One theory of why Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan as his running mate is that Romney needs to build enthusiasm among conservatives—a.k.a. mobilize the Republican base. As one journalist said to me via email:
But based on what Ryan, himself, and others close to him have said, I think the theory is a base-mobilization one. They argue that’s the lesson of the Scott Walker recall election – that you can take an unpopular position and be rewarded by a big boost in conservative turnout.
Maybe this theory is correct and maybe not. But assume it is. If so, then, like Sean Trende and Noam Scheiber, I think there is good reason to doubt it. Here is Trende: “Unlike 2008, the Republican base is pretty well ginned up to vote this time around—almost all the polling finds GOP enthusiasm outstripping Democratic enthusiasm—and it has consolidated around Romney.” Yes, it was consolidated IN APRIL.
On the enthusiasm question, consider these numbers from a combined set of three July YouGov polls. Here is the percentage of Republicans who are “extremely enthusiastic” or “very enthusiastic” about voting in the upcoming November election, broken down by their self-reported ideology.
Conservative Republicans are more enthusiastic, not less enthusiastic, than other Republicans. If Romney wants to engage in base mobilization, he should be focusing on the 27% of Republicans who self-identify as moderate or liberal.
Now, it is true that most Republicans say they say are voting against Obama (63%) rather than for Romney (36%). But conservative and moderate Republicans aren’t very different on this score. About 42% of liberal or moderate Republicans about they are affirmatively voting for Romney, and so do 31% of those who call themselves “somewhat conservative” and 39% who call themselves “very conservative.”
There are many reasons why Romney may have picked Ryan. A Romney advisor told Politico’s Mike Allen that it wasn’t about electoral politics at all, suggesting that Romney’s thinking was “I’m gonna be president. Who’s going to help me succeed?” But if the real reason was base mobilization, then the Ryan pick is truly a solution in search of a problem.