Predicting the Prez by Pumpkins, Football

George W. Bush, the Republican presidential candidate, only has a slight edge in the latest polls, but he’s top gourd in the battle of the pumpkins.

Asked to choose between 500-pound pumpkins carved to look like Bush and his Democratic opponent, Al Gore, at Altenburg’s Country Gardens in Wisconsin, 1,285 visitors chose Bush and 911 picked Gore. The Bush pumpkin also beat its Gore counterpart 534-341 in an online ballot at the Wisconsin Rapids Area Convention & Visitors Bureau Web site.

Does it matter? Probably not, so the Gore campaign accepts defeat gracefully.

“I don’t think Al Gore wants to be the winner in the hollow-headed competition,” says Juno Cabrera, a Gore campaign spokesman. “I think we’re glad that we’re not. We’ll cede that territory to Gov. Bush.”

Weighing Political Myths

With the real polls showing a tight race, the media has taken to considering how skirt lengths, carved pumpkins, coffee cups, sports statistics, Halloween masks and polls of school children might predict the outcome of the presidential race.

Experts in academia and the media agree that many of these offbeat indicators reflect little more than random chance and political superstition. But some concede that a few may have a kernel of truth.

“I’m not sure that gourds are a very promising metric for public opinion research,” says Jonathan Koppell, a political scientist at Yale University. “One thing you have to be aware of is the irony factor. People may pick Bush pumpkins because he’s amusing, but that might not be the key to a presidential election.

“On the other hand,” he adds, “that may be why Jesse Ventura is the governor of Minnesota. If it gets you votes, it gets you votes.”

Bush Campaign Encouraged — Not!

For the record, Bush has been getting most of the votes — even if at this point they are coming in the form of pumpkin popularity, Halloween mask sales and surveys of second graders.

Flush with confidence such votes bring, the Bush campaign isn’t taking the crack about the hollow-headed pumpkin lying down. It is hitting back on the Halloween mask front:

“I suspect mask makers had to create several different Al Gore masks for each of the different Al Gores we’ve seen on the campaign trail,” says Ray Sullivan, a Bush campaign spokesman.

But seriously. …

“The only thing we put stock in is a trust in the American people to support Gov. Bush’s leadership,” Sullivan says, echoing similar indifference to the oddball indicators voiced by the Gore campaign. “Hemlines and Halloween masks and World Series outcomes are fun, but idle speculation.”

Bush Takes Mask, Beverage Tallies

Speculation or not, Bush narrowly won a nationwide beverage poll taken in September by the 7-Eleven convenience store chain. Customers picked Bush cups over Gore cups 21 to 20 percent. However, 59 percent picked the regular, nonpartisan cup, meant to designate a third-party or undecided vote.

And Bush leads the Halloween mask popularity contest by a 57 to 43 percent margin, says John Majdoch, vice president and co-founder, the Web site measuring its sales for the poll.

Majdoch says retail Halloween mask sales statistics from various sources have correctly predicted every presidential race since 1980, but he concedes there might be some distortion in this year’s results.

“[A Bush supporter] was buying a Gore mask, but said he wanted it to count as a Bush vote,” Majdoch says. “He said the only reason he was buying a Gore mask was that he wanted to go around scaring people.”

Gore looks equally scary in the pre-election physiology factor. He has an advantage in height, which some say has predicted past presidential winners. And he blinked less frequently during the debates, a measure of a sturdier emotional state, according to an analyst in "The Los Angeles Times."

The Redskins Factor

The latest oddball presidential indicator came to light during this past week’s Monday Night Football game.

It turns out the outcome of the Redskins’ last home game before the election has perfectly predicted the presidential race result in the last 15 elections. A win for the Redskins equals a win for the incumbent party. A win for the visiting team portends a win for the challenging party.

“In a city in which politics and football are the two biggest passions, it turns out that the Washington Redskins are a better predictor of who’s going to win the presidency than any [bellwether] state in modern times,” says Steve Hirdt, executive vice president of the Elias Sports Bureau and director of information on Monday Night Football.

“I’d love to ascribe it to something, but I was as astounded as anybody when I did the research and saw the results,” he says.

If the Redskins effect holds true, Bush will win on Election Day. The Tennessee Titans beat the Redskins 27-21. And, believe it or not, Al Gore was cheering on the Titans — his home-state team.

Is Gore crazy — to spit in the face of fate like that? Crazy cool, says his campaign.

“Some people would say fate is just another special interest,” says Cabrera, the Gore campaign spokesman. “As we’ve seen this election, Gore is not afraid to stand up to the special interests.”

Bush Holds Sporting Edge

Then again, some might say the fates have already spoken for Bush, as far as the sports indicators go: That’s because the Lakers won the NBA championship and the Yankees won baseball’s World Series.

The last four times the Lakers took the championship in presidential election years — in 1952, 1972, 1980 and 1988 — the Republican candidate took the presidency.

Conventional wisdom — supported by seven straight presidential elections from 1952 to 1976 — had been that an American League World Series champion such as the Yankees would forecast a Republican victory, and a National League champ would forecast a Democratic win. However, the World Series factor has been breaking down in recent years, predicting incorrect outcomes for the past three elections.

Bogus Bordeaux Factor

Other indicators also have fallen on hard times recently — such as the theories that rising hemlines and strong years for Bordeaux correspond to Democratic victory, and falling hemlines predict Republican victory.

Valerie Steele, chief curator and acting director of the Fashion Institute of Technology’s museum in New York City, says that contrary to legend, skirt lengths have had little correlation to the state of the economy or the outcome of recent presidential campaigns.

“It’s patently absurd that there’s any connection,” she says. “You might as well say it has to do with the length of men’s ties, but male commentators are obsessed with the length of women’s skirts.”

Turns out the Bordeaux theory also is a bust, according to Niki Singer, senior vice president of the magazine, "The Wine Spectator."

Clinton may have won in a “very good, but not outstanding” Bordeaux year in 1996, but other than that the premise has not held up, she says. In fact, in 1988, the only recent “outstanding” Bordeaux year with a presidential election, George Bush handily beat Michael Dukakis, a Democrat.

Wisdom of Children

Is politics mere child’s play? Polls of children have been extremely accurate in predicting presidential winners, the people who have conducted them claim.

Scholastic, the children’s magazine publisher, says its poll of students in grades 1 through 12 has correctly predicted presidential winners for more than 50 years, except in the close Kennedy-Nixon campaign in 1960. This year, Bush swept to victory at every grade level. He outpolled Gore in every grade but 9 and 11 in a similar survey by the Weekly Reader magazine company.

Conversely, second through fifth graders at Long Island, N.Y.’s Hewlett Elementary School — whose poll has correctly guessed every winner since 1972 — this week picked Gore by a vote of 368 to 117.

The Gore campaign used the victory as an opportunity to tout their candidate’s education proposals, which they hope can be enacted “so the rest of America’s children can be as astute” as their Long Island counterparts, Cabrera says.