Be prepared. You will see the pundits hold forth on the outcomes in Virginia, New Jersey, and NY’s 23rd district “mean” for the Republicans, the Democrats, Obama, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and Lord knows what else.
The correct answer will be: I don’t know. One, two, three, or none of the elections could reflect national politics. They could easily turn on local factors and issues. Who wins can’t tell us why they won. Exit polls, if there are any, will give us only the most tentative interpretations.
Marc Ambinder anticipates most of inevitable spin, but even he can’t resist the temptation:
…unless GOPers sweep the night, it’s going to be hard for any reasonable person to conclude that November 3 was a referendum on the entire Democratic project.
No. Even if GOPers sweep the night, it doesn’t mean that November 3 was a referendum on the entire “Democratic project,” whatever that is. I can’t see the value for either party in making inferences from such a small number of races.
On the problems in interpreting election outcomes, see this post on “mandates” from November 2008.