Monday, December 19, 2011

Quick Iowa Notes

A quick set of bullet points on Iowa, given the new polls, which confirm that Gingrich is collapsing.

1. Everything is still very iffy. All the polling that I've seen so far, and granted I haven't looked really closely at the newest ones (still on the road, so I'm not following things quite the way I normally do) indicates that almost all of the support for all the non-Paul candidates is weak.

2. Therefore, don't assume that Ron Paul is going to win Iowa. He might, but there's no real way of knowing right now where all the undecideds or weakly decideds go, including the chance that they stay home. Do use Nate Silver's prediction model (which has it Paul/Romney/Perry right this minute), but remember that his model is extremely limited by design: it basically just takes a straight line from where the polls are now to the caucuses.

3. Remember that what matters out of Iowa is the spin.

4. Remember that the spin will be influenced by two main things: press biases, and party actors.

5. I count three big relevant press biases. One is that "news" trumps "not news", which means that surprises get more coverage than whatever is expected to happen -- which is where the expectations game really does matter. The second is that the press has limited capacity, and can only really handle one big and one minor story line. The third is that there's a press bias in favor of portraying the nomination contest as close and uncertain.

6. The story on party influence on spin is of course that it matters a lot how united the party is. If party actors are close to united against a candidate (Newt!) or if large factions are strongly against a candidate (Ron Paul!), then they will attempt to spin against that candidate.

7. Add that up? If a trailing candidate (Perry, Bachmann, Santorum) jumps into the top three, that's a story. If Romney finishes out of the top three, that's a story. It probably matters a lot less the order of the finish among the top candidates (although certainly if Perry, Bachmann, or Santorum beats Romney, that becomes the big story of the night. But Paul/Romney and Romney/Paul are basically the same story, probably (although not necessarily, because spin isn't entirely predictable).

8. And, as always, a good night for an implausible nominee may well affect then next couple weeks or even the shape of the race going forward, but almost certainly doesn't transform that candidate into a viable option.

9. Apparently over the last three days Rick Perry has actually lost ground on Intrade. That's nuts!

10. I'll be back regularly on Wednesday, flight connections willing, but just to confirm: I'm still saying that there's around a 95% chance that Romney or Perry is the nominee, and that Romney is more likely than Perry. And, yeah, I'm a little bitter that (as far as I know) no one is linking back to any of my "really no Newt has no chance" posts. But, you know...


  1. Don't worry, Jonathan, people are just waiting for Newt to be safely defeated before they link back to your posts!

  2. Was thinking about Romney today on the occasion of Kim Jong Il's passing. In particular, the phony hero worship of the Dear Leader, funded by the state. Somewhat similarly, Romney's Presidential gravitas has been purchased largely with Romney's own dollars.

    Is there another modern major party candidate who spent as much of his own dough building the image that we really like him/her?

  3. CSH: While neither has spent as much as Romney in raw dollars, n a dollar per voter basis, I think both Meg Whitman and Linda McMahon have spent way more than Romney has, with results about as impressive as his.

  4. @Everyone, If you go back to 2008, Romney was liked. He was second only to Fred Thompson among the more conservative wing of the Republican party. What's changed since then is that hating ACA has been the steamroller in the Republican party, and it's run over Romney.

    I saw this when I was researching the origins of the Tea Party movement. For an example of Romney admiration, read this post (about 1/3 of the way down).

  5. Another bit of media spin is that "Ron Paul can't win." Now that's an entirely reasonable thing to say, but if the media continues to disregard Paul on that basis, even after an Iowa win, then NH voters may be in a mood to prove it false.

    The Iowa GOP establishment, which is panicked over the prospects of a Paul win, is showing a similar contempt for the will of voters. According to the Speaker of the Iowa House, the participation of independents in the Caucus constitutes "perverting the process." That's right, Paul has yet to win a single vote and we're already being told that there's something perverse about the democratic process. This will feed the conspiracy theorists for years to come...;-)

  6. If Paul were to win in Iowa, that would certainly play into the "news"/"not news" press bias and it should generate a ton of attention.

    I have some sympathy for the Iowa Speaker, though, quite apart from the question of Ron Paul supporters. The party ought to be able to pick its own candidates. If independents want a say, let them join the party.

  7. "The party ought to be able to pick its own candidates. If independents want a say, let them join the party."

    I respect your point of view, but I couldn't disagree more. The party nomination process is integral to our democratic system -- every qualified voter should have the opportunity to vote for any qualified candidate. Democracy should serve the people, not the parties.

    But if states like Iowa decide to restrict participation in the Caucuses to party members only, then it might make more sense for Ron Paul to run as a third party candidate. Of course, this is potentially an even more disastrous outcome for the GOP.

    The thing is, major parties don't want voters to have any viable choices outside of the traditional partisan options. No one in the Iowa GOP thinks that Paul is a Democratic plant – what worries them is that he will provoke a political awakening among voters who support limited government, peace and individual liberty.

  8. @Neil Haha, that's right, people are just waiting for that day to come. :)

  9. Couves, major parties are very happy for voters to have viable choices outside of the traditional partisan options! They'd just like those viable choices to hurt their opponents and not them. The Republicans would be very happy for the Green Party to rise so that instead of 50D-50R, the composition of legislatures went 10G-25D-65R.


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