ANCHORAGE - A longtime Alaska pollster has a theory of why his pre-election predictions were off base.
David Dittman of Anchorage issued a last-minute prediction on Election Day as polls closed.
He said Democrat Mark Begich would win the U.S. Senate race by 8 percentage points and Democrat Ethan Berkowitz would win the U.S. House race by 7 points percent.
Instead, incumbent Republicans Ted Stevens and Don Young hold leads in the respective races, with thousands of votes still to be counted.
Dittman has forecast Alaska elections for 38 years. He could not believe he was so far off.
"Afterward, you look at it and say, 'Holy cow! How could I have seen this coming?"' he said.
Dittman said he couldn't believe his eyes when the vote numbers began to roll in.
"I thought it was a mistake on the screen," Dittman said. "I was totally surprised. I thought the state had made a mistake and had the candidates reversed."
Dittman at first thought that Republican votes brought in by enthusiasm for Gov. Sarah Palin on the national ticket had overwhelmed Democratic candidates.
With a few days to reflect, he has a new theory. He now believes many Alaska Democrats stayed home, afraid of long lines at the polls and confident Barack Obama was going to win anyway.
"People thought there would be long lines, and they were told that they'd better bring a book, and if you go vote it's gonna be hours, it's going to be cold outside," Dittman said. "And I think a lot of people thought, who would have otherwise voted Democratic, thought, 'Why should I endure that and spend all that time outside in the cold if my candidates don't need my vote? They're going to win anyway."'
A spokeswoman for the Alaska Democratic party said Dittman's theory may be right.
"I don't know, I mean that is very well plausible," said Bethany Lesser. "I think that it's disappointing how few people came out this year."
If Dittman is right, it adds fuel to the debate about whether polls predict elections or shape them.
"I think it does affect turnout in the sense that people ... especially if they thought it was going to be uncomfortable to vote, with long lines and cold weather, people that thought their vote wasn't needed, that their guy was going to win anyway, stayed home," Dittman said.
Dittman said he knows many people are glad to see a pollster miss the mark.
"They don't like the idea of someone knowing ahead of time everything that's going to happen," he said.
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