Saturday, January 21, 2012

South Carolina Primary Day

Election day!

While some caution is always in order, it sure looks as if it'll be a good day for Newt Gingrich. Which would have consequences: Mitt Romney won't be able to act as if he's the nominee for some time now, probably not until after Super Tuesday in March.

But there's a lot of overreaction going on, too. As Nate Silver noted on twitter (sorry, didn't save the link), Romney's InTrade odds have dropped dramatically this week, from over 90% to a current 68%. That's almost certainly far too low, but it's also not unusual at all for conventional wisdom to fall into a panic whenever an almost-certain nominee loses a primary. Most of the time, however, it doesn't mean anything. Here's a little review for you:

In 2008, John McCain lost 19 states.

In 2000, George W. Bush lost 7 states.

In 1996, Bob Dole lost 6 states.

In 1988, George H. W. Bush lost 9 states.

And in 1980, Ronald Reagan lost 6 states.

Of course, none of this means that Romney will win (all of the losers those years lost lots of primaries, too!). It's just that losing a couple of states, in and of itself, doesn't mean that he's not going to get the nomination, doesn't mean that it will be seen after the fact as a particularly difficult struggle for the nomination, and certainly doesn't mean that he'll be a weak nominee if he does win. And, yes, people had just as large overreactions when Reagan and George H. W. Bush lost Iowa and when W. lost New Hampshire (although the 1988 race was in fact probably still very much up in the air at that point). My own sense at the beginning of the week was that a Mitt/Newt race is pretty much a lock for Romney, and I don't see any reason to change my mind about that after a very good week for Gingrich.


  1. Dr Plain, finding a not too terribly old tweet ain't hard:!/fivethirtyeight/status/160592183475453953

    Actually Silver sez 88% -> 72%, but I think your point is probably still valid.

    1. "and certainly doesn't mean that he'll be a weak nominee if he does win"

      it doesn't mean he will be weak, but it doesn't mean he won't be, either.

      All the other GOP eventual nominees who lost some primaries lost them, for the most part, to *completely normal, plausible, if not terribly exciting candidates.* (Robertson and Buchanan excepted)

      Those contests were firmly within the bounds of party tradition and conventional wisdom.

      That will not be the case here. If Romney loses tonight, and then struggles to win or tie in FL, and then continues to have trouble (ME? MN? AZ?? WA?), the narrative will be devastating for him, particularly with party actors, because he's running against a LUNATIC. First he lost to a war hero, a bass-playing evangelist, and Dr. Libertarian MD, and now, he's having trouble defeating the Emperor of Hot Air.

      McCain had personal history, media love, and his odd charisma to pull his party back to him after securing the nomination. Mittens has nothing in his favor, except hatred of the President. I doubt it will be enough. Even if he chooses Christie.

    2. I should have said, an entirely manufactured, inauthentic hatred of the President. It's one of his biggest problems.

  2. I'm going to take this opportunity to point out that more states should hold their elections on the weekend. Tuesday voting is a weird holdover from older times; it makes far more sense to hold elections on a day where most people have the day off.

  3. losing a couple of states, in and of itself, doesn't mean that he's not going to get the nomination

    Curiosity's sake, did those other candidates ever lose states after holding a big lead a week prior to the primary?

    Not saying I disagree with the conclusion about Romney's inevitability, but from my extremely sketchy memory, those other lost states were mostly foregone conclusions that the eventual winner didn't much contest.

    South Carolina 2012 is different, no? Romney pushed hard, pushed to seal the nomination (Gingrich conceded as much wrt a possible Romney win) and nevertheless imploded. It seems to me there's some possibility of this being a new corollary to the "Giuliani effect", i.e.

    Q: What do you call an ostensibly promising candidate who fails in an extremely visible primary?

    A: A loser.

    1. I'd have to go back and check, but no question that some of those were surprises (but I don't know if they were last-minute surprises. In some of the older ones, there might have been a lot less polling.

    2. I do know that Bush Sr.'s Iowa upset in 1980 (where he coined the political version of the term "the big mo") was considered a surprise. Looking through Google News, I see that Reagan was still leading less than a week before, though the lead had already started to collapse, and Bush moved ahead a couple of days before the caucus.

  4. Since Newt Gingrich is from in GA and represented GA in the House - why would it even seem strange for him to win SC - a very southern state. It doesn't mean he will win in other states and since I lived in GA when he was there - I sure hope he doesn't!

  5. Is there any evidence that drawn out primaries hurt the eventual nominee? Obama didnt "officially" clinch the nomination til the last primary in Montana and McCain had his wrapped up by Super Tuesday and we know how that ended. All I can think of is Kennedy-Carter. Is there any poly sci research on it?

    1. Nate Silver recently linked to a piece discussing this very point.

      I've long been skeptical of the conventional wisdom that the extended Obama-Hillary battle strengthened Obama's candidacy (the above piece mentions research suggesting it had no significant impact one way or the other). But if it did, it was probably a unique case, having to do with the fact that Obama faced so many doubts about his qualifications for high office. That's certainly not the case with Romney, who is much more of a known commodity than Obama was back then, and who is overwhelmingly the "establishment" choice, which makes him more comparable to Hillary than to Obama. Hillary's image suffered during the nomination fight, and if she had managed to eke out a win (which is entirely conceivable), she would probably have come out of it a weakened candidate.

  6. The way I remember it from '08, Obama was always overperforming his polling during the phase of the primaries where he was effectively winning the nomination.

    Even in the states that followed (OH/TX and PA), Obama was closing big Hillary leads as the campaigns moved to those states, just not enough to win them. It wasn't until Obama started taking on McCain, while McCain and Clinton were tag-teaming in an attempt to stop Obama that he started slipping in the final few primary votes.

    This is going to be three in a row where Romney underperforms the polling from a couple weeks before the contest. Let's see if he can hold (or build) his big lead in Florida, especially given his large advantage in getting ads on the air in a big state.

  7. Here's the thing about Romney inevitability: we're now three contests in, with no plausible alternative in any of them, and Romney is 1 for 3. One of those losses was in a state where organization is everything; the well-organized Romney still lost to an upstart. The other loss was in a state where Romney had the endorsement of the popular, sitting, hottie governor, which seemed not to matter at all.

    Actually, none of that is really the thing about Romney inevitability. The thing is the Perry dropout on Thursday, and a curiously-underreported aspect of Perry's exit, his endorsement.

    Let's say we buy the theory that Romney is the obvious nominee, that alternatives like a brokered convention or other rule-bending are fully laughable, and, perhaps, 90% of the party is at worst resigned to Romney, with the other 10% being an irrational insurgency that the majority wishes to stamp out.

    Perry's WH failure is almost surely a byproduct of epic laziness; however, that guy didn't rise from the anonymous ranches of West Texas, and C and D grades at A&M, to the longest-serving governor in Texas history, the head of the Republican Governor's Association, without an outsized dose of political shrewdness.

    As a result of Perry's obvious shrewdness, if the party really has all but coalesced around Romney, then surely the quitting Perry, being only 61 and having a decent political future in front of him, recognized this fact and curried favor with the establishment by making the easy endorsement of the similar-in-kind Mitt Romney.

    That's absolutely what you would expect the shrewd Rick Perry to have done if the party were all-but-behind Romney, as many speculate.

    Problem is, the shrewd machinator Perry didn't endorse his fellow traveler Romney. Perry endorsed Gingrich, and two days later South Carolina happened.

    Something odd is afoot in the Republican primary, it seems to me.

    1. >Something odd is afoot in the Republican primary, it seems to me.

      The "shrewd" people in the GOP want Obama to win a second term?

    2. CSH,

      Problem with your theory: Perry endorsed Rudy in 2008.

    3. All due respect, I don't think a Giuliani endorsement tells us anything negative about Perry's ability to read the political winds.

      I found this review of polls during the 2008 primary; a quick YouTube search showed that Perry endorsed Giuliani on October 17, 2007. Check out the link.

      Guess who was leading the Republican polls, and thus ostensibly winning the invisible primary, in October 2007? The link is pretty revealing about the state of the Republican primary race at that time, and much more generous about Perry's ability to read political tea leaves than the implication of your comment above.

    4. (Actually, the link takes you to a summary of polls, most of which have an October entry, and a couple (LA Times and Pew Research) specifically encompass the date (10/17/2007) of Perry's endorsement of Giuliani.

      Pew Research had Giuliani up 29%-21% on his closest competitor October 17th, while the LA Times/Bloomberg poll had him lapping the field, with 32% to Giuliani's nearest competitor's 16%.

      If Perry had a flaw there, it was not anticipating the deflating impact of bad showings in Iowa/NH, but after all, that's a fairly wonky/academic effect - if no less real - and its not like Perry has ever been much of an intellectual :).

  8. Like your brother, I've wondered if Newt really wants to be president. It seems like a strange theory to propose this far in, since he's almost certainly going to be the victim of an epic pile-on, which he won't necessarily have an easy time parlaying to his advantage in his ambitions as a right-wing commentator. But you have to consider his personality. He's a daydreamer. I'm sure he fantasizes about the idea of being president, but that's not the same as truly wanting it. And I still can't get past his remark from a few weeks ago that he'd appoint John Bolton as his Secretary of State. (Not that he might appoint him, but that he would.) That simply doesn't sound like the type of thing someone who expects to be president says. It sounds like the type of "promise" someone makes when they have the luxury of knowing they'll never be held to it. Then again, this is Newt we're talking about.

    1. Bolton has had a long and well supported career as a GOP expert on foreign policy. Yes, I'm sure many of us think he's a lunatic, but many GOP party actors have long taken him seriously, given him prominent placement in both presenting the gop's message and serving in administrations. Newt may not really want the nomination, but his words about Bolton are not an indication of that one way or the other.

    2. I wasn't talking about the fact that it was John Bolton who was his choice. I was talking about the fact that he made such a choice at all at this point, before he's even the nominee, let alone the president-elect. As far as I know, that's completely unheard of, and is the type of commitment you'd think future presidents would never want to lock themselves into prematurely.


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