Wednesday, February 2, 2011

All-Time Great Graph Contender

The only flaw in Jonathan Chait's awe-inspiring graph of Republican presidential contenders by sanity and Mormonism -- and if you don't click through to it, you're really making a mistake -- is that it's slightly unclear exactly how he's measuring along the x-axis -- in what way is Newt Gingrich more Mormon than John Thune? Is Chait factoring in the chances that one of Newt's future wives will get him to convert (again)?

I'd also really dispute the idea that Haley Barbour is insane, note that it doesn't really sort well with Chait's much better casting of Barbour as Boss Hogg. Personally, as a fan of "sleazy, corpulent, cigar-chomping lobbyist[s]," I'm rather disappointed to see that Chait considers such folks to be below par on his crazy-meter. 

OK, fine; it's more of an idea of a great graph than an actual great graph, one that Gelman would approve. So it probably can't touch this one or this one. But it's good, anyway.


  1. So are you coming out and admitting that you are a far-left liberal?

    None of the people mentioned in the graph are insane. Chait just disagrees with them on policy.

    One day you may want to tackle the argument that Romney's mormonism hurts him in the GOP primary? That's insane. Mormons are the most hard-right religious group in the GOP. If Romney wasn't Mormon, he wouldn't get any Mormon support. That's the only reason why he's even competitive in certain states in the West. The socially conservative people in the South who don't like Mormonism wouldn't vote for him to begin with because he isn't conservative enough.

    So I don't see how Romney has ever really been disadvantaged by Mormonism in the GOP primary. The case is stronger that he has received an advantage.

  2. The big thing on Romney's religion is when you're explaining, you're losing, and Romney spends an awful lot of time explaining his religion without ever really putting the issue to rest.

    As for geography, sure, it could help in the west, but there's no evidence that it helps anywhere else. And you can clean up in the west and still get less than half of the delegates you need- in fact, the Mittster did just that in 2008.

  3. This deserves a response.

    Actually, I agree with Anon on Thune, Pawlenty, and as I said Barbour. Also Gingrich is certainly a huckster; he's not crazy, just selling snake oil to people who love the crazy. As for the rest...well, let's put it this way: in order to compete for the votes of a large chunk of GOP primary voters, it helps to either embrace the crazy (say, the stuff that Glenn Beck says every night on his show) or at least play footsie with it.

    It isn't, for example, extremely conservative to believe that Barack Obama is motivated by Kenyan anti-colonial ideology, or that he's been advocating for socialism; it's nuts. It isn't extremely conservative to believe that there's a serious threat of the imposition of any sort of Muslim law, let alone radical versions thereof, in the US. It's nuts.

    And, as I said, it's hard to run for the GOP presidential nomination without at least winking at those sorts of positions.

    There's nothing crazy at all about being either very conservative or very liberal. That's not what I'm talking about when I talk about the crazy. And, in my view, the people who should be first in line to call out that sort of crap are honest conservatives.

  4. The problem is, I don't know where I'm supposed to draw the line.

    As Romney and Pawlenty and Gingrich compete for the crazy vote (Thune and Barbour seem to be doing this less so, or at least less obviously so), as they insist that we need to federalize lower Manhattan to prevent a church and beg us to ignore all the times Barack Obama has talked about American exceptionalism and produce commercials to make their tenure as chief administrator of a northern midwest state look like an episode of 24, I don't know which things I'm supposed to take at face value and which things I'm supposed to assume they're just shining the rubes on.

    Moreover, I'm not sure how much I'm supposed to care; seems to me if you make it to the White House because you formed an electoral coalition that expects you to spit blood, you're gonna have to come awfully close to doing it.

  5. Anonymous,
    The argument that Mormonism can hurt in the GOP primary is far from insane. Prior to Romney, the number of Republicans/Republican leaners who said that they would be less likely to vote for a Mormon (and that's a pretty high hurdle, as few people are willing to admit that they are prejudiced against anyone) was 36%; after his run, this dropped to 21%.

    Much as people said they wouldn't vote for a Catholic then voted for JFK, a Mormon might be able to overcome this initial prejudice.

    However, the number of people that admit this prejudice is higher amongst white evangelicals: 26%. So, I would say that the argument that being Mormon hurts in the GOP primary is not crazy. I'm not saying it's correct, but there's some decent prima facie evidence for it.

    (All these numbers are based on Jon Cohen's recent blog post at Washington Post going over the old numbers; I'm not aware of anyone asking the question since Romney dropped out in 2008)

  6. Jarvis,

    I'll rephrase. Let's assume for the sake of the argument that Mormonism is a barrier to 36% of GOP voters and let's just assume that 36% is considered high.

    In that case, Mormonism would only hurt a conservative Mormon candidate. The point I'm making is that Romney never would have won votes from the 36% anyway because he's perceived as a moderate. That 36% wasn't ever available to him regardless of whether he's a Mormon.

    On the other hand, very hard-right Mormons in nevada, arizona, and other states where Mormons are a large part of the GOP electorate would normally not consider someone perceived as moderate as Romney considering that Mormons are the most conservative faction of the GOP electorate. Yet, he's able to dominate among a group that he has no business winnning because he's a Mormon.

    The point that I'm making is that in the areas where Mormonism would be an obstacle (I'm conceding this for the sake of the argument), they were never going to vote for him regardless of his religious. But in areas where there are a lot of Mormons, he gains their votes when he wouldn't as a non-Mormon.

  7. Romney did not clean up in the West in 2008. And my point is that Romney would have done worse in the West were he not a Mormon. Republicans out West are generally very conservative fiscally and socially (though not as conservative socially as Southern republicans but still, much more than Northeast Republicans which are neither).

    Without his Mormon support in the West, Romney would cease being a viable candidate as he'd be stuck as a Northeastern Republican regional candidate. His struggles in the South would have occurred were he not a Mormon.

    I guess the counter-argument is that McCain held his own in the South against Huckabee in 2008. First, Huckabee isn't that impressive as a primary candidate. Second, McCain was a war hero and Southern Republicans love the military. Romney has absolutely no connection to the American military.

  8. @ Anon #1.

    I'm a secular liberal, not a conservative evangelical, so I can't claim to speak on their behalf. Anecdotally, however, some of the evangelical Republicans I know have told me quite forthrightly that Romney's Mormomism hurt him in 2008 and will ouch again in 2012.

    For the reasons you indicate, Romney isn't a perfect test case for detecting anti-Mormon bias among GOP primary voters. The real test would be if, say, a Jason Chaffetz runs for POTUS down the line and the Christian right supports a less conservative but non-Mormon candidate for President.

    On substance, I actually don't think it is wrong for voters to take a candidate's religion into account when casting their ballots. Religion is part of a person's beliefs, and we evaluate candidates for office on the things they believe. All things told, if I'm choosing between two candidates who are nearly identical on policy, but one holds particularly absurd religious beliefs, I'll vote for the non-absurdist.

  9. "Romney did not clean up in the West in 2008."

    Sure he did- he won Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Montana, and North Dakota. I guess maybe Nebraska, South Dakota, and the coastal states would've counted for more, but they're actually pretty irrelevant to your mormonism theory.

    Moreover, I think the point is that an attribute that helps in the mountain west mormon country (which has a fairly small delegate reward) and at best does nothing in the rest of the country and may even hurt* isn't much of an advantage at all, no, and may really be a disadvantage.

    *And this is important- it really may have hurt him, because primary voters in the rest of the country weren't, on principle, opposed to the the "more moderate" candidate. Look at the primaries McCain won- he actually took a fair chunk from everywhere (Even before everyone else dropped out). I dunno if the Mormonism thing is what made those voters choose McCain- seems to me like there's a lot of more obvious reasons- but it's not a crazy enough idea to rule out.

  10. In some sense Romney has a harder task than JFK did. JFK handled people's reservations with his Catholicism by preaching a complete separation of politics and religion, a message that resonated with the electorate of the time. Romney, in contrast, has to court religious conservatives, but without ever talking explicitly about the doctrines of his own religion. It's striking that his own father never faced much of this dilemma during his 1968 run. In fact, his handling of the issue was quite similar to Kennedy's. (One unique aspect of the situation was the contradiction between his own support for civil rights and the LDS church's racist policies at the time.)

  11. Colby,

    McCain is not the best test case for a "moderate" Republican. The guy was a war hero and conservatives hold military service in the highest regard. Notice how nobody is making the argument that Petreus is a non-starter because he worked for Obama in the same way that they are making the argument against Huntsman (putting aside the Mormon issue that is being debated). The difference is that his military experience is lionized by Republicans/conservatives while Huntsman's service as a diplomat is not.


    Chaffertz may not be the best test case either considering his views on foreign policy. I think generally it's a mistake to draw too many conclusions from 2008 considering that the Southern socially conservative Mike Huckabee is someone who promoted a non-mainstream GOP economic and foreign policy.

  12. Also, I'd be wary of the notion that Romney is or was the "moderate" option. He ran a pretty right wing campaign in 2008- promises to double Gitmo, railing against gay marriage- and has shown no evidence of ceding the right for 2012. So, even assuming arguendo that Mormons really wouldn't vote for a "moderate", that doesn't really apply to Mitt, as he gave them plenty of evidence that he wasn't one.

  13. "The guy was a war hero and conservatives hold military service in the highest regard."

    Except when they don't, like in 1980 and 2000. And except when the specifically denigrate someone's service, like in 2004 or 1972.

    "The difference is that his military experience is lionized by Republicans/conservatives while Huntsman's service as a diplomat is not."

    No, the difference is, Huntsman actually looks like he's getting in this thing, while Patreaus is comfortably above it all. Notice that two months ago, nobody was saying either one was crazy for entering the 2012 race, and a Hunstman '16 bid still seemed very viable. If Patreaus started sniffing around a campaign, and started articulating some moderate-to-liberal views, he'd be called DOA pretty quick, too.

  14. What do you mean by denigrating someone's service? If you mean, we disagreed with Kerry's comments about the military upon returning from Vietnam, I don't see how that's denigrating.

    As for McCain losing in 2000, he was against an overwhelming frontrunner. McCain may have been able to defeat a conservative not named George W. Bush if he rode his war hero status hard as he did in 2008.

  15. I meant claiming the Kerry fakes his war injuries. And I'm completely uninterested in relitigating that issue; it doesn't really matter if it was a valid accusation or not, the fact is it shows that conservatives give no more special credance to a veteran than to anyone from any other background- as do all my other examples.

    "As for McCain losing in 2000, he was against an overwhelming frontrunner."

    I dunno, dude; it seems like we're just adding a new addendum or proviso to the standard with each election we actually look at. Which doesn't make anything not true, of course (conservatives may really have a heirarchy that goes: Obvious Frontrunner, then War Hero, then Conservative) but it isn't really useful as a "standard" that can tell us anything about elections in general. At this point, we're just reciting what's happened.

  16. Maybe the "sanity" axis would more accurately be labeled the "scruples" axis -- that would capture the "cigar chomping lobbyist[s]," those who abandon previously held moderate or at least thoughtful positions to flirt with the crazy, and those who clearly have no problem claiming to be "Constitutional conservatives" in the same breath as making not-so-veiled appeals for armed insurrection.

    I don't expect politicians to be paragons of virtue nor do I expect people to stick to the positions indefinitely (I believe in learning!). However, there are a lot of these people who seem blissfully unaware of video and YouTube.

  17. May I submit this great graph for consideration?

  18. I assume that the X axis means the more you are associated with fundamentalist regigious conservatives the less Mormon you are, Hence Huckabee a Baptist minister is farther than Gingrich who is thrice married

    It of course makes no sense since Mormons are more in agreement with the fundamentalists on social issues than the more secular types but the fundamentalists are also more likely to consider th Mormons to be a cult and not vote for them...

  19. I have a sneaking suspicion Gingrich's relatively high Mormonism is a jab at his tendency towards polygamy.

  20. As your commentators know, it's "Mormon," not "Morman." Fix the spelling quickly before someone accuses you of being a "moran" ;-)


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