Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Candidates, Ideology, and Campaign Effects

There's a lot more to be said about the recent discussion of election forecasting, which now includes a very long post by Nate Silver today (and see Brendan Nyhan's excellent response). I'm interested in the forecasting question, but for now I want to just make a more narrow point about candidates and ideology.

Silver writes:
One of those variables is the left-right ideology of the candidate, which I do include in my model and which political scientists have sometimes included in the past...It does not seem plausible, meanwhile, as some political scientists’ models imply, that the difference between Representative Michele Bachmann or Mitt Romney would amount to only 1 or 2 points at the polls.
Well, of course it does not seem plausible. Romney is a normal presidential candidate with reasonably normal credentials who has shown fairly strong campaign skills and is probably on his way to winning a  nomination fairly easily despite in some ways being a fairly bad fit for his party in ways that shouldn't much harm him in the general election. Michele Bachmann is a fringe crackpot who talks about a worldwide nuclear war against Israel and the socialist plot to replace Medicare with market-based insurance and how if we'd all emulate Communist China we'd be far better off; she's such a fringe figure that despite being a current Member of the House she hasn't managed to score a single endorsement from her colleagues there. Yes, a bit of that might properly be classified as ideology, but not most of it.

We can analyze the effects of ideology on presidential vote because we have examples to work from. There is no example of a major party in modern times coming even vaguely close to nominating someone without conventional credentials such as Bachmann or Prince Herman, or even a thrice-married, scandal-tarred former Speaker who has been out of office for over a decade and has ever-multiplying skeletons in his various closets. So we really don't know what kind of effect that would have on the general election, and it's very plausible to believe it could be far higher than the normal apparent penalty for ideological extremism. Or not! After all, we would be in a world in which someone, for example, who apparently knows virtually nothing about US foreign policy and national security would be able to win a major party nomination, and who knows what they world would be like?

12 comments:

  1. I just sent a comment to Nate's site (awaiting approval), but I see you've given better examples of a point I articulated: Bachmann would probably be a weak general-election candidate because she's such a polarizing and divisive figure, given to saying off-the-wall things that are hard to measure on an "ideological" scale but which are likely to be a big turnoff to general-election voters. If Romney had been saying things like that (and he's come close every now and then, as in his remark that "We are only inches away from ceasing to be a free-market economy"), he wouldn't be any less the creator of universal health care in MA or a former supporter of abortion rights.

    Similarly, Nate previously scored Rick Perry as a more extreme candidate than Herman Cain (and maybe he is, though it isn't easy to compare the records of an 11-year governor and a pizza man). I find it hard to believe Cain would be the stronger general-election contender of the two. He is, again, a highly polarizing type, given to talking about Democrat plantations and real black men, and that's not to mention the sheer amateurishness of his campaign so far.

    Matt Glassman had a post recently in which he argued that the fundamentals work because nominees usually measure up to a certain minimum standard of competence, and that there's always the potential for them to fall well below that threshold, in which case it can have quite a significant impact on the race (and he thinks Palin's 2008 vp bid is one example)--but that in practice, this usually doesn't happen. Following this argument, a Romney nomination will probably make the election more conventional and fundamentals-based, whereas some of the other candidates have a high potential to screw things up in unique ways.

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  2. "...she's such a fringe figure that despite being a current Member of the House she hasn't managed to score a single endorsement from her colleagues there."

    .

    Well, if you notice, Beltway types aren't really the most popular people around, and if I was a presidential candidate right now, I'd tell them all to save their endorsements (just send cash). Let's hope the political commentariat isn't working off such ancient beliefs, because they could be in for a rude surprise.

    Has there ever been a modern presidential election in this country where the Left didn't shriek that the R candidates were dumb/stupid/crazy/nazi/unelectable/whatever? I can't recall such an election, if there's been such.

    It's just impossible for the Left to comment coherently on anything but lefty politics. Every candidate is a nail, and they're a hammer.

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  3. I just don't buy it. Would Johnson really have won such a big landslide in 1964 against Rockefeller? Would Nixon have won such a big landslide in 1972 against Muskie or Humphrey? Although those elections did take place under strong economic growth, the economy wasn't really the dominant theme of the campaigns and the perceived extremism of the challengers divided even their own parties (unlike 1984 which really was all about the economy).

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  4. "Has there ever been a modern presidential election in this country where the Left didn't shriek that the R candidates were dumb/stupid/crazy/nazi/unelectable/whatever? I can't recall such an election, if there's been such."

    You had me until this point. I can't recall Jimmy Carter or Mondale calling Reagan dumb/stupid/crazy/nazi/unelectable. Then again, I was 17 and getting ready for my first vote. I also don't recall that stuff about GHW Bush, but I do remember concern about his credentials with the CIA. Dole was actually crazy and unelectable, so it didn't matter what anyone said about him. GW Bush too, except he had more going for him than Dole. McCain demonstrated his unelectability the second he put Palin on his ticket instead of Lieberman, which he wanted to do.

    And the mudslinging goes both ways. Lee Atwater and Karl Rove were master hammerers. In 2004, the right had a field day with Howard Dean and all he ever did was get really excited in public. And let's not forget the Swift Boat Veterans for "Truth." That was about as lethal a hammer as you could get.

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  5. Has there ever been a modern presidential election in this country where the Right didn't shriek that the L candidates were un-American or anti-American?

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  6. Eric, go to Living Room Candidate and watch the Jimmy Carter ads. In them, he implies that Reagan is stupid, not a Christian, unelectable, extreme, and a range of other stuff. That's the reality of the election of 1980. Reagan's campaign centered on Carter's poor handling of the economy and foreign policy. That's the reality of it. Don't take my word for it though- go look yourself.

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  7. Has there ever been a modern presidential election in this country where the Left didn't shriek that the R candidates were dumb/stupid/crazy/nazi/unelectable/whatever?

    But some of these things can be quantified by data. In this election, I'm sure you'd agree, a candidate who backed massive tax increases to fund government health care, pouring billions of dollars into failing banks, and instituting amnesty for illegals would never make it in the race for the GOP nomination. Why do you think that is?

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  8. Has there ever been a modern presidential election in this country where the Left didn't shriek that the R candidates were dumb/stupid/crazy/nazi/unelectable/whatever?

    But some of these things can be quantified by data. In this election, I'm sure you'd agree...


    .

    You mean, they can be quantified by "data"... as in... the number of lefty bloggers and journ-0-listas who shriek "crazy/nazi/racist/stupid/unelectable"? ;-)

    And fyi, part of the Left's hammer/nail approach to political commentary involves making conclusive statements such as "I'm sure you'd agree..." This is why they're incapable of commenting coherently on anything but lefty politics. They're "sure"... but they're also blind. We're seeing it right here in this discussion.

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  9. You mean, they can be quantified by "data"... as in... the number of lefty bloggers and journ-0-listas who shriek "crazy/nazi/racist/stupid/unelectable"? ;-)

    You didn't answer my question. Why is it that anyone who held the positions I described could not be a viable GOP candidate today?

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  10. Read through my post, dig out what's there, try to understand it, and then we can discuss your "question", not that your question has much use to anybody, but I'll play along with your script here for a bit, if you discipline yourself.

    Just a hint, in that post, I've mildly attacked the basis of your question. You should start there then, and establish its basis. That's how you lefties can begin to see.

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  11. Why don't you answer his bloody question instead of preening like a jackass?

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  12. It's not doing him any good to answer his "question", whatever rhetorical swamp it is. His question won't remove the blinders, which it seems all lefties have towards anything but lefty politics. That's what this discussion is about, at root.

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