Paul Ryan vs. The What-Might-Have-Beens

by John Sides on August 14, 2012 · 6 comments

in Campaigns and elections

Well, that didn’t take long.  Already Republican politicos are “fretting over Paul Ryan,” reports Politico.  I don’t place much stock in that.  Just as I wouldn’t expect Ryan to help the ticket that much—vice-presidential nominees rarely do—I wouldn’t expect him to hurt the ticket either.  After all, the Obama campaign was already going to paint Romney as an extremist and go after Romney’s endorsement of the Ryan budget.  I’m not sure such an attack is that much more persuasive—if it was going to be persuasive at all—with Ryan on the ticket.  Moreover, while Ryan isn’t as popular as some previous vice-presidential nominees, his numbers may be improving.

But for the sake of history, let me compare Ryan’s popularity before Romney picked him to that of some other Republicans whose names were mentioned as possible running mates:

The chart is ordered by the percent favorable.  Ryan was in the middle of the pack: his favorables were somewhat higher than lesser-known candidates, but not as high as several other prominent Republicans, including Rubio and Christie.


Here is another way to show how Ryan stands out from the other candidates.  Calculate their “net favorability” by subtracting the percent unfavorable from the percent favorable.  Then compare that to the percent that can actually rate them (their “visibility”).



Among this list of potential running mates, Rice and Petraeus are relative superstars—widely known and viewed mostly favorably.  Another group—Ayotte, Portman, Thune, McDonnell, Haley—aren’t widely known.  What’s interesting is that potential nominees like Rubio, Christie, and Jindal are about as well-known as Ryan, but more popular.  Ryan is similar to Jeb Bush.  Both are people whose visibility hasn’t generated positive attitudes, on average.


To be clear, no running mate would have been an unequivocal success.  Even relatively popular people like Rice and Petraeus would have seen their popularity drop after being scrutinized by the press and attacked by Democrats.  But Ryan did begin his stint as running mate with lower popularity than some other candidates—a fact that may mean he ultimately brings fewer benefits to the ticket than some alternatives would have.

{ 6 comments }

Andreas Moser August 14, 2012 at 4:49 pm

Maybe some of these other candidates said “no thanks” when they were asked.

John Quiggin August 14, 2012 at 4:51 pm

The graph makes Ryan look significantly worse than your discussion suggests. It shows Jeb Bush as a real outlier, but there’s no surprises there. If you delete Bush and either fit a curve or do a DEA type analysis, Ryan looks like the worst (or one of the worst) choices.

Andrew August 14, 2012 at 5:48 pm

It saddens me to see Jeb Bush with such a high unfavorability rating, and I assume a large part of that is because of his last name. He’s exactly the sort of moderate Republican that I (as someone who voted for Jon Huntsman in the primary) would like to see given a bigger role in shaping the party.

Jinchi August 15, 2012 at 9:29 am

Petraeus and Rice stand out, because neither has any interest in elected office. The rest are all politicians, who have run campaigns taken positions and alienated segments of the population. Rice and Petraeus are fantasy candidates, we know little about their actual policy views, so we can project our own onto them.

Jim Hale August 15, 2012 at 1:33 pm

The way I see this chart, Ryan is on par with Rubio, less the Latino factor.

I would have preferred Jindal as having more admin experience than all comers. Watching him defend Ryan the other night reminded me of why I preferred him. He has the talent of Ryan without the negatives of the Ryan budget itself.

But I am happy with Ryan. His presence will force discussion on entitlements. If we win that discussion we get to see some progress on that front. If will lose, it will have been worth the risk. We were otherwise heading for four more years of stalemate in Washington.

Ryan will have to get off his budget and onto Romney’s.

And the Romney campaign will have to keep on saying over and over: No change in Medicare for those over 55. No change to social security except retirement age in the out years and an increase in the wage amount taxed or means testing of benefits.

Seth August 16, 2012 at 3:18 pm

>And the Romney campaign will have to keep on saying over and over: No change in Medicare for those over 55. No change to social security except retirement age in the out years and an increase in the wage amount taxed or means testing of benefits.

Which means ending the program. As soon as you means test, it’s welfare. I also don’t get the argument to tell seniors the GOP is only going to screw their kids and grandkids, so no worries. We need to raise the cap on SS taxes and the “problem” is solved. Everything else is about Wall Street getting their hands on a big pot of our $. Please turn off Fox News.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: