Post from May, 2012

Quote of the Day

Tuesday, 15. May 2012 0:30

Personally, I liked the university. They gave us money and facilities, we didn’t have to produce anything! You’ve never been out of college! You don’t know what it’s like out there! I’ve *worked* in the private sector. They expect *results*.

– Dr Ray Stantz

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Huck as VP and Romney’s Valence Problem

Wednesday, 9. May 2012 10:16

Why doesn’t the median voter truly rule American Elections, as the classic Downsian model predicts? While uncertainty, intensity, abstentions, alienation, and other factors certainly play a part in the failure of American elections to converge on the median voter, less noticed (but perhaps more important than all other factors combined) is that the issue dimension is orthogonal to a second determinant of elections: valence. Valence is just a fancy word for “likeability.” Candidates well-liked by voters (on a host of non-political factors like appearance, dress, personality, character, charm, etc.) can ‘afford’ to diverge from the median positions because voters will discount those heresies in favor of their favorable judgement of the candidate’s personality.

Obama’s best asset this fall is likely to be his valence advantage over Romney. As this Gallup poll demonstrates, Obama has a significant edge on the valence dimension over Romney going into the election. While we might expect this to close as Romney consolidates his base and moves into the general election phase of his campaign, it is likely to remain a significant Obama advantage over Romney…and indeed could be the key to his relection.

With that in mind, the recent article by Robert Costa on National Review Online floating the possibility of a Mike Huckabee VP nod is particularly interesting. While other VP choices provide swing state, Tea party cred, block vote, and other traditional advantages in considering a VP selection, few have the potential to match Huckabee in sheer likability. His friendly affect and demeanor and good sense of humor has been particularly useful in his radio and TV gigs and was a big factor (in addition to his evangelical cred) in his solid run in the 2008 presidential primaries. The article touches on this asset, but really it is Huckabee’s best case as a VP choice. He has the potential to shore up Romney’s biggest weakness versus Obama in 2012…at least to the extent a VP candidate can have any effect.

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Random Thought on Presidential Elections

Tuesday, 8. May 2012 19:44

I’ve been thinking about the regularity of presidential incumbents winning re-election juxtaposed with the lackluster Republican primary field (despite a weak economy and a seemingly vulnerable incumbent). I’m wondering why the Republicans didn’t find a better candidate than Mitt Romney. It isn’t as if they were lacking a slate of experienced Republican executives with legitimate cross-appeal to the Republican tripod (social, economic, national security conservatives). Is this regularity a function of challenger quality? Were Walter Mondale, Mike Dukakis, Bob Dole, and John Kerry really the best candidates available at the time? Both Reagan and Clinton, the seeming exceptions on challenger quality, were not regarded as quality candidates by many at the time of their elections. Many big wigs sat out the 1992 challenge on the Democratic side (e.g. Mario Cumo). Reagan was regarded as an extremist, though he had come close in 1976 so he was certainly viable. Really Reagan is the only real exception I can point to in terms of candidate quality…and he faced a third party challenge from within his own party ranks.

My thought is that we might be seeing a bit of a selection-effect here. Quality presidential candidates for office know that a president is term-limited to two terms. So the potential challengers know they can run for an open seat in about five years…a relatively short time in terms of a political career. The conventional wisdom is that presidents win re-election due to valence factors, institutional office advantages, and public sentiment on structural factors such as the economy. But is the larger factor the selection-effect imposed by term limits? Would it disappear if we limited presidents to three terms? I’m not sure. But it has me wondering.

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