Monday, November 29, 2010

Oy, Kurtz

Howard Kurtz thinks (unspecified, uncited) conventional wisdom is wrong, and Sarah Palin is running a brilliant campaign (via Goddard):
But I’m starting to believe the detractors are wrong and that Palin is executing a shrewd strategy that has catapulted her past potential rivals, co-opting the same media establishment she loves to denigrate. Even her recent hints about running for president—if indeed she’s willing to subject herself to constant journalistic scrutiny—are designed to stoke interest in her now that midterm madness has faded. 
"Catapulted her past potential rivals" -- really?  

McClatchy-Marist last week had Palin a sad third in their nomination polling, at only 13%, just a few ticks ahead of Newt Gingrich (who almost no one likes) and Chris Christie (who almost no one has heard of).  Granted, she did do a bit better on the Q poll the previous week, but at best she's right now even, nationally, with Romney and Huckabee.  

Which is about where she was, and perhaps a bit worse than where she was, in 2009.  The very first 2012 matchup collected by the folks at PollingReport was a CNN poll from February 2009, which had Palin first with 29%.  Now, these things do bounce around a lot, but she was over 20% in several 2009 polls -- and none of the 2010 polls. And meanwhile, her overall poll ratings hardly provide evidence that her media strategy is working, although she does seem to have ended the erosion of her numbers and perhaps picked up slightly over the last couple of months.

(Of course, it's hard to separate the effects of media strategy from other effects.  Still, at this point, it's not as if there are a lot of other reasons to expect changes in the rank of the top GOP candidates.  I suppose one question would be whether her resignation counts as part of her media strategy or not; the evidence seems to be that she, at least, thought of it that way).

So I think it's hard to argue that whatever Sarah Palin has done in the last eighteen months has helped her chances to win the GOP nomination in 2012.  Of course, tweeting, Facebook, a reality show and Fox News have collectively been better than hiding under a rock.  And perhaps Palin simply couldn't handle a conventional media strategy, which would involve actually talking to real reporters.  So it's possible that, given who she is, she's making the best of a bad situation.  But my guess is that she could in fact handle real interviews with real reporters (it's not that hard), and that she would be better off had she done so. 


  1. Jonathan,

    Setting aside political journalists' fascination with Palin, how would you say she fits into an academic political scientist's research interests? Which poli-sci specialities would consider her a subject worth researching?

    For instance, you've discussed Palin in terms of party networks. I could also see how a scholar would find her treatment by and use of the media interesting.

    Are there political scientists of other specialities who would look at her and actually see something warranting analysis?

  2. Interesting to compare Palin's current polling vs. other VP candidates on failed tickets, as potential party nominees in the next cycle. Edwards at this point (late '06) was way behind Hillary nationally, and polling around 10% in a group w/ Obama and Gore. In late '02 Liebermann was single-digits, fourth place (behind candidates who didn't run, like Gore & Hillary). Kemp was in single digits late '98. Not sure about Bentsen in '90; I'm pretty sure he was considered in the mix at that point, but I don't know if there are poll numbers.

    Obviously these examples are all different, for various reasons, but I'm not sure Palin looks all that different from her predecessors.

  3. You have to think about what Palin is campaigning for. She is a highly successful media whore, who has become rich and famous because she elicits a media frenzy, at this point pretty much just by existing. It reminds of the old definition of a celebrity: someone who is well-known for being famous.

    There is not much between her ears, but I think that even she realizes that being president is damned hard, places one under harsher scrutiny, and is less rewarding financially than what she is doing right now. Why would she want anything like that?

    And, other than name recognition and the rabid support of the religious right, what does she have to run on - quitting the governor's job in mid-term?

    It's entirely possible that by this time in 2012 she will be a fading memory. I wonder who will be getting more Google hits then - Palin or Lady Gaga. Maybe they will have both outlived their 15 minutes of limelight.

    Or so we can hope.


  4. Jazz:
    I can think of one thing she would want out of being president: attention, even more than she gets now.

    I find Palin really interesting from a "candidate quality" perspective. By the rough measure used by, say, Jacobson (who admits it's a rough measure), she's a "quality candidate" because she's previously held an elective office. By more sophisticated measures (Krasno & Green is the most widely known alternative, but it's been a little cottage industry the last few years at APSA) it's a tougher call. Is she a "celebrity" as you define the term? Not quite: she WAS the candidate for VP. But, everything about her screams that. I could go on with the other factors people include in their measures, but much of them don't really address Palin.

  5. I think an important, as yet unknowable variable impacting Palin's strategy is what kind of election season the GOP presidential candidate will encounter in 2012.

    Will the economy still be in the dumps? Will other traditional headwinds be facing Obama, as they appear to be today? Or will factors be more favorable for his re-election bid?

    If unemployment is still in the mid-teens, the country has been through one - or more - additional recessions, and gloom pervades, then I could see the argument for Palin doubling down on alienation and antiestablishmentarianism, such as risking charges of racism in attacking Michelle Obama, or generally sticking her middle finger at anyone and everyone.

    If the economic/cultural pendula swing back in Obama's direction, Palin's approach is probably insane, as it is so utterly unlikely to persuade any persuadable voter (assuming they need to be persuaded).

    All that said, if I were advising Palin, I think I would have encouraged her to plan for a competitive 2012 landscape, by reaching out now to the persuadable masses, as it seems obvious that it is far easier to switch from engagement to alienation (if appropriate in late 2011) than the other way around. That no one, apparently, so advised Palin is perhaps an indication of the low quality of her team.

  6. C-SPAN played a video of a speech Huck gave to an Iowa social conservative group yesterday. The views expressed in the speech were similar to Palin. The delivery was nothing like the Wasilla Carnival Act. Huck can give a speech as well as anyone in politics today. It is hard for me to see how anyone who sees Huck in depth would back Palin. Huck does not make social conservatives look dumb like Palin does. I think they will support someone who makes them look wise instead of someone who looks frivolous.

  7. I think it also matters how widespread the GOP field is. Palin has a hard core of supporters who aren't going to be turned off between now and then, but she's also going to find it very hard to broaden that support.

    By primary season, she'll probably have the fervent support of roughly 25 percent of the Republican electorate. If she goes into Iowa and New Hampshire facing off against just Romney and Huckabee, she'll get slaughtered. But if she's going against Romney and Huckabee and Gingrich and Thune and Pawlenty and Christie, she might just eke out a plurality and get some momentum going.

  8. Anon,

    In addition to what Jarvis said, I'm sure there are plenty of other things...from a research point of view, she's data, and to the extent that she's unusual in some ways that helps get some variation in some variables that tend not to vary much. So her candidacy (assuming it happens) might wind up useful in studying the effects of candidate appearances, or other electioneering stuff.

    For my own interests other than party networks, there's stuff there about representation and ambition that's interesting.

  9. Jonathan Bernstein:

    But my guess is that she could in fact handle real interviews with real reporters (it's not that hard), and that she would be better off had she done so.

    She can't even handle Bill O'Reilly.

  10. >She can't even handle Bill O'Reilly.

    It makes sense. O'Reilly is an egomaniac, and although as a Fox employee he can't openly attack Palin, I sense he's irked that this platitude-spouting know-nothing is getting all the attention.

  11. Maybe O'Reilly likes Romney.

  12. That would make sense too. Rom is the only one of the Big Four not currently employed by Fox.

  13. Big Four? Please tell me you're not counting Newt as a serious contender for the nomination.

  14. He is among the top four in most polls, right?


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