Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Look at Silver’s Analysis of Palin-2012

Summary:’s Nate Silver explores Sarah Palin’s 2012 presidential primary chances, but leaves out an important variable.

For those who haven’t seen it yet, Nate Silver’s analysis of Palin’s 2012 chances is quite interesting. While long and in-depth, he makes some good points.

From the post:

So where is Palin likely to run strongest? Obviously, it would depend on the candidates she's up against and the type of campaign she might want to run, but I think we can make some basic inferences. What I've done is to create an index of how favorable each state is to Palin based on six variables: fundraising totals to date for SarahPAC and five demographic and attitudinal variables taken from 2008 exit polls.

Fundraising: What I looked at is the ratio of contributions that Palin has received in each state so far through SarahPAC to the amount of contributions received by all Republican candidates in the 2008 cycle. The idea is to see how Palin compares vis-a-vis a typical Republican candidate -- indeed, I've found fundraising data to have quite a bit of predictive power in the past, even if the data is a little rough at this stage. Relative to other Republicans, Palin's best fundraising state is, of course, Alaska. Her fundraising has also been quite strong in the Pacific Northwest, and many of the prairie/frontier states. It has been weakest on the East Coast, as well as several other urban and industrial states located throughout the country. The fundraising data receives double weight in our index.

Variables from 2008 Exit Polls: What I looked at is not what a state's electorate looked like overall, but rather, the characteristics of the McCain (i.e. Republican) voters in each state. This is an important distinction -- for instance, although Oregon is a fairly progressive state overall, the conservatives there are quite conservative and rural, and this is what matters in the context of a Republican primary. Note that, although it would probably have been better to look at exit polling data from the 2008 Republican primaries, a lot of states either didn't have a competitive primary in 2008 or didn't have exit polling data available; thus, we look at McCain general election voters as our best proxy.

Specifically, the exit polling variables that I evaluated were as follows:

Rural and small town voters. That is, the percentage of McCain voters in each state that come from communities of less than 50,000 people. Palin spent a great deal of time campaigning in exurban and fairly rural areas in 2008, and I suspect that it's here -- not necessarily among soccer moms in the collar suburbs -- where her most enthusiastic voters lie. And Palin herself, of course, comes from a very rural area and is appealingly outdoorsy and self-reliant. This variable receives a double weight.

No college voters. Early polls of the 2012 Republican field, such as from Marist and Rasmussen, show Palin overperforming among this group (or, if you prefer, underperforming among college graduates), which certainly squares with my intuition about where her appeal lies. This variable also receives a double weight.

Conservatives. We also look at the number of McCain general election voters who described themselves as conservative in each state, although it receives only a single weight. Although clearly Palin wears the conservative label very comfortably and is liable to be harmed in states where there are a relatively large number of moderates and independents in the primary electorate, there are likely to be at least a couple other capital-C conservatives in the Republican primary field, which means we need to temper this somewhat.

White Evangelicals. Although Palin also polls well among this group, a lot of this may be because a lot of white evangelicals are also rural and lack a college degree. That is, although Palin runs well among the sorts of voters who happen to be evangelicals, it may not be because they're evangelicals. Nor, although Palin has increasingly invoked religious rhetoric in her speeches, does she have the scholarly religious credibility of someone like a Mike Huckabee or a Pat Robertson. It's conceivable that Palin could get outflanked by a Huckabee or lose votes to a Santorum among voters who are evangelicals first and working-class whites second. Thus, although we include this variable, we only give it a single weight.

Energy and Terrorism voters. Lastly, although this is a bit speculative, we look at the percentage of McCain voters in each state who said their votes were determined because of energy or terrorism policy, which appear as though they'll be Palin's core issues. These issues -- particularly terrorism -- lend themselves relatively well to the meta-narratives that Palin prefers and require less policy nuance than something like the economy or health care. This variable receives a single weight.

He then runs the data and comes up with chart showing how well Palin should theoretically do on a state-by-state basis. In the map below, the most red states is where she is strongest and the most blue is where she is weakest.

Next - taking other candidates’ strenghts and weaknesses into account - he gives his outlook for how Palin could secure the nomination. (For clarification on the colors he mentions, see the map at the bottom of this post).*

Palin's path to victory, then, would seem to consist of one of the following scenarios:

Palin Plan A. Win Iowa. Win South Carolina. Clean up in orange states. You probably have enough momentum to survive the consolidation of the GOP field which is liable to occur at this point.

Palin Plan B. Lose Iowa narrowly, especially to a Midwestern candidate. Hope that a Southerner isn't running strongly and win South Carolina. Clean up in orange states. Then you anchor in the South, winning Texas (green group), Florida/Georgia (gold group) or Indiana/North Carolina (purple group). At some point, you need to break through and win a big Midwestern battleground like Ohio or Wisconsin.

Palin Plan C. Win Iowa. Lose South Carolina narrowly to a Southern candidate. Regain momentum in orange states. Hope that green states vote next and aim in particular for a big win in Texas. If it's the gold states instead, go all-in in Ohio and Pennsylvania. If it's the purple states, you'll need some help.

Among the other possible candidates he mentions:

- Former Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA)
- Former Governor Mike Huckabee (R-AR)
- Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA)
- Senator Scott Brown (R-MA)
- Governor Haley Barbour (R-MS)
- Senator John Thune (R-SD)
- Congressman Mike Pence (R-IN)
- Governor Rick Perry (R-TX)

This set off a huge red-flag for me. Last year, I wrote about Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) being a particularly strong candidate to win the GOP nomination in 2012.

Looking at the map, who is better positioned to win both Iowa and New Hampshire than Pawlenty? Nobody. Romney can win New Hampshire, but probably not Iowa. Palin and Huckabee could both win Iowa but probably not New Hampshire. (This is still according to Silver’s analysis).

Pawlenty, on the other hand, has contacts within the Iowa GOP and is better positioned to use the party infrastructure early on. Because of his work in Minnesota, he is a very strong candidate in the agricultural Midwest. In fact, I know the Wisconsin GOP already gave his Freedom First PAC access to their donor list.

Additionally, Pawlenty doesn’t have the same “uneducated” style of politics about him (for lack of a better term, I swear) that candidates like Palin or Huckabee do. This will give him strength in a state like New Hampshire, which otherwise seems to be a given for Romney.

Sure, he probably can’t win Nevada or South Carolina as easily, but he’d be in great position for the next few states (a few of which boarder his own) and the momentum he builds could easily deliver him a victory.

Obviously, we’ll have to wait and see, but I think it was a mistake on Silver’s part to ignore Pawlenty’s presence come 2012.


The first states to vote are the traditional early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. These states are shown in light blue. Note that this list does not include Florida and Michigan, which jumped in the queue to try to vote early in 2008 -- although who knows whether they'll be in a more cooperative mood this time around when push comes to shove.

Next to vote are the orange states, which are grouped together by virtue of their small populations. This includes 14 states and several territories, the largest grouping of which is on the prairies and the Western frontier, although there are also several New England states. Notably, no Southern states vote in this group -- the Republican calender definitely de-emphasizes the South.

Finally, there are gold, purple and green groupings of some of the larger states. These groups have some geographical integrity -- for instance, most of the traditional Midwestern Rust Belt states are in the gold group, whereas the purple states tend to be more coastal and the green more in flyover country -- although there are some exceptions. The order in which the gold, purple and green states vote will rotate every cycle and, to my knowledge, has not yet been determined for 2012.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

How Democrats Can Claim Fiscal Responsibility for Themselves

Summary: Democrats have an opportunity to turn a core Republican message back on them.

Over the past year or so, Republicans in Washington have been quick to criticize the spending coming out of Congress with the blessing of the Obama Administration.

Knowing full well that most Americans are adverse to deficits (which are now higher than ever before) the GOP is calling Democrats “out of touch” with the average American.

It’s had an impact – Republican Scott Brown won his Senate race in the liberal Mecca of Massachusetts in part by criticizing Washington’s spending habits. Defeats like this, in turn, have made Democrats dispirited.

In many places, it’s already primary season for 2010. So if you’re a Democratic candidate, and you need to motivate the base, what do you say?

For starters, the Republican National Committee has demonstrated itself to be anything but fiscally responsible lately.

Last year, the RNC managed to burn through a whopping $95 million despite the fact that they were only supporting about four competitive races. They ended 2009 with just under $9 million cash-on-hand. These spending habits have caused their donors some concern – especially because of how much better the DNC has been doing – and RNC operatives have been frantically trying to reassure their contributers.

Knowing that they were having money troubles, where did the RNC decide to have its Winter strategy meeting? A beachside resort in Hawaii, with the best food, entertainment, and recreation that money can buy. Literally.

From a segment on last night’s episode of the Daily Show:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
RNC Meeting in Hawaii
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

With weeks – and in most cases months – before the primaries, it’s not really worth anyone’s time to make this point a panicle one for your campaign message.

But as Democratic candidates are locating activists and donors, this message is a great way to engage them. An email blast to supporters criticizing the Republicans for trying to make fiscal responsibility their issue – when they’ve proven to be so fiscally irresponsible – is a great way to bring in some small contributions right now.

This is a good message for this part of the campaign because it gives the base a reason to fight.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Who Will Replace John Murtha?

Summary: Following the death of Congressman Murtha (D-PA), candidates prepare for a competitive special election.

Last night, the powerful Democratic Congressman from Pennsylvania’s 12th district – John Murtha – died of complications during gallbladder surgery. He was 77.

Murtha was first elected in 1974 during a special election in the midst of the Watergate scandal. One of the first Vietnam War veterans elected to Congress, he would see his own share of scandal over the years, but ultimately survive them. A confidant of Tip O’Neil and Nancy Pelosi, he directed virtually all defense spending as Chair of the Appropriations Defense Subcommittee.

Using the power of incumbency, he always managed to bring in more than 55% of the vote for him during his re-elections.

But now his seat is vacant, and it’s likely to be an especially competitive special election this Spring.

From Politico:

His passing means there will be a special election held during the spring to fill the remainder of his term. Once the congressman’s vacancy is declared, Gov. Ed Rendell (D-Pa.) has 10 days to call the special election date, which can be held 60 days or less from his declaration.

The most likely special election date, according to Democratic sources, is May 18, the same date as the regularly-scheduled Pennsylvania primary election. Holding the special election along with the primaries would save Pennsylvania, already struggling to balance its budget, a significant amount of money.

There will be no special primary to nominate candidates. Instead, county party leaders from Murtha’s western Pennsylvania-based 12th District will each select the nominees at a convention, and the winners will then square off in the special election.

The Cook Political Report changed its rating of the now-vacant seat to “toss-up” status Monday evening, making it the 50th Democratic-held House seat rated in its most competitive groupings.

In 2008, while Murtha won over 57% in PA-12, John McCain was able to edge out Barack Obama in the presidential contest there by less than 1%.

Murtha’s former challenger – William Russell – was already set to run again and has raised almost $3 million. Unfortunately for him, his direct mail consultants are particularly expensive and he spends almost everything he brings in as soon as it’s deposited. As of the end of 2009, he had about $211,000 cash-on-hand. His primary opponent, however, has raised even less than what Russell currently has.

These are certainly things that local party leaders are going to take into account when choosing a candidate for the May election.

On the Democratic side, Murtha had an unusual primary challenge from ex-Naval officer Ryan Bucchianeri. While his background seems good – in terms of electability in this district – I can definitely see him being passed over by the 12CD Democratic Party because he had the gall to challenge Murtha. This is especially so in the short aftermath of the Congressman’s passing.

If things go the way they have been going for Democrats in moderate areas over the past few months, this is bad news for them. Recent elections in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts are giving Republicans a feeling of momentum, and they’re as fired-up as ever.

That’s not to say it’s impossible for the Democratic nominee, but it won’t be easy.

Monday, February 8, 2010

What Was the Point of the Tim Tebow Superbowl Ad?

Summary: Dave analyzes the effectiveness of what was supposed to be a controversial ad-buy.

For weeks the news and sports media in the U.S. hyped up the Superbowl ad featuring Tim Tebow and sponsored by Focus on the Family – a conservative pro-life organization.

It shocked a lot of people to think that CBS would allow a politically and religiously-charged issue like abortion to interfere with the American love of sports. Laura Craft Hogensen explained her discomfort with the ad last week on WAYLA.

But when the ad played during the first quarter of the game, what really shocked everyone was that it was relatively noncontroversial. The word abortion was never used, there was no persuasion made regarding anything really – it only asked that people visit the Focus on the Family website.

Watch the ad here:

So with such little information about anything, one has to ask “what was the point of this ad?” The answers only lead to more questions.

First, let’s make an easy assumption and say Focus on the Family assumed that people would see this ad, be curious, and visit the website and watch the extended video.

So visiting the Focus on the Family website, and clicking on the appropriate link we find a fairly long interview with Tebow’s parents. (Sorry, there’s no way to embed it here).

As you can see by watching the interview, that’s where all the controversy will begin. It plays heavily on religion (so much so that you really need to be an Evangelical in order for it to be effective) and suggests that doctors who recommend abortion as an option are untrustworthy.

Here are the immediate flaws with this way of advancing a pro-life position:

1) You can’t assume that people are going to be interested in watching this video. There will likely be two sorts of people watching the online video: strong supporters of the pro-life position and strong opponents of it. The few undecideds out there are probably not too interested in visiting the website because they are more likely to be apathetic about the issue.

2) Even if they were trying to convert strong opponents of their position (which is a waste of time and resources by itself) I can guarantee they didn’t succeed. It played so much towards religion and family that it simply could not have resonated with many (if any) liberals.

So again we’re left asking “what was the point of the ad?” Why on Earth would Focus on the Family pay $2.5 million for winning no converts?

There are three ways we might try to answer this…

1) The decision to run this ad was not a rational one. I suppose it’s very possible that someone at Focus on the Family decided that – since the Tebows were supporters – they should run a Superbowl commercial. After all, a lot of companies do it, so why shouldn’t they? Then their media consultants – knowing they’d get a huge commission on the ad – shied away from explaining to them that it wouldn’t actually do anything.

But at over $2.5 million, it’s hard to believe that.

2) The ad was meant to inspire the pro-life base. If the ad, and subsequent interview, was good for anything it was inspiring the Evangelical supporters Focus on the Family already has. In fact, many companies that advertise during the Superbowl are doing it for brand-loyalty purposes. The average consumer who sees a funny ad with Brett Favre mocking himself isn’t going to immediately go out and buy a Hyundai.

But there are Hyundai owners who – after seeing that ad – probably subconsciously say to themselves “that’s funny, I’m glad I bought my car from that company.” Next time that consumer needs a car, guess which company has the advantage of a sale?

But politics doesn’t really work that way. On an issue like abortion, you don’t get more or less support – even from your base – by trying to instill that sort of loyalty. You either have it or you don’t. Perhaps Focus on the Family was trying to convince moderate pro-lifers (such as those who believe in exceptions if it affects the mother’s health) to be more conservative in their position. Considering moderation is typically a means to a sweeping policy change like they hope for with abortion – however – I don’t know if that was really the reason.

3) This wasn’t an issue-advocacy commercial. There are those out there who will tell you they personally would never get an abortion, but they don’t feel comfortable taking that choice away from someone else. There is a possibility that the goal of this ad was to encourage women to not seek abortion for themselves, regardless about how they view current abortion policy.

Obviously this does not make sense to a lot of people – I did just say (after all) that the only people who would follow up with the ad are hardcore pro-lifers and pro-choicers, and that only the pro-lifers would agree with the message anyway.

The thing is, Evangelicals are actually the most likely single-women to have abortions. They do not believe in using contraception because it may increase their likeliness to have pre-marital sex. When they do have pre-marital sex – resulting in an unexpected pregnancy – they have two options: 1) be seen in church pregnant out-of-wedlock, or 2) have an abortion. Fearing they’ll be judged, they often choose the latter.

Is it possible that it was this sort of person the ad was targeting? Well, that’s my best guess up to this point. Do I think it will actually work? Maybe a little. Do I think it was a cost-effective way of doing it? No idea.

My best guess is Focus on the Family probably took a lot of these ideas into account, but probably not the ineffectiveness of the strategy.

For their purposes, however, there was something they could have – and should have – done in conjunction with this ad: a fundraising program. They should have had a “contribute” button somewhere near the online video of his parents for those pro-lifers who went to see it on the Focus on the Family website.

In the end, though, I have to say this was probably a waste of their money.