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October 22, 2013 4:23 PM Beware the Special Election Hype

By Jonathan Bernstein

The death last week of long-time Member of the House C.W. Bill Young last week means we’re going to get something that this Congress has managed to put off so far: outrageous hype over a special election.

All House elections are important, and this Tampa-area one will be in one of the relatively rare competitive seats. So it will be an important election.

However, whenever it winds up being scheduled (with March 11 apparently the best guess so far) it will tell us nothing about the November 2014 elections, other than perhaps indicating what will happen in that district. It is not an early warning sign, or anything else. It’s just one election.

Does it matter at all beyond the one election? Only to the extent that expectations of electoral swings can, in the right circumstances, become self-fulfilling prophesies. However, if this one does happen in March, then it’s a little late to affect candidate recruitment (not all state filing deadlines are by then, but many are). And candidate recruitment is the biggest factor when it comes to “waves” created by elite-level self-fulfilling prophesies. Availability of other campaign resources can matter some, as can press coverage, probably, but those can change over the course of the year, so a single well-timed event is a lot less likely to affect them much.

Mostly, however, expect plenty of unjustified hype. Hey, reporters! Any chance you can avoid it this time? Don’t answer that.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.

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