Political Powerball: The Top Ten ‘Election Lottery’ Losses in American History

As Jimmy Carter proved in 1974, you can’t win if you don’t play

1948: American President, Harry S Truman smiles and waves to the excited Kansas City crowd after hearing the news that he had won the United States elections and retained the Presidency. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

1948: American President, Harry S Truman smiles and waves to the excited Kansas City crowd after hearing the news that he had won the United States elections and retained the Presidency. (Photo: Keystone/Getty Images)

Election season is sort of like a perpetual Christmas for political analysts and pundits—a time when every scenario is possible, unburdened by the cold reality of actual results, and all the smart people in Political World try their hand at prognostication. Visions of sugar plums and accolades dance in their heads while the actual voters still lie snug in their beds.

In Beltwayland and its outer boroughs, forecasting elections is the parlor game of choice, and much like the lottery, you can’t win if you don’t play. Everybody plays.

Of course, a few of us win. Some analysts are very good and get it right more often than not, though even the best political seers get hung with an L from time to time. (The polite reader will kindly not inquire as to this columnist’s forecast of the 2004 presidential election.) Others are less successful, and some are flat-out laughable. (Of course, the entire raison d’etre for this recurring “Party Crasher” column is political analysis; it will be left to you to determine for yourself into which of the preceding categories it falls.)

It is worth a moment, however, to note that the field of political prognostication is not an exact science, the successes of Nate Silver and his team at FiveThirtyEight.com notwithstanding. In fact, the field has been littered for generations with many wildly spectacular fails, and it might be useful both to political readers and political writers alike to keep some of these in mind as we venture forth boldly into the upcoming quadrennial electionfest.

1936: President Alf

The Republican Governor of Kansas and presidential candidate, Alfred Landon (1887 - 1987) greeting the American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882 - 1945) (seated) prior to the presidential elections. Future United States President Harry S. Truman can been seen in the background.   (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

The Republican Governor of Kansas and presidential candidate, Alfred Landon greeting President Franklin Delano Roosevelt prior to the presidential elections. Future United States President Harry S. Truman can been seen in the background. (Photo: Keystone/Getty Images)

Literary Digest releases a poll indicating that the Republican governor of Kansas, Alfred (Alf) Landon, will decisively defeat first-term Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt, taking 57 percent of the popular vote and routing Mr. Roosevelt 370-161 in the Electoral College.

Mr. Roosevelt carries 46 of the 48 states and bests Mr. Landon 523-8 in the electoral tally, racking up nearly 61 percent of the popular vote.

1948: “I’m Just Mild About Harry”

12th July 1945:  The 33rd President of the United States Harry S Truman (1884 - 1972) examining the United Nations Charter in Washington. The UN Charter was drawn up and signed by representatives of 50 countries at the UN Conference on International Organization.  (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

12th July 1945: The 33rd President of the United States Harry S Truman (1884 – 1972) examining the United Nations Charter in Washington. (Photo: Fox Photos/Getty Images)

Democratic President Harry Truman is finished. He has no hope of defeating his Republican opponent, Gov. Thomas Dewey of New York. Mr. Dewey is ahead in every poll; the result is so foreordained that respected pollster Elmo Roper quits polling in September, declaring there is no point continuing to pretend the race is in doubt. Newsweek surveys 50 leading political writers, who predict 50-0 that Mr. Dewey will win.

On Election Night, forced to go to press early due to a printers’ strike, the Chicago Tribune runs with the blaring headline “Dewey Defeats Truman.” It is hardly a risky decision; at this moment, famed radio announcer H.V. Kaltenborn is informing his nationwide audience that Mr. Dewey is certain to win.

Mr. Truman wins 28 states to Mr. Dewey’s 16, exceeds 300 electoral votes, and wins the popular vote by approximately 4 percentage points.

1962: “You Won’t Have Nixon To Kick Around Anymore”

Two years after a narrow loss in the presidential election, former Republican Vice President Richard Nixon’s political career ends with a landslide loss to Democrat Pat Brown in the California gubernatorial race. ABC airs a special titled The Political Obituary of Richard Nixon. Shoveling added dirt on Mr. Nixon’s political grave, ABC’s Howard K. Smith includes an interview with Alger Hiss, the Washington bureaucrat and accused Soviet spy Mr. Nixon cornered into perjuring himself in 1948 to launch his national career.

On January 20, 1969, Mr. Nixon takes the oath of office as the 37th president of the United States.

1964: The Death of the Republican Party (Part I)

12th October 1965:  American President Lyndon Baines Johnson (1908 - 1973) speaking after he had signed the new Immigration Bill at the foot of the Statue of Liberty. In the background is the New York skyline.  (Photo by Harry Benson/Express/Getty Images)

12th October 1965: American President Lyndon Baines Johnson speaking after he signed the new Immigration Bill at the foot of the Statue of Liberty. (Photo: Harry Benson/Express/Getty Images)

After a landslide loss on election night, the Republican Party is in such tatters that numerous learned observers question whether the Grand Old Party might actually be over. Democratic President Lyndon Johnson has just won a record 61.1 percent of the popular vote and a 486-52 Electoral College victory over Republican Barry Goldwater, losing only six states—five in the South and Mr. Goldwater’s Arizona. The president has also led the Democrats to massive majorities in Congress. It is generally believed that, at the very least, it will take several election cycles for the GOP to rebound.

In 1966, the Republicans pick up 47 seats in the House of Representatives, enough to partner with conservative Southern Democrats and halt Mr. Johnson’s “Great Society” program implemented after his smashing 1964 victory. Two years after that, the Republicans win their first of five victories in the next six presidential elections.

1974: The Death of the Republican Party (Part II)

VIENNA, AUSTRIA - MAY 1972: President Richard Nixon and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger walk during a visit to Vienna, Austria in May 1972. (Photo by AFP/Getty Images)

President Richard Nixon and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger walk during a visit to Vienna, Austria in May 1972. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

The Watergate scandal, which ends with the resignation of President Nixon, has destroyed the Republican Party. Democrats pick up 49 House seats and close in on veto-proof majorities in both Congressional chambers.

In 1976, Democrat Jimmy Carter barely holds on to defeat Republican President Gerald Ford while gaining only one House seat. Four years later, Mr. Carter is routed in his reelection campaign and Republicans win control of the Senate for the first time since 1952.

1974: Jimmy Who?

U.S. president Jimmy Carter smiling at a podium in front of an American flag, 1970s. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

U.S. president Jimmy Carter smiling at a podium in front of an American flag, 1970s. (Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Democratic Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter announces his campaign for the presidency in 1976. His campaign, starting an unheard-of two years prior to the election, is met with derision from national media who know very little about him, and reportedly even from his own mother, who is said to have asked “president of what?” when he informed her he was seeking the presidency.

On January 20, 1977, Mr. Carter takes the oath of office as the 39th president of the United States.

1992: The GOP’s Electoral College Lock

WESTLAND, MI - SEPTEMBER 17:  US President Bill Clinton works the crowd after giving a speech at a rainy rally 17 September at John Glenn High School in Westland, Michigan. Clinton said earlier in the day that he enjoyed having Ross Perot in the presidential debates in 1992. Clinton made the comment after the presidential debate commission reccommended that Perot not be included in the debates.  (Photo credit should read LUKE FRAZZA/AFP/Getty Images)

US President Bill Clinton works the crowd after giving a speech at a rainy rally in Westland, Michigan. Clinton said earlier in the day that he enjoyed having Ross Perot in the presidential debates in 1992. Clinton made the comment after the presidential debate commission reccommended that Perot not be included in the debates. (Photo: Luke Frazza/AFP/Getty Images)

Numerous publications, heading into the 1992 presidential campaign, repeatedly make note of the Republican Party’s lock on the Electoral College. Several key states have gone Republican for six elections in a row, including California, Illinois and New Jersey, while Michigan has gone into the GOP column in five consecutive elections.

On Election Day, Democrat Bill Clinton wins the presidency, carrying all four of the aforementioned Republican “lock” states, as well as eight other states that have gone Republican in at least five consecutive elections.

1994: Bill Clinton, Failed One-Termer

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 1:  Sen. Robert Dole (R-KS), the expected Senate majority leader, signals to current Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (D-ME) that it is his turn to talk to reporters, 01 December 1994, in the halls of the Capitol Building in Washington. Dole had just met with Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen about the GATT agreement.  (Photo credit should read ROBERT GIROUX/AFP/Getty Images)

Sen. Robert Dole signals that it is his turn to talk to reporters, December 1, 1994. (Photo: Robert Giroux/AFP/Getty Images)

Beset by scandals and missteps, President Clinton watches the midterm meltdown in November as Republicans gain control of both houses of Congress for the first time in 40 years. Numerous pundits forecast that the politically hobbled president is likely to follow his party to the exits two years hence.

In 1996, Mr. Clinton wins reelection in a landslide, beating Republican Senator Bob Dole by more than 8 percentage points—a popular-vote margin almost as wide as Mr. Reagan’s victory over Mr. Carter in 1980.

2008: The Death of the Republican Party (Part III)

A Kisumu resident raises his index finger to signify 'winner' as he cycles November 02, 2008 past a billboard of US Democratic presidential hopeful Barak Obama now commonly refered to as 'son of Kenya' at the Obama's rural home in Siaya district. Excitement continues to mount in Kisumu, the headquarter of Kenya's Western province as the 'Son of Kenya', a term increasingly used to refer to Barak given his fathers Kenyan origins, as Obama continues to lead his main rival, Republican John McCain in preliminary polls two days to the historic vote.                     AFP PHOTO/Tony KARUMBA (Photo credit should read TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images)

A man raises his index finger to signify ‘winner’ as he cycles November 02, 2008 past a billboard of US Democratic presidential hopeful Barak Obama. (Photo: Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images)

Barack Obama has just been elected president of the United States in a landslide. His party will begin his term with a 257-178 majority in the House of Representatives and nearly a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Democrats also control 29 governorships and 27 state legislatures. Rendered toxic by the troubled second term of the Bush Administration and facing a political avalanche in the form of the Democrats’ “Coalition of the Ascendant,” Republicans may be headed into permanent minority status. At the very least, the GOP will need several election cycles, if not a decade or more, to recover.

In 2010, the Republicans flip 64 House seats to reclaim the chamber, capture six Democratic-held Senate seats, and rout Democrats in numerous key state-level elections. Now in complete control of redistricting in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, Virginia and Wisconsin, among others, Republicans use their new majorities to redraw legislative districts in their favor for the next decade.

2012: Meet President Romney

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 07:  Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, speaks at the podium as he concedes the presidency during Mitt Romney's campaign election night event at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center on November 7, 2012 in Boston, Massachusetts. After voters went to the polls in the heavily contested presidential race, networks projected incumbent U.S. President Barack Obama has won re-election against Republican candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, speaks at the podium as he concedes the presidency during Mitt Romney’s campaign election night event at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center on November 7, 2012 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The media informs us repeatedly that no president has ever been reelected heading into an election year with the kind of economic struggles facing the country in 2012. President Obama is also bedeviled by mediocre approval ratings and a host of other problems, such as his unpopular health insurance program, which helped Republicans make massive gains in the 2010 midterms. A Google search of the phrase “Why Obama Will Lose” returns 122 million results, including a well-reasoned 2011 column by Republican strategist Karl Rove.

Mr. Obama is reelected by a comfortable margin.

In Summary

While no political writer would suggest that there is no value to gazing into the crystal ball and attempting to assess the electorate, these spectacular failures of pollsters and pundits remind us to take all political predictions with a grain—perhaps even a shovelful—of salt. So do yourselves a favor and keep that in mind as we prepare to launch into the first votes of a long campaign.

And by the way—Hillary Clinton is going to beat Ted Cruz this November by 5 percentage points. Book it.

It’s a lock.

Cliston Brown is a communications executive and political analyst in the San Francisco Bay Area who previously served as director of communications to a longtime Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/ClistonBrownPolitics, or on Twitter: @ClistonBrown.

Political Powerball: The Top Ten ‘Election Lottery’ Losses in American History