How Conservative Is Scott Brown?

by John Sides on October 10, 2012 · 9 comments

in Campaigns and elections

A new UMass poll finds Elizabeth Warren leading Scott Brown by 3 points among likely voters.  You can see that poll here and other polls from that race here.  (The average of polls suggests Warren has a slight lead.)

In the UMass poll, respondents were asked to locate Warren and Brown on a standard liberal-conservative spectrum.  Respondents also placed themselves on this spectrum, as well as Obama, Romney, the Democratic Party, and the Republican Party.  Two UMass political scientists, Brian Schaffner and Ray LaRaja, shared the results with me:

Respondents placed Warren, the Democratic Party, and Obama at virtually the same place, somewhat left of center.  On average, voters placed themselves close to the “moderate” category.


What is particularly noteworthy is that voters saw Brown as distinctly to the left of Romney and the GOP.  Brown’s attempts at moderation—summarized in this graph—are at least somewhat successful.


On the whole, Warren and Brown appear equidistant from the average Massachusetts likely voter, suggesting that neither has an advantage here.  But Brown might be in more trouble if he hadn’t taken pains to break with the GOP from time to time.

{ 9 comments }

Keith Gaby October 10, 2012 at 11:31 am

Brown’s greatest advantage — the reason the race is close at all — is his pick-up truck, regular guy appeal. The bottom line of being a good candidate, it seems to me, is folksiness. It’s an awkward word for it, but everyone knows that quality: the ability to make voters feel like you care about them. The sense that a guy like you might just as well pop up from across the backyard fence as on the podium at a debate. It is impossible to fake being good at it — that is, it’s not impossible to fake it, you just can’t fake being good at faking it.

In every presidential election since I’ve been paying close attention, folksiness has won. Jimmy Carter, with his honest toothy grin, was folksier than Gerald R. Ford, career member of the House of Representatives. By 1980, Carter has become grim, and in any case he was never going to out-folksy The Gipper. Walter Mondale was a good man, but never had a shot at beating Reagan on that score. In 1988, it was a race to the bottom in folksiness in which the wealthy New England preppy faked it better than the middle class New England technocrat, though the latter was actually as down-to-earth and honorable as they come. In 1992, President Bush drew the very short straw of running against not one but two Aw-Shucks A-Listers, Ross Perot and Bill Clinton. Never mind that Clinton was a Rhodes Scholar and probably one of the smartest men to raise his right hand on the Capitol portico. In 1996, Bob Dole, a genuine son of the Kansas prairie, came off as a Senate Majority Leader – not a folksy job. And George W. Bush, having watched his father lose to a Razorback, was a West Texas Twister cutting through two prep school boys who couldn’t hide it as well as he could.

(This folksiness can be – in fact, must be – visible from afar and through the TV. But in the case of Mondale, Dukakis, and Clinton, I saw it person, too, having worked on those three campaigns.)

I’m not claiming folksiness determines the outcome. I’ve already given my vote to The Bigger Hammer of historical forces as the leading cause of victory or defeat. (And Democrats will point out that the stiff Al Gore won the votes of more Americans than George W. Bush.) But the pattern of the last forty years suggests that it’s very important.

I won’t make this too long, so I won’t delve into the Obama-Romney folksiness comparison, though I’m sure you can guess. The rest of the commentary is at:
http://thebiggerhammermovie.com/blog/2012/10/theory-folksiness

matt w October 10, 2012 at 12:10 pm

“George W. Bush, having watched his father lose to a Razorback, was a West Texas Twister cutting through two prep school boys who couldn’t hide it as well as he could.”

Your data set has at least two flaws here: Lieberman isn’t a prep school boy, and I wouldn’t describe Bush as “cutting through” the opposition, given that he lost the popular vote and would have lost the electoral vote if not for election irregularities.

matt w October 10, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Right, you already said that, but it’s still true.

Scott Monje October 10, 2012 at 3:04 pm

I think he means Gore and Kerry.

Keith Gaby October 10, 2012 at 5:00 pm

Yes, I did mean Gore and Kerry. Matt, you’re right about the 2000 flaw — Gore won over more Americans than Bush did. But I think the general trend holds, and even in the case of Bush-Gore, Bush’s Texas folksiness helped him a great deal against Gore. It made the race essentially a tie when the economy should have lifted Gore. I know there was much more going on there, Clinton-fatigue, etc., but the bottom line is that Gore was famously stiff and Bush, for many Americans, seemed genuine and down to earth. Democrats (including me) never saw the charm, but it seems to have appealed to many.

Andrew Gelman October 10, 2012 at 9:52 pm

John:

Why do you write, “Brown’s attempts at moderation”? Wouldn’t it be more accurate to call it “Brown’s moderate stance on many issues”? My point is that Brown is not just attempting to be moderate, he actually is being moderate.

John Sides October 10, 2012 at 10:24 pm

Andy: That’s a better, and probably more accurate, way to phrase it.

Dan October 11, 2012 at 1:54 pm

The detail in the chart that jumped out at me is where voters placed themselves on the spectrum. Contrary to claims these last many years, voters see themselves as Center-Left, not Center-Right.

John Sides October 11, 2012 at 2:05 pm

Dan: Well, Massachusetts voters, anyway. And of course we can’t infer specific policy positions from people’s willingness to label themselves “liberal,” “moderate,” or “conservative.”

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