Monday, January 30, 2012

Is Florida About Money or the Party?

One of the things that you're going to hear a lot of is that Mitt Romney's big win in Florida tomorrow -- and per the polling, it looks certain -- wasn't caused by debates or Newt's crazy moon rhetoric or the support of party leaders, but by Romney's money advantage. Jonathan Chait, for example:
Mitt Romney is pulling away in Florida, which has less to do with a “more focused message” or increased “swagger,” or any other narrative the press reads into it, than a simple ability to spend Newt Gingrich into the ground. (The television ad disparity has been about four to one.)
I agree with this to some extent, but there's another major factor involved, which is the spin control exercised by party leaders.

It's not just that a significant number of GOP opinion leaders were bashing Newt. What's probably more important is that as far as I can see absolutely no one -- with the exception of Sarah Palin, I guess -- hit Romney for running a vicious attack campaign against a fellow Republican. Meanwhile, Newt was severely disciplined by those same opinion leaders when he (and Rick Perry) attacked Romney's business practices.

Imagine, for example, if Rick Perry had done well and it was a Romney/Perry race, with party leaders splitting between them but believing both were acceptable. I strongly suspect that if Romney went all scorched earth against Perry in that scenario that many neutral party leaders would start talking about how Ronald Reagan never ran a negative ad in his life (doesn't matter if it's true or not) and about how Romney should dial it back some. They might also quietly warn Romney that if he didn't cut back that he'd feel the consequences in fundraising and other resources. Meanwhile, Perry would have plenty of surrogates to go on every Fox News program to knock the ads down, and those surrogates would have a very sympathetic hearing much of the time.

Remember, we're talking here about GOP primary voters. That's a relatively high-information group. Virtually all of them, I'd guess, watch Fox News instead of CNN (or, obviously, MSNBC). Quite a few of them listen to Rush Limbaugh or other conservative talk radio hosts, and some of them read conservative blogs. Remember too that most of them are inclined to like all of the candidates: after all, they're all on Team GOP. So they may tend to resist stuff they're hearing in ads if they also hear evidence to the contrary from their favorite talk radio show. After all, we expect each and every one of them to completely discount the attacks they'll be seeing from Barack Obama in a few months. But if party leaders are inviting Romney to continue, even if that's just by staying quiet, well, that's going to make a difference.

It's also worth mentioning that fundraising is connected to party support, so the fact that Romney has such a large lead is at least to some extent a function of party choice, and not Romney's abilities.

On the whole, then, I suspect that what's happening in Florida is very much a party story, and even less of a candidate story than one might think.

11 comments:

  1. I thought something like this would happen, particularly after South Carolina. The reactions about Newt's win there made it obvious that he was considered a serious threat not just to Romney, but to the Party as a whole. With Romney, they seem to be (unofficially) resigned to losing the White House, but keeping the House - and possibly gaining the Senate. With Gingrich, all bets are off.

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    1. FWIW, I don't think nominating Romney would be a sign that GOP "party actors", to use our gracious host's phrase, are resigned to losing the White House. In fact, there's pretty good evidence that many key GOP party actors think Romney is their best remaining chance at taking the White House---and winning as many congressional races as possible.

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  2. Weather Channel, JB. Weather channel.

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  3. JB, I wouldn't discount the money part though. Yes, nobody is rushing to Newt's defense. But, if Romney wasn't running any ads, he wouldn't need that defense.

    I would say that this is a situation where the predictions of a few theories (party decides, ads influence voters, and the democratic ideal of people deciding between the candidates as they learn more through debates/TV/reading/friends/whatever) are all perfectly aligned. All 3 of those theories say Romney wins.

    I'm partial to the party argument, of course, but we're not getting a very clean test of it.

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    1. Norbrook:

      With Romney, they seem to be (unofficially) resigned to losing the White House . . .

      In what way does that seem to be so?

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  4. This has been another installment in "how nomination processes actually work". Unfortunately, you'll never hear this from the media, because they are invested in being able to put on a television show every four years.

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  5. Spoke with a 'traditional NE Republican' family member retired to FL a couple days ago; she didn't like any of them. She felt they were attacking her social security and Medicare as 'socialism,' and were too hawkish.

    She said she'd like to vote for Paul because he spoke sense on military spending, except she also thought it was a throw-away vote. My guess is that she'll stay home, and not vote in the primary.

    I really wonder how many other FL seniors have heard the same message: their health insurance and income are socialism?

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  6. ...GOP primary voters. That's a relatively high-information group

    According to Rasmussen, last Monday Gingrich had a 41%-32% lead on Romney. This Monday, Rasmussen has Romney up 44%-28% on Gingrich, so (more or less) 1/3 of the Florida Republican primary electorate, previously for Gingrich, has switched to Romney in the past week.

    Presumably those high-information voters settled on Gingrich last Monday as the culmination (to that point) of many months of the campaign, including much analysis in the multivariate media of Newt's many shortcomings. The theory here is: in the past 7 days those same voters have been treated to a heavy dose of more of the same anti-Gingrich - a pretty thinly-veiled pro-Romney dose - with the party machine sitting passively by, - and yet this renewal, transparently Romney-driven, of old Gingrich information was enough to cause 1/3 of the Gingrich voters to switch sides in a mere week?

    I think I'd push back against the idea that the party movers stood idly by. Its at least worth another look, perhaps by examining the messaging in the partisan right-wing media, as to whether there was active support for Romney in the past seven days. It seems plausible to me that there has been a fierce internecine war in the GOP over Romney v. anti-Romney (how else do you explain 2 boomlets for Gingrich?), with perhaps the pro-Romney group finally winning that battle a week ago.

    Granting that you should never underestimate the passive indolence of the average voter, it nevertheless seems odd that 1/3 of the Gingrich voters left for the other side for, really, little better reason than the other side asked them to. Seems like there has to be more to this story than that.

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    1. CSH, folks who are more expert election/polling watchers than I should jump in---particularly if I'm wrong---but isn't it fairly common for a large segment of pretty much any electorate to make up/change their minds in the final 10 days of a campaign?

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    2. Maybe this is more an ego/id battle. Newt is (surprise) the id with all the enjoyment of giving in to your base urges and all the blowback too. I can't call Mitt the super-ego, but he is practical, throws out some tempered red meat, but reminds people to think about the consequences. Does Newt ever talk about consequences? Heh, heh.

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    3. @massappeal, I think you're almost certainly right that a big part of the electorate makes up its mind at the end of the campaign. But 1/3 of the previously-committed voters? In a highly-visible, ideologically-contentious primary such as this one? That seems unlikely to me, but I'm a rank amateur in the cheap seats; I could obviously be wrong.

      Since I still have the floor, here's an amateur frame driving my thought - suppose we split Gingrich's support in 3 groups; the first 1/3 are deep right-wing partisan Tea Party types, Romney-as-liberal haters who (somewhat irrationally) see Gingrich as the antidote to the curse of triangulation in the modern Republican party. The second third like Gingrich because of fond memories of 1994 and other, less entrenched feelings, together with a vague global antipathy to Romney. The "third" third is even more passive, liking Gingrich because Fox News said nice things about him last week in the wake of the SC primary.

      If the frame is approximately correct, only the third group should be moved by a scorched earth advertising campaign by Romney, as the first two groups would (in theory) have decided for Gingrich net of his many weaknesses. If Romney really converted 1/3 of Gingrich's support, and my frame is correct, then Romney's scorced earth arguably flipped every last passive Gingrich supporter.

      Even if my assumptions are directionally correct, it strikes me as unlikely that, in a campaign like this, Romney could make that kind of move without help from the machine. But, as with everything I post here, really, what the heck do I know?

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