Friday, September 23, 2011

Are the Debates Hurting Perry?

Charles Franklin has a chart today that's getting a ton of play which shows Rick Perry's polling numbers dropping and attributes it to his awful debate performances. I think it's clear that Perry's position vs. Romney has deteriorated since he first announced that he was in and jumped out to a lead, and that Perry's debate performance has been awful. But is that what's driving things?

I have no idea, but I'm somewhat skeptical. Matt Yglesias explains why debate performances certainly can matter during nomination contests -- basically, there is little to differentiate the candidates and so campaign effects of all sorts are likely to be important -- but that doesn't mean that the debates are driving anything right now. After all, we've seen this before more than once this year: new candidate jumps in or gets a sudden burst of publicity, and spikes up in the polls...and then falls back. I think it's very, very, likely that Perry's August lead was at least in part a bounce that was likely to dissipate regardless of what happened in September. Of course, had he generated good news over the last month, he might have been able to deflate the bubble more slowly, so in that sense, I suppose I can't disagree with Franklin.

All that said, we can conclude two things. One is that if Perry did have a chance to put this thing away quickly, as in by Halloween, that's gone now. The other is that all of this pretty much still leaves him in excellent shape. It's basically between him and a guy who a whole lot of people in the party don't trust on core Republican issues, and Perry has still survived a decade in office with surprisingly little baggage that will bring veto attempts from key GOP actors. There are some things that would make them look twice, whether it's immigration or immunization or property rights (which I assume we'll hear about soon), but really: are any people who care passionately about abortion in the GOP going to choose Romney over Perry? Nope.

I've been very hesitant to hazard a prediction between the viable candidates, and I'm not going to start now. What I'll say is that with the combined Intrade odds still scraping 70%, the combination of Romney and Perry remains massively underpriced there (although I believe some of that is the mechanics of their market). And that at this point, I'd still pay a lot more attention to public endorsements and other indications of party actor support than I would to polling of regular voters. Remember, most ordinary voters -- even those plugged in enough to vote in primaries -- aren't really paying very much attention to this yet.


  1. This is mostly persuasive, but the invocation of prior candidates who have risen and fallen is not, as stated, very compelling. That happened to Trump -- to whom else, exactly? Perry's early numbers were so much higher and even his present prospects so serious, it just doesn't seem convincing to say, Trump and some others were once at 20 points or something. The invocation of a prior wave of Pawlentys would convince the discerning reader that Perry is NOT like Pawlenty. This is something different. Having said that, you're actually more optimistic about Perry than I am. I think primary voters will want to vote for Perry but will be convinced that he can't beat Obama, and that's a big factor for them.

  2. Martin: Bachmann. She surged in July, culminating in Ames, and is now down in Also-ran Land. She peaked at 14% in the RCP average in mid-July, and is now a distant 4th at 7%.

    For me, the icing on the cake is Romney's numbers, which are positively glacial in their movement (though, not at Ron "exactly 9% of the GOP likes me all the time" Paul levels). In the past 3 months, Romney's down about 5 points, whereas Perry is up about 20-25. Perry didn't take away much from Romney's base, and it's not clear they'll go to Romney if they leave Perry. (Perry is down 3 over the last two weeks--hardly a plunge, to reference JB's post earlier this week--but Romney has only ticked up maybe 1 point in this time)

    What is interesting in all this, to me, is that the white horse calls for Palin, or Jeb Bush, or anyone else, seem to have died down. I have the sense that the GOP isn't in love with their choices (hence the boomlets for non-candidates Trump and Bachmann, and Perry was that white horse before he got in), but that they've now come to terms with it being too late for anyone to jump in. And I get the sense that the debate between Romney and Perry is involving real soul-searching in the GOP. It's electability vs. orthodoxy vs. electability. Yes, it's in there twice, because I don't think we honestly know whether Perry or Romney is seen as more electable in GOP circles.

  3. The important phrase there is "peaked at 14%" -- Perry's numbers are higher than that, suggesting (to me) potentially something different. The sentence in the post that refers to this is not a strong one, that's all.

  4. Only marginally related, but I thought this was interesting: Pete Wehner says in Commentary today, "it’s certainly true that national polls aren’t terribly meaningful at this stage."

    And two paragraphs before that:

    "If the election were held today, Romney would defeat President Obama, probably in something close to a landslide."

    According to, the three latest national polls matching Obama against Romney, published Sept. 15-21, all have Obama leading by single digits. Ah, but I guess those are among the polls that aren't terribly meaningful. The thing that allows us to be confident of a Romney landslide, then, is..... Tarot cards? Chicken entrails? Maybe it was the keen feel for the public pulse that Wehner developed while working for a president who left office with approval ratings in the mid-20s.

  5. Can't stop watching that Perry train-wreck on Romney's alleged flip-flopping last night; Andrew Sullivan has the clip up if you haven't seen it. Perry delivers that fiasco with a certain whimsy; he seems to really think he's nailing Romney, the type of overpromising-and-underdelivering reminiscent of the famous strategery debate on SNL.

    Will Ferrell's Bush was funny in part because the real life Bush wasn't quite like that; whatever his epic flaws, Bush didn't (really) put on the "I'm really smart" swagger in Ferrell's caricature. Or if he did, it was in the context of attempted lightheartedness. Perry - bizarrely - seems to take himself really seriously, as if he can't hide his high self-regard. Debates per se may not matter, but it wouldn't surprise me if the debates have revealed to insiders things about Perry that are exquisitely unattractive.

    At which point I'm getting ready to write off Perry, then I happen to glance up at ESPN where BYU is attempting an extra point, and on the net behind the goalpost is a logo for something called "Deseret First Credit Union", and I'm like "huh? Mormons still bank at something called 'Deseret First'? Deseret, that odd 19th century proposed LDS state that extended from San Diego to Wyoming?"

    And I realize that at this phase of the primary, probably at every phase of the primary, there's a whole lot going on that little people like me don't see.

  6. Good analysis of Will Ferrell's Bush impression from CSH. As I recall those faux debates, the joke wasn't that Bush thought he was smart, but that he kind of knew he wasn't and would get this air of smug self-satisfaction when he thought he'd nailed it anyway. Hence "strategery" delivered like a C student who thinks he's just nailed the vocab section of the SAT. Hence also the second debate, in which he confidently rattled off the names of obscure Nigerian officials to prove he'd spent the week boning up on foreign policy after obviously knowing nothing about it in Debate #1.

    But while we're at this, let's not forget Will Forte's superb (and more realistic) Bush in the 2004 SNL debate spoofs. What Forte perfectly captured was Bush's sometime whininess, a quality Ferrell never tried for.

  7. on the topic of party actors, there seems to have been definite movement to romney in the aftermath of that debate. fox news folks are suddenly panning perry, and freedomworks is softening its opposition to romney. going off of what the Plain Blogger says about nomination races, I wonder what kind of conversations the romney team is having with the far-right opinion leaders and interest groups right now? what policies is romney going to adopt in order to secure their support, or (maybe more likely) their neutrality in the romney-perry showdown? a stronger anti-union stance? a new energy policy written by the Koch bros' lobby? a promise to protect corporations from any and all lawsuits?

    when will perry start fighting back for real? it's beginning to look like he and his team don't know how to play the game.


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