Sabato's Crystal Ball

Sabato's Crystal Ball is a political newsletter and website that serves as an election handicapper by predicting electoral outcomes for the United States House of Representatives, United States Senate, U.S. governors, and U.S. presidential races. A publication of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, the Crystal Ball was founded by political analyst Larry Sabato, the Robert Kent Gooch Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia.[1][2]

Sabato's Crystal Ball
Sabato's Crystal Ball Logo.gif
TypeWeekly newsletter
PublisherUniversity of Virginia Center for Politics
EditorLarry Sabato
FoundedSeptember 2002; 17 years ago (2002-09)
Political alignmentNonpartisan
HeadquartersCharlottesville, Virginia, U.S.
WebsiteLarry J. Sabato's Crystal Ball



The Crystal Ball was first launched in September 2002, evolving from pre-election presentations given by founder Larry J. Sabato.[3] For the 2002 midterm elections, the Crystal Ball tracked every U.S. Senate and gubernatorial race and the top 50 U.S. House of Representatives races. In 2002, the website received 160,000 hits, averaging over 5,000 hits per day over the last three weeks of the campaign, with over 1,500 people subscribing to its weekly e-mail updates.[3]


Following a post-election hiatus, the Crystal Ball re-launched on January 27, 2003, to cover the 2004 election cycle.[3] In addition to continuing its e-mail newsletter and website analysis, the Crystal Ball sent correspondents to both the Democratic National Convention in Boston and the Republican National Convention in New York City. On Election Day, the Crystal Ball correctly predicted 434 of the 435 U.S. House races (99.7%), 33 of 34 U.S. Senate races (97%), 10 of 11 governor's races (91%), and 48 of 50 states in the presidential Electoral College (96%).[4]


The Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism found that the Crystal Ball "probably came closer than any other of the 10 top political predictors" on the 2006 election cycle.[5] During the 2006 election cycle the Crystal Ball added House Race Editor Dave Wasserman and expanded its election coverage and analysis. The Crystal Ball correctly predicted a 29-seat pick-up for Democrats in the House and 6 seat pick-up in the Senate.[6]


In August 2007, the Crystal Ball added political analyst and author Rhodes Cook to its team, a veteran of Congressional Quarterly and editor of the America Votes series.[7] Also in 2007, House Race Editor Dave Wasserman left to assume that same position at the Cook Political Report and was replaced by Isaac Wood.

In July 2008, when many analysts were predicting a tight race for President, the Crystal Ball published an essay which correctly projected that Barack Obama would win in a near-landslide.[8]

In the elections of November 2008, the Crystal Ball correctly predicted 421 of 435 U.S. House races (97%), 34 of 35 U.S. Senate races (97%), and 11 of 11 gubernatorial races (100%). In the presidential election, the Crystal Ball predicted an Electoral College victory of 364 to 174 for Democrat Barack Obama, a total which was just one vote off of the final tally.[9][10]


In November 2010, Crystal Ball projected that Republicans would pick up 55 seats in the House of Representatives.[11] The Republicans picked up 63 House seats. It predicted a pickup of 8 seats in the Senate for Republicans.[12] The Republicans picked up 6 Senate seats.[13]


In 2012, Crystal Ball projected that Obama would win the presidency 290 electoral votes to 248 for Mitt Romney; there would be no change in composition of the Senate with Democrats at 53 and Republicans at 47; and Democrats would pick up 3 seats in the House of Representatives making it 239 Republicans and 196 Democrats.[14] Actually, incumbent Democratic President Barack Obama won 332 electoral votes, to Republican challenger Mitt Romney's 206. In the Senate, the Democrats gained a net of two seats, leaving them with a total of 53 seats. The Republicans lost a net of two seats, ending with a total of 45 seats. The remaining two senators, both independents, caucused with the Democrats, leaving the majority party with a combined total of 55 seats. House Republicans retained a 234 to 201 seat majority.


In 2014, the Crystal Ball predicted that Republicans would win control of the U.S. Senate and hold the House, while also retaining the majority of state governorships. However, they underestimated the magnitude of Republican victories, incorrectly calling the result in the North Carolina Senate race, where Republican Thom Tillis defeated Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan, and predicting that Republicans would pick up nine net House seats, when they actually gained thirteen. Additionally, they predicted that the Democratic candidates would win the governorships of Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Maine and Maryland, when Republicans won all five, although they correctly predicted the Republican gains in Arkansas and Massachusetts, and the defeats of Republican incumbents Tom Corbett in Pennsylvania and Sean Parnell in Alaska.[15]


In the 2016 election, Crystal Ball projected that Democrat Hillary Clinton would win the presidency 322 electoral votes to 216 for Republican Donald Trump. They predicted a 50 - 50 senate, and for the Democrats to pick up 13 seats in the House of Representatives, making it 201 Democrats and 234 Republicans.[16]

It would turn out to be the most inaccurate prediction in the history of the Crystal Ball, with Sabato saying "Well, what can we say — we blew it."[17]

The Crystal Ball incorrectly predicted Hillary Clinton to win Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Michigan, all states that they had predicted as leaning for Hillary Clinton, as well as Wisconsin, a state they had rated as even safer for Clinton, all predicting she would get 90 more electoral votes than she actually had pledged to her. They incorrectly predicted that senators Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania would be defeated, which would have caused a 50-50 tie in the Senate when combined with the correct predictions of Democratic gains in Illinois and New Hampshire. Crystal Ball overstated the size of the Democrats gains in the house, they picked up 6 seats instead of 13. They failed to predict Republicans retaining the governorship of Indiana, and picking up the governorship of New Hampshire. They summarized by saying "...we were wrong. The Crystal Ball is shattered."[17]


The Crystal Ball's success rate was much higher in the 2018 midterms; they correctly predicted the outcome of every U.S. Senate race, with the exception of Florida, where Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson narrowly lost to Republican Rick Scott. They slightly underestimated the number of Democratic gains in the U.S. House, as Democrats picked up a net of 40 seats, as opposed to the Crystal Ball's prediction of 34, while overestimating the number of governorships Democrats would gain, incorrectly predicting that Democrats would win Florida, Iowa and Ohio, while believing that Georgia would go to a runoff election. In fact, Republicans held all of the former three, and Republican candidate Brian Kemp narrowly won without a runoff in Georgia.[18]


  1. ^ Samuels, Brett (August 23, 2018). "Election handicapper moves 10 races toward Dems". The Hill. Retrieved 6 September 2018.
  2. ^ Petroski, William (July 24, 2018). "Young-Axne race for Congress in Iowa rated as 'toss-up' by Sabato's Crystal Ball". Des Moines Register. Retrieved 6 September 2018.
  3. ^ a b c "ELECTION 2002: How the CB fared..." (PDF). University of Virginia Center for Politics.
  4. ^ "A Look Back, A Look Forward". University of Virginia Center for Politics. November 9, 2004. Archived from the original on February 13, 2008.
  5. ^ "The Election Pundits...Who Got Closest?". Project for Excellence in Journalism, Pew Research Center. November 13, 2006.
  6. ^ "News Networks Recognize Success of 'Sabato's Crystal Ball'". UVA Today. University of Virginia. November 10, 2006. Archived from the original on December 15, 2012.
  7. ^ "'Sabato's Crystal Ball' Adds Analyst and Author Rhodes Cook". University of Virginia Center for Politics. August 9, 2007.
  8. ^ "The Myth of a Toss-Up Election". July 24, 2008.
  9. ^ "The Last Last Word". November 3, 2008. Archived from the original on December 25, 2008.
  10. ^ "The Election Without End". November 6, 2008. Archived from the original on December 19, 2008.
  11. ^ 2010 Election Special November 1, 2012
  12. ^ Election Eve Special November 1, 2010
  13. ^ GOP picks up Senate seats but falls short of majority November 3, 2010
  14. ^ "Larry J. Sabato's Crystal Ball » PROJECTION: OBAMA WILL LIKELY WIN SECOND TERM". Retrieved 11 August 2015.
  15. ^ Sabato, Larry J.; Kondik, Kyle; Skelley, Geoffrey. "Crystal Ball 2014: So how'd we do? – Sabato's Crystal Ball".
  16. ^ "Larry J. Sabato's Crystal Ball » Our Final 2016 picks". 2016-11-07. Retrieved 2018-09-06.
  17. ^ a b "Larry J. Sabato's Crystal Ball » Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa". 2016-11-09. Retrieved 2018-09-06.
  18. ^ Sabato, Larry J.; Kondik, Kyle. "How'd we do? – Sabato's Crystal Ball".

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