Students Beat Pros at Political Prognosticating
Victory is its own reward.
That's what 71 10th graders in Silver Spring, Md., discovered this month when they beat a pack of political pollsters and pundits at their own game.
The students, who are enrolled in a communications-arts program at the 2,800-student Montgomery Blair High School in suburban Washington, were the surprise winners in a biennial competition that tested their powers of prediction against those of 13 so-called political experts.
By forecasting that Republicans and Democrats would maintain the same number of seats in the House they had before the Nov. 3 elections, the sophomores were closer to the mark than their competitors, who predicted GOP gains ranging from five to 13 seats. In fact, the Democrats picked up five new seats for a total of 211 seats, compared with the Republicans' 223 seats in the upcoming 106th Congress.
The students' victory was made sweeter by the fact that they didn't simply make a lucky guess, said Steven M. Luxenberg, the editor of TheWashington Post's Outlook section, which sponsors the "Crystal Ball" competition.
"The most exciting thing for me was that the kids won by doing the work," Mr. Luxenberg said.
As part of a multidisciplinary project involving English, social studies, and media studies, the students made their best prognostication only after identifying the 71 closest House, Senate, and gubernatorial races in the country, and then systematically studying the demographics of each state or congressional district, analyzing voter records, and boning up on major campaign themes.
The students knew that, by most projections, the Republicans were expected to fare well in the midterm elections. When six weeks of careful political analysis ultimately yielded a status quo projection, they thought they were off the mark.
"But I didn't want everyone to change their minds," said social studies teacher Stacy Farrar Dimmick, one of four teachers involved in the project. "I said, ' You probably know more about state and district voting habits than most people in the country right now.' "
The students demonstrated that "people in Washington start believing what other people in Washington say after a while," said Norah O'Donnell, a reporter for the political newspaper Roll Call and a participant in this year's competition.
The Montgomery Blair participants will be rewarded with a crystal ball, a plaque, and a pizza party with Mr. Luxenberg and other contest participants. But they also learned the value of following their own instincts, sophomore Kelly Boyd said.
"The bragging rights are just great," the 15-year-old said. "All of these guys do this for a living, but we mopped the floor with them."
Vol. 18, Issue 12, Page 16Published in Print: November 18, 1998, as Students Beat Pros at Political Prognosticating