do is get as much information as possible."

McDermott's information indicated, by the time David McSweeney blew his war chest battling multiple challengers in the nasty and negative primary, McSweeney was too "muddy and without money" to take on Bean.

"He faced all kinds of ghosts. He was up against an incumbent. Plus there was a third-party candidate taking away votes," McDermott said. "Spending too much money on negative ads in the primary bit him in the butt."

Buskirk, who is thinking about law school and eventually a career as a political strategist, said the class and project helped him get a better view of the issues. He said the class and project also gave him a handle on voting behavior.

"Nine out of 10 times, DeWine wins," Buskirk said. "Overall, anti-Republican sentiment and the national scandals did him in. I think Ohio wanted anyone that wasn't a Republican."

Buskirk, from Chillicothe, Ohio, felt working on a race in his home state helped because he could get a sense from people around him.

"And, I was a voter, so I could take my thoughts into account," he said.

Lauren Hackman, of Fairfield, Ohio, was faced with the challenge handicapping the race between political rookie Heath Shuler and 16-year incumbent Charles Taylor in North Carolina's 11th Congressional district. She correctly predicted a Shuler victory by eight points.

"The trend in politics is toward the negative and it played out there," Hackman said. "Shuler's inexperience helped him in a sense, because people felt 'he's not part of that mess in Washington.'"

The Rev. John Putka, the class lecturer, opened class by saying the party in the White House, which as a president in the sixth year of his term, has lost an average of six Senate and 34 House seats in that year's election, so this year's results are about average.

For interviews, contact Lauren Hackman at 513-406-8244, Michael McDermott at 937-572-2074 or Alex Buskirk at 740-701-5178. They are available this evening.