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04

By Karl Kurtz

This morning on NPR, I heard Cokie Roberts say, "the 'off-off-year elections' are always or usually a harbinger of a big election to come," if the outcomes of the New Jersey and Virginia governors' races and the New York mayor's election go the same way. I am always suspicious when pundits try to read big things into small samples of elections such as odd-year election in two states and one city or a few special elections. I decided to check the record, at least as far as the New Jersey and Virginia elections are concerned.

Here's a table that shows the results of the six odd-year elections in New Jersey and Virginia and the national results in the following even-numbered year:

Legislatures Chart

The New Jersey and Virginia governors' races were harbingers of the congressional results in two of three elections during the 21st century. The state legislative outcomes in those states correctly predicted the congressional outcomes in only two of six congressional elections and one of three presidential elections.

I think the reason for this mixed (at best) outcome of odd-year elections as predictors of national elections in the following year is that there are too many local factors (a very conservative Republican gubernatorial candidate in Virginia and a very popular incumbent governor in New Jersey) that intervene and make crystal ball gazing very difficult.

To Cokie Roberts' credit, her argument was more sophisticated than this simple table that does not directly refute her argument. Her point was that if the conservative Republican candidates lose overwhelmingly to the Democrats in New York City and Virginia and moderate New Jersey Governor Chris Christie wins big tomorrow, it may be a signal of rejection of more extreme candidates in the Republican party.

Posted in: Elections
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This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.

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