Friday, October 15, 2010

Catch of the Day 1 (Palin in 2008)

Jonathan Chait pulls out all the research from political scientists so that I don't have to, to show that, yes, Sarah Palin was almost certainly a drag on John McCain in 2008. 

One thing I'd add to Chait's takedown of Matthew Continetti, who argues that Palin's selection energized the GOP base. The missing piece there is opportunity cost.  Yes, had McCain selected (pro-choice Democrat) Joe Lieberman, the base would have been further demoralized.  But that wasn't a realistic possibility.  No, McCain, who was always eyed suspiciously by conservatives, had little choice but to select someone who conservatives would be happy with.  Indeed, if there was one thing in summer 2008 that was pretty inevitable, it was that as the primaries receded and the prospect of a Barack Obama presidency started to loom large, the conservative base would find some reason to get enthusiastic about the McCain-Whoever ticket.  If it wasn't Palin, it would have been something else. 

And for everyone else, Sarah Palin in 2008 was a clear negative.


  1. Wait, why isn't Lieberman an appropriate null hypothesis? Everything I've read suggests that, about a week earlier, McCain was set to go with Lieberman or Ridge(? Less sure on Ridge, but I know it was someone pro-choice). At that point, though, he heard from convention folks that either would be rejected on the floor.

    I think that it's best not to approach the whole thing in a traditional way: that is, null hypothesis => how much more or less did person X get than null. I think it's to treat no one outcome as a null, and come up with predictions for each member from a list derived somehow (Sigelman's method from his paper on VP selection suggests itself.) Generate confidence intervals, and compare them all.

  2. Has exciting the party base ever been sufficient to win an election? I suppose you could make a case for 2004, but that was such a close race a whole number of factors need to be considered. Moreover, Bush didn't turn off independents and moderates in droves, the way Palin did.

    Whenever I hear people like Continetti make this argument about 2008, I almost get the feeling they're being willfully obtuse. They treat Palin's impact on all non-base voters as virtually irrelevant, even though the base only constitutes a minority of the electorate. Many Palinites seem to live under the delusion that they constitute some kind of silent majority. But Continetti surely knows better, and so his attempt to dodge this point is particularly curious.

  3. Yeah, while Bush certainly energized his base in 2004, he didn't really piss off moderates. It's not like being anti-gay-marriage was a minority position back then, and he did plenty of other things that moderates could like (Tax cuts, Medicare Part D, 9-11 response).

    Palin, however, actively agitated moderates, and didn't really offer them anything (besides some vague pro-Hillary rhetoric).

  4. >besides some vague pro-Hillary rhetoric

    That's another thing. Remember all the bold predictions that she would attract hoards of disgruntled Hillary voters? You don't hear Palin apologists bring that up anymore.

  5. According to what I've read, after Lieberman was definitely off the list, Pawlenty was still on it as the 'safe' fallback, in case the perfunctory vetting of Palin had turned up something intolerable.


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