Thursday, November 11, 2010

When Polls Don't Matter (Presidential Nomination Edition)

I guess I must be cranky today, because I already wrote two long complaining posts, and, yup, here's #3.  I'll try to keep it short this time.

Nate Silver turns to GOP '12 today, and talks up the chances of Palin, Romney, Huckabee and Gingrich because they're currently well known, and places hypothetical bets against Thune and Pawlenty.  I think he's assuming far too much.  Thune and Pawlenty are unknown now -- but should their campaigns go well over the next twelve months, they'll be household names among Republican caucusers in Iowa by February 2012.  Early good polling based on name recognition for weak candidates really is meaningless -- see Rudy Giuliani '08, among many others.  Newt belongs in no one's top tier. And, generally, of Silver's group of four only one of them, Romney, appears to be certain to choose to run in 2012 (all four are running now, but may decide against eventually going forward).

I suppose my real point is this.  Silver refers to polls as "the objective indicators."  Polls are objective indicators, but they are not the only ones.  Others are campaign activity so far (have they build a staff?); endorsements -- or, at this stage, near-endorsements; and fundraising and fundraising capacity. 

Now, I'm not sure whether Thune or Pawlenty has a path to being in the eventual top group, as I said yesterday.  I agree with Silver that it's a bit tough to see why they would break out of the pack, although I don't agree that bland is necessarily bad -- mobilizing a faction is one way to win, but usually the party decides on someone broadly acceptable to all factions, and so bland stands a chance.  But I don't think that polling badly now is a real problem for either of them.  If they win the support of party leaders, then they'll poll well when it counts. 

At any rate: Silver also includes the Intrade odds, which I didn't mention yesterday.  I'd say that Barbour (2%), DeMint (1%), and Perry (1%) are all seriously undervalued, and if I were placing wagers that's where my money would be.


  1. That analysis I can buy, that certain candidates, from an odds-perspective, are undervalued. But remember, there is no Place or Show in a primary. Win is all.

  2. I've been thinking about sinking $50 into the undervalued Reps for fun.
    I mean, I sink $50 into overvalued roto teams every year, and look where THAT gets me!

  3. I've been steadily accumulating DeMints, and now I've put in bids on Perry and Barbour.

  4. I would short Palin and Huckabee, estimating odds for both in the neighborhood of zero.

    Why do people still take Huckabee seriously? Do they think that, if the pundits keep insisting that non-evangelical working class voters should be attracted to his 'populist economic message', it will eventually become true?

    Huckabee's limited appeal was amply demonstrated in 2008. The 2012 primary electorate will be more libertarianish because of Tea Party energy, and more moderate in open primaries because the Democrats won't have a competitive presidential race. Is there any reason to think Huckabee should do better in 2012 than in 2008?

  5. Reason's Palin can't win the Republican nomination:

    1. She's not qualified.

    2. Many people know she's not qualified.

    3. The primary process will convince more people that she isn't qualified.

    4. In the primary process, criticism from her right will expose how centrist her actual record is, particularly on economic issues, probably undermining her Tea Party support to some extent.

    5. Her choice not to complete her term as governor of Alaska will give her opponents another point of attack.

  6. David,
    I really would like to short Palin, but I have one problem with that.
    She is campaigning for the same voters that so enthusiastically picked George W. Bush twice. His lack of qualification (ie, he's an idiot) was obvious to anyone who could see, yet that didn't matter one bit.
    So, don't discount Palin just because she would make the worst president ever elected. That doesn't seem to matter to the GOP base.

    Jon: Nate Silver has a post that he thinks responds to you, but it really doesn't. It's really smarmy, actually. He says that the only examples of people with low early polling going on to win the nomination are Democrats (though there are a lot of those), and then says that Pawlenty having low polls is possibly endogenous. Really, it's very shoddy, and my estimation of Nate has gone down a peg.

  7. I don't buy 'Palin is no worse than Bush.' Bush would at least fake a level of interest in policy detail that Palin doesn't even bother to fake.

  8. I'm not sure it matters that Palin is worse than Bush. The electorate has become even more indiscriminately gullible. A Republican majority in the House was achieved without so much as a hint of a Republican plan about much of anything except tax cuts for the Rich. Americans will happily continue the rape of the Middle Class by the Ultra-Rich, and will continue to elect candidates whose only significant position is they oppose the Government. Palin looks good on camera, and has a Madonna-like prescience about personal publicity. Does anything else really matter?


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