Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Ignore Those Polls! Veep Bump Edition

Okay, I admit I've been guilty of this one too, but: we're getting a fair amount of attention and analysis about the initial bump that Mitt Romney gets from announcing Paul Ryan as his running mate. And, sure, it's interesting, in a political junkie way.

But in terms of assessing the choice of Ryan, the initial bump is pretty much irrelevant. After all, the nature of these bumps is that they come and go, right? So if that's going to happen, then who cares if the initial bump is six points or three points or zero? What we care about is what effect if any Ryan has in November, not in the first days after he's chosen. And there's no particular reason to think that the two are related.

Indeed, as I've noted before (and see too Stan Collender), Ryan's rollout was well-designed to minimize his bump, deliberately or not. Introducing him early in the morning on the last Saturday of the Olympics?

Two things. One is that the whole idea of caring a lot about the secrecy of the Veepstakes winner is, well, silly. Oh, it makes sense to maintain some secrecy during the process, because you don't want to insult the losers too much, or allow the impression that the eventual running mate wasn't the first choice. But beyond that, who cares? Suppose the news had leaked on Tuesday instead of Friday night, but went unconfirmed all week. So what?

The other is that we need to really resist the tendency to think of the campaign as if it was a sports season, in which there are weeks (or days, or hours, or whatever) that candidates "win" or "lose" in a way that winds up cumulative in some way. That's not how campaigns work! If something makes a big splash and then dissipates, it often is just plain gone and forgotten, and doesn't matter at all going forward.

What we really want to know about any potential Ryan effect, then, isn't the bump -- it's what things look like after the bump is over. And how, if at all, the choice appears to be affecting things in October, not in August. So even though it's a fun game to follow how the day-to-day stuff goes, there's tons of that part of the campaign that just don't matter at all to the November vote.


  1. I kind of got a chuckle when I read the account of all the decoys and diversions that were implemented to keep the press from getting an early jump on the Ryan pick. I mean I guess I understand why the campaign would want to make this news on its own terms, but still, this has to matter zilch in electoral terms.

  2. "The other is that we need to really resist the tendency to think of the campaign as if it was a sports season, in which there are weeks (or days, or hours, or whatever) that candidates "win" or "lose" in a way that winds up cumulative in some way. That's not how campaigns work! If something makes a big splash and then dissipates, it often is just plain gone and forgotten, and doesn't matter at all going forward."

    What about donations/money? Finance intake presumably varies according to week (as the inrush of donations after the Ryan pick demonstrates), with some weeks better than others. Money in turn influences, although does not mandate, victory through ad buys and mobilization efforts.

    1. That's a fair point. However, in the context of presidential elections, both sides are almost certainly far past the point of diminishing marginal returns.

      So if an obscure House candidate gets on national TV and raises $250K out of it, yup, that's news. But if Romney raises $10M off of some campaign flap, probably not.

  3. Jonathan, aren't you deflating your own business model? If it doesn't matter, shouldn't we political junkies find a better use of our time?

  4. I think JB is underestimating the horse race.

    Lets remember why it matters: becasue of that incredibly small window of TV news where a canidate can sell himself to undecided voters.

    Does 24 hour news diminsh that - absolutely.. Does the possibility of social media mean you can go around the media -- yes. Is GOTV more important than convincing low information undedcided -- yep.

    But you've got 80+ days left, and if Mitt continues his inepitutde, he is only going to have 4-5 days around the convention where his message gets out.

  5. I'm sort of with Charlie, since I think the irrelevance conclusion misses something important: sure, the vagaries of a campaign in August endure much less than a five-game losing streak. However, to the extent that voter opinion of Ryan matters at all in November, first impressions today - especially for the low info voters who decide the thing - will have a significant carryforward effect on what those voters think of Ryan come Election Day.

    Its probably easy to forget, being nerd junkies and all, but there are a lot of crucial voters who know almost nothing of Paul Ryan. They probably still don't, but relatively speaking, they've been exposed to exponentially more Paul Ryan in the past week than in the decade prior. Those voters are arguably heavily concerned (to the extent they engage at all) about Beltway irresponsibility in light of the country's increasingly problematic fiscal situation, and they aren't sure if Paul Ryan is the man for solving that problem, but there's some reason to believe he might be.

    Which makes the Obama response to the Ryan announcement a bit puzzling. If you know for sure that Ryan will be trotted out as the solution to the nation's fiscal crisis, and you also know that swing voters have no prior opinion, why in the world wouldn't you come out swinging against him in the immediate aftermath of his announcement?

    If I were running the Obama campaign, I would blanket the airwaves with arguments - like the ones we often see here - painting Ryan as a fraud, a deficit-exploder, a faux libertarian, and all the rest. Being junkies, you all know this would be incredibly easy to do.

    And I'm baffled why Team Obama doesn't do so. In the minds of the undecided voters, Ryan's deficit-cutting cred is a moot point, but a potentially critical one come November, and those low-info voters will arguably be forming permanent opinions soon. Why wouldn't Team Obama try to control that process?

  6. Yeah I'd agree about Ryan. I do think it might matter, on the margins, in terms of highlighting the unpopular positions that Romney, Ryan and House GOPers have taken on popular programs. Personally, I think the more important story as of late is how team Mitt is really screwing up by focusing on everything but the economy: Medicare, Joe Biden, Obama "spreading hate" etc. What Ryan is illustrative us is how removed the world punditry and journalists can be from actual Americans. Paul Ryan has been pumped up for years now as being this great intellectual force and political savior but the American public treated him as a big kinda unpopular meh.

  7. Jonathan, doesn't the size of the bounce give us an indication of how effective the VP candidate will be in the rest of the campaign? Not a perfect correlation, before anyone starts on counter-examples, but an indication.

    1. As far as I'm aware -- and Nate Silver seemed to have the same conclusion after looking at the numbers -- there's not really much if any of a correlation between them.

  8. lets say he had chosen Pawlenty and not kept it a secret, then people who do not approve of the choice can pile on him for a week before he becomes an official pick. So it does make some sense to keep it a secret as it can turn the conversation to the ticket than the individual strengths and weakness of a VP candidate. Right now the talk is about how ticket is impressive on the republican side vs how much of a damage its gonna cause on the democratic side and less about the individual..and I think this being the important decision that a presidential candidate takes in the course of a long campaign, we will still see secrecy around it


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