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Psephological prediction: A gale is going to blow across the US

Wednesday, 6 June, 2012

When voting, those champions of democracy, the ancient Greeks, used pebbles as ballots. The Greek word for pebble is psephos and from it the British historian R. B. McCallum coined the term psephology to describe the scientific analysis of past elections.

American students of psephology will remember that in May 1994, Ron Lewis won a special election in a Kentucky district that hadn’t elected a member of his Republican Party for more than a century. In the following November, in the middle of President Bill Clinton‘s first term, the Republican Party gained a majority of seats in the House of Representatives and Senate. For those whose memories don’t extend back that far, here’s another pebble of psephology: In January 2010, Massachusetts voters awarded Scott Brown a Senate seat that Republicans hadn’t held since Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. lost to John F. Kennedy in 1952. In the following November, at the midpoint of President Barack Obama‘s first term in office, the Republican Party won the House by a majority that resulted in the largest seat change since 1948 and the largest for any midterm election since the 1938.

Ron Lewis and Scott Brown were straws in those electoral wind and psephologists and meteorologists alike will have taken note of the fact that last night Governor Scott Walker defeated Democrat Tom Barrett in a special recall election in Wisconsin, a state President Obama won by a wide margin in 2008. A gale is gathering and it’s going to sweep across the US in November.


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