Reed Students Forecast the 2018 Midterm Election: GOP Will Lose 30 seats

Seventy-eight Reed College students have made a forecast of the outcome of the 2018 midterm congressional elections, and their forecast is for a Democratic takeover of the House, with an average predicted seat change of -30 for the GOP. 

Reed College students taking Political Science 260: American Politics and Policy with Professors Paul Gronke and Chris Koski have been working for the past week on a “fundamentals” forecasting model of the 2018 midterms, drawing on insights from articles in PS: Political Science and Politics and a wonderful Twitter thread about “silly” variables.

Kudos to G. Elliott Morris, Brad Spahn, Derek Willis, and Deborah Sharon for participating in the thread and helping to get our students excited about the project!

Now to the forecasts! The students estimated a model based on two variables, presidential approval (collected from “a credible source”, ha ha evil professor, what constitutes “credible” you ask), a measure of the economy, and one “silly variable”.

Student estimate the GOP seat loss to be between 30 and 40 seats, but there are a few, shall we say, outliers? I expect that the 170 seat loss is an overly optimistic Democrat, along with those students how predicted a 30-40 seat gain. 

Or perhaps a math error? We shall investigate tomorrow in class.

When we remove outliers (any forecast < -50 seats and > -10 seats), the average student forecast is a 31 seat loss for the GOP, which would of course result in a Democratic takeover of the House.

There seems to be no patterns of unusual forecasts by section. (We allowed students to collaborate in groups of up to 3. The blank values are student teams who combined work across sections.)

I know you all have been waiting for the silly variables, so I won’t hold you in suspense any longer. A number of these additional predictors sound distinctly non-silly. Apparently, irony is dead in 2018.

The list of silly variables (not Silly Party): 

  • Number of hurricanes in a given year
  • Number of Beach Boys Concerts
  • Length of the Tour de France (in km)
  • Solar Flares
  • Number of reported manslaughters
  • President’s age
  • Percent increase in motor vehicle deaths from the previous year
  • Percent increase in patent filings Oil price change
  • Shark attacks (hello, Achen and Bartels?)
  • Ratio of US Growth rate to World Growth rate
  • Shoe size (whose shoe size?)
  • Percent Atheist (Reed hates the College admissions ranking game, unless its this ranking game)
  • Pneumonia and influenza mortality rate
  • Average national rainfall (blame Derek Willis)
  • Apparent (??) per capita ethanol consumption

Thanks to Laura Swann ’19 who helped to prepare this year’s forecasting assignment and Kristin Bott, Associate Director of Computing and Information Services, who helped write our assignment materials last year.









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Selected Multimedia about LBJ

LbjJohnson was not a natural speaker, and biographers report that he was always embarrassed by his Southern drawl, certain that he was not being taken seriously.

The years as vice president were especially difficult in this regard; how could a tall, gangly, drawling Southerner not fail to be overshadowed by an attractive, tanned, charismatic JFK.

However, Johnson’s speeches once he became president are impressive.  He softened his drawl, slowed his cadence, and seemed comfortable speaking as leader, not as follower.  That fits his career; Johnson was never comfortable as a subordinate.

The editorial cartoons show Johnson in a much harsher light.  This isn’t surprising; by the time cartoonists really started to take on Johnson, his administration was coming under heavy criticism.  And, maybe only rivaled by Nixon, LBJ had a face that provided editorial cartoonists with a lot of canvas to satirize.

Videos and Speeches

Editorial Cartoons

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LBJ, Austin, and the Hill Country of Texas

I am leading a Reed alumni trip, along with Michael Teskey, to the Hill Country of Texas to look at wildflowers and try to understand one of the most fascinating and complex figures of America’s 20th century, Lyndon Baines Johnson. Because our alumni do not have access to the Moodle system, this posting is a way for us to chat about the trip prior to departure.

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Untying the Electoral Knot: Reimagining the States with Equal Populations

Screen shot 2013-02-14 at 10.57.43 AMHat tip to Nathan Yau’s Flowing Data blog, the map reimagines the 50 states with equal populations.  It’s a cool geographic systems application and a nice way to reflect upon the biases in our Electoral College system.

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It’s good to be rich and pay state taxes. And it sucks to be poor.

Screen shot 2013-01-31 at 2.38.44 PMIf you want a quick summary how the American political and economic system is so skewed toward the wealthy, contrast these two reports.

First, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy issued a report on the most regressive (Washington state!) and most progressive state tax systems, taking into account all state, local, excise, and property taxes (but not fees, licensing, etc).

Much is being made already out west about Oregon’s ranking as among the most progressive and Washington’s as most regressive, but the takeaway table for me is at the end.

In only two states, New York and California, do the total tax rate paid by the top 5% exceed 17%.  In six states, the top 5% pay 15% or more of their income in taxes.

Contrast with the bottom 20% of the income distribution.  In 27% states, they pay a state tax rate higher than 10% of their income, on average.

Now let’s see how much income these two segments of society receive. According to Federal income tax data from 2010, the top 10% control 33.1% of all income, while the lowest half of the income distribution receives only 11.7% of income.

The reason: a heavy reliance in many states on the sales tax, and a gradual shift away from progressive income taxes.

So much for an American tax system that unfairly targets high income earners.

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MOOCs for remedial education

The NY Times continues its blanket coverage of the MOOC phenomenon with a story in today’s business page: “California to give web courses a big trial.”

The interesting subtext in the story is that use of the MOOCs by San Jose State University isn’t an initiative intended to replace regular offerings, but is really an attempt to address inadequacies in high school education in the state.  The institution reports that more than 50% of incoming students fail the basic requirements (raising the question why they were admitted in the first place!).


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Legal protection to the middle finger

I am a dinosaur.  I still read the print edition of the NY Times.  Of course, it helps that the academic M-F rate for the print edition–delivered to my door daily at 3 am–is less than the monthly cost of the digital firewall (print subscribers get behind the firewall).

The real reason I like the print edition, though, is that I read more of the paper, including delicious stories like this one:

Obscene Gesture Produces Years of Legal Battling

The money quote from the judge:

The 14-page opinion, written by Judge Jon O. Newman for a three-judge panel, expressed skepticism at the officer’s explanation of why he had followed the car.

“Perhaps there is a police officer somewhere who would interpret an automobile passenger’s giving him the finger as a signal of distress,” Judge Newman wrote.

“But the nearly universal recognition that this gesture is an insult deprives such an interpretation of reasonableness,” he added.

There is even a book on the subject!

Ira P. Robbins, a professor of criminal law at American University who has studied the history of the gesture and is the author of the article “Digitus Impudicus: The Middle Finger and the Law.”

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Generational Effects and Reed’s Academic Leadership


Image courtesy of

Nigel Nicholson’s appointment as Dean of the Faculty of Reed College got me to thinking: how many of Reed’s academic leaders have had school age children and a working spouse?

The answer, I think, is that Nicholson is the first Dean in Reed history to have a full-time working spouse and school age children (this information is shared with Nigel’s permission).  I ran into Peter Steinberger at the grocery store and asked him the same question; his recollection was that none of the previous Deans/Provosts had school age children–or any children at all.  Peter’s oldest was 9, if my calculations are right, when he was appointed Dean in 1997.

Combine this with John Kroger’s family status–his spouse works full time as the head of Student Life at PSU and his son is a 13 year old in Portland Public Schools–and I think this may be the first time in a very long time that Reed’s two main academic leaders have working spouses and school age children.  (I went as far back as President Paul Bragdon, whose son David was 12 years old when Paul was appointed President in 1971.)

None of this is particularly relevant, but I find it interesting for a number of reasons.

It’s a thoroughly modern question to ask, of course, but one I suspected might show Reed behind the curve.  Reed is family friendly in many ways, but in other ways, I’ve found the college stuck in a 1950s time warp.

We continue to hold most faculty meetings at 4:30 on Mondays, and our major governance committees meet on Mondays and Tuesdays at 4:30.  This means that anyone with childcare duties has a difficult time participating fully in faculty governance.

When I first arrived, my department held departmental meetings on Saturday mornings, a practice I immediately ended when I became chair.  I’m not sure how many other departments hold to this practice.

Vollum Funds used to be limited to entertaining  students at our homes, as if any of us still had homemakers minding the hearth and able to cook dinner for 24 students (not to mention the space to entertain them).

And then, like any good institutionalist, I wonder how our selection process has affected our choice of leadership.  The ages don’t hold any particular pattern (my best estimate of the ages of Reed’s Deans is shown below).   I suspect the lack of children and working spouses is generational–something the College is wrestling with among the faculty as well.

I’m more concerned that we are unable to grant tenure to an external candidate, which is the primary reason we have generally limited our searched to internal candidates.    That’s a conversation for another time.

As an aside, lest you think that Presidents typically are older and have grown children, it’s not the case, at least has not been historically.  Nationwide, the average college president was 52 in 1986 but was 60 in 2006, the notable “graying” of the presidency.  Reed followed this pattern (see below), but Kroger is a throwback in some ways to college presidents who have traditionally ascended to the office in their 40s.

The Ages of Reed Deans It’s difficult to determine the age of our Deans, since there is not good biographical information on the Reed website, at least easily discovered.    We can use c.v’s and other information to get a rough gauge:

  1. McDougal, ~60 (BA in 1974)
  2. Stauder, 59
  3. Steinberger, ~49 (BA in 1970)
  4. Mantel, unknown
  5. Bennett, ~53 (BA in 1968)
  6. Cronyn,~64 (BA in 1940)
  7. Gwilliam, ~51 (BA in 1950)
  8. Levich, possibly 46 (online reference to a 1926 D.O.B. is hazy)

This rough guide would put Nicholson at 45 (BA in 1990), potentially the youngest Reed Dean ever, though my estimate for Levich is based on sketchy information.

Reed Presidents  The ages of Reed presidents is much more easily calculated from their bios:

  1. Foster, 32 31
  2. Scholz, 41
  3. Coleman, 51
  4. Keezer, 59
  5. Scott, 44
  6. Odegard, 44
  7. McNaughton, 68
  8. Ballantine, 40
  9. Sullivan, 39
  10. Rosenblum, 43
  11. Bragdon, 44
  12. Powell, 52
  13. Koblik, 61 51
  14. Diver, 59
  15. Kroger, 46

Hat tip to John Sheehy for the corrections.

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How the fiscal cliff threatens higher ed research and our economic future

Two recent stories highlight how the fiscal cliff threatens the nation’s long run economic future.

An article by Michael McRobbie, the president of Indiana University, in the Chronicle of Higher Ed focuses on the short and mid-term effects.  If sequestration takes place without any rational allocation of the cuts, $12.5 billion will be immediately cut from Federal research support.  The ten year reduction in Federal support could be over $300 billion, depending on how you calculate the impact.

Lest this sound like another “special interest” protecting it’s piece of the pie, a research center not affiliated with higher education (and Republican leaning, if that matters) estimates that this would reduce by half the basic level research conducted in the United States and cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Then consider a recent article by Eduardo Porter in the NY Times notes that, even under Obama’s more generous spending proposal, total discretionary spending as a percentage of the Federal budget will fall to 1.7% of economic output, down from 3.1% last year.  Our basic research enterprise will surely suffer as a result.

The future for American innovation and enterprise are not good.

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On Elections in Non-Democratic Regimes

My thesis student is starting her second semester, writing a thesis on why elections are so frequent in non-democratic, autocratic regimes.

While the following information may make her feel like her thesis has already been written, that’s never the case!  And it’s helpful that such a large number of articles and commentaries have been come out on just this topic in the last few months.

  1. Levitsky and Way on how ruling parties use elections to channel internal party struggles and maintain their hold on power;
  2. Junisbal on contested elections, privatization, and post-soviet regimes
  3. Weyland on the post-Arab spring regimes
  4. A review essay by Mainwaring on elections in Chavez’s Venezuela
  5. Stoner on elections in Russia
  • The Monkey Cage blog features a set of contributions from distinguished scholars on the role of elected legislatures in autocratic regimes.
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