Archive | The Gamble 2012

The Santorum Challenge to Romney: An Excerpt from The Gamble

Salon has an excerpt from The Gamble, Lynn Vavreck’s and my account of the 2012 election.  Here is one bit about how Santorum pulled off his victories in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri:
Santorum filled it by outhustling the other candidates in these states, despite his seat-of-the-pants campaign. He did so in part with a little outside help and in part with the shoe-leather campaigning that even an underfunded campaign can do (much as he did in Iowa). And with the other candidates doing far less to contest these states, the information his campaigning produced—via advertisements, voter contact, rallies, and local news—likely helped him persuade and mobilize voters. Santorum’s campaign benefited from the support of a super-PAC, the Red White and Blue Fund (RWBF), largely funded by wealthy businessmen William Doré and Foster Friess. Thanks to their support, RWBF actually aired more ads in Missouri and Minnesota than did any other candidate or affiliated super-PAC. In the three weeks before the two caucuses and the primary, RWBF aired 121 ads in Missouri (no other candidate aired any) and 193 ads in Minnesota (Romney’s super-PAC aired 150 and Paul aired 125). In Colorado, where Romney did advertise and Santorum did not, RWBF organized a phone bank to mobilize Santorum voters.

Santorum also did quite a bit of work himself. In the seven days before these primaries—from January 31 to February 6—Santorum held nine events in Colorado, twelve in Minnesota, and two in Missouri. He held more events in each state than did Gingrich, Paul, and Romney combined. Gingrich appeared only once in Minnesota and once in Colorado, virtually guaranteeing—or perhaps acknowledging—that he would not rebound from his defeat in Florida by winning in one of these states. Romney appeared only once in Minnesota, twice in Colorado, and not at all in Missouri.

Santorum’s campaigning did not much affect his national news coverage, but it did appear to affect his local news coverage. We tabulated the number of mentions that Romney and Santorum received during this seven-day period in both the national news media and the local news media in each state. Overall, Romney received about five times as many mentions as Santorum in the national news—as one might expect given that Romney was the front-runner and Santorum mostly an afterthought. But in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri, Romney received roughly three times as many mentions. On the day before the caucuses and primary were held, Romney received only twice as many mentions. To generate even half as much local media attention as Romney was arguably an accomplishment for Santorum, a candidate who was polling in the single digits nationally and all but written off by many commentators.

The headline that Salon attached to this is “The Republicans almost went insane: Santorum really could have beaten Romney.”  That is unfortunate, since it is the opposite of what Lynn and I argue in the book.  We downplay the threats that both Gingrich and Santorum posed to Romney.

The book is available on Amazon here.  I will be posting more about it in the near future.  In the meantime, enjoy the excerpt.

[Photo credit: Gage Skidmore.]

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How We Wrote The Gamble


We have a new book on the 2012 presidential election, The Gamble, that provides one model for public engagement.  The book was designed to be an accessible academic account of the election, written in real time and published within a year of the election itself — standard timing for books focused on the general public, but an unusually short time frame for a scholarly book. Together with our publisher, Princeton University Press, we structured the project so that we could enter into the ongoing public discussion about the election alongside pundits and journalists — via continuous analysis and writing, serializing the process of peer review, and accelerating the final mechanics of publication.

Our experience writing this book suggests to us that there are underutilized opportunities for both scholars and their publishers to innovate on traditional modes of academic writing and thereby bring scholarly research to a much larger audience. We joked over the past two years that part of “the gamble” was simply writing the book itself.  We believe that this gamble has paid off, and we offer our story in hopes that it might encourage others to roll the dice.  We think this sort of project can benefit scholars, publishers, and the broader public alike.

That is from a piece that Lynn Vavreck and I wrote for Inside Higher Ed.  It discusses the motivation behind our book about the 2012 election, The Gamble, and why we think it offers some lessons—though hardly the only model—for academic researchers who want to bring their expertise to a broader audience.  You can read the piece here.  The Gamble will be released on September 15, and you can pre-order here.

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Final Free E-Chapter of The Gamble Is Available


Lynn Vavreck and I are pleased to announce the next e-chapter of our book on the 2012 presidential election, The Gamble.  The chapter, “High Rollers,” is here (with a pdf link here) and on Amazon.

This chapter is the first of three chapters on the general election campaign.  It deals with the summer campaign, including the continuing importance of fundamentals like the economy and party identification, the candidates’ messaging strategies, Obama’s early advertising blitz, the attacks on and news coverage of Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital, various “gaffes” (“You didn’t build that,” Romney’s foreign trip, etc.), and the Paul Ryan pick—basically everything up until the conventions.  You can see parts of that analysis previewed in my most recent post at Wonkblog.

Some findings from this chapter:

  • Economic conditions in the first half of 2012 still forecast an Obama victory.  Indeed, by at least one economic index, they were more favorable for Obama than for Clinton in 1996.
  • Despite concerns about “divided” political parties, Democrats and Republicans coalesced very quickly around Obama and Romney, respectively.  In general, party identification helped to create a great deal of stability in candidate preferences.
  • The various gaffes, as well as the attacks on Romney’s time at Bain Capital, produced at best small and temporary shifts in opinions.
  • News coverage of Obama and Romney during the summer was remarkably balanced.  The media favored neither candidate.  See the chapter for the data that support this claim.
  • The effects of advertising on vote intentions were visible but short-lived.  As I said at Wonkblog, we found no evidence that the early Obama advertising created durable shifts in opinion that would have benefited him on Election Day.
  • In the Pollster averages, Obama’s lead over Romney the day before the Republican convention began was exactly the same as it was on May 1.

We argue that the much of the general election campaign, especially in the summer, resembled a “dynamic equilibrium”:

The general election campaign resembles a concept from the sciences called a “dynamic equilibrium.” In a dynamic equilibrium, things are happening, sometimes vigorously or rapidly, but they produce reactions that are roughly the same size or magnitude and that occur at roughly the same rates. Thus, the entire “system”—populated by candidates, media, and voters—appears stable, or at a “steady state,” to use more scientific nomenclature. Reams of news coverage and vigorous campaigning coincide with stable polls.

The implication, then, is not that the Obama and Romney campaigns were ineffective.  It is that they were roughly equally effective.

The entire book is finished and will be available by late August or early September.  Stay tuned.

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New E-Chapter of The Gamble Available (It’s Free!)

As regular readers know, Lynn Vavreck and I are writing a book about the 2012 presidential campaign called The Gamble.  (I would like to note, by way of preface, that we got to the gambling metaphor well before Mark Halperin and John Heileman decided on Double Down: Game Change 2012.  We they picking from this list, perchance?)

In cooperation with Princeton University Press, Lynn and I have been serializing chapters—the first two of which are here and here.  We’ve been gratified for the attention those chapters have received—such as from James Surowiecki at The New Yorker and Scott McLemee at Inside Higher Ed.  Lynn and I have had some great conversations about the book at Heath Brown’s podcast, The Takeaway, the Kudzu Vine, Britannica, and VoxEU.  Andy’s gracious comments are here.

We’re pleased to announce that the third chapter is now available.  The homepage for the chapter is here.  A pdf is here.  The Amazon listing is here.  (There is already a negative view from a Ron Paul supporter!)

This new chapter, entitled “All In,” picks up the story on the eve of the Iowa caucus and takes it through Romney’s de facto nomination in April.  The chapter is thus the story of Romney’s success.  Of course, at this point, the Republican primary seems like ancient history.  But I think there is value in realizing why it was that the party coalesced around Romney.

One of my favorite graphs in this chapter looks at the size of various groups within the GOP —as measured in YouGov polls—and the percentage of those groups that supported Romney or Santorum.

What this graph shows is that contrary to some characterizations of the Republican Party—such as Frank Rich’s “The Molotov Party”—those who identified with the Tea Party, or said they were “very conservative,” or said that abortion should always be illegal, or said they were “born again” were minorities among even Republican likely voters.  More moderate groups—such as those who did not identify as born again, or believed abortion  should be legal always or sometimes—were much larger.

Moreover, it was among these larger groups that Romney was the favored candidate.  Santorum’s appeal was much more niche.  That is one reason why Romney became the nominee: this “Massachusetts moderate” appealed to a wider swath of the party than his competition.

In mid-September, after the 47% video came out, I was pretty cautious about labeling Romney a terrible candidate.  I’m equally cautious now, even after his loss has inspired a long list of detractors calling him a “meandering managerial moderate” and no doubt worse.  Given that the election turned out quite close to what the fundamentals suggested all along, I think it’s premature to pile on Romney, and understanding the Republican primary helps identify the strengths he brought to the ticket.

We’ll have more to say about Romney’s candidacy and much else in forthcoming chapters.  Stay tuned.

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Where the Presidential Race Stands Now

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I was on MSNBC’s “The Cycle” yesterday, trying not to look as much like a zombie as I do above and also talking a bit about some of the data from the first chapter of The Gamble, which is called “The Hand You’re Dealt.”  You can download the chapter for free here.  The title of the chapter refers to how economic and political conditions provide a context for elections that is largely out of the candidates’ control.  As is common in political science, Lynn Vavreck and I refer to these conditions as “the fundamentals.”

I’ve not done a lot of meta-blogging about the presidential race because, to be honest, there hasn’t been much to say.  Not much has changed in the last two months.  In fact, explaining the lack of change—namely, the stability in the polls—is probably the most important task here on the eve of party conventions, which should finally produce at least some change.

Why so little change?  First, the economic news—although suggesting a slowdown in growth—isn’t dramatic enough to change the underlying fundamentals.  Moreover, as I said on “The Cycle,” without any dramatic trend the resulting balance of economic indicators is favorable for Obama, though not strongly so.  This is, in part, why the forecasting model that Lynn Vavreck, Seth Hill, and I helped develop for Wonkblog, suggested Obama would win.  Lynn and I reach the same conclusion with a elaborated forecasting exercise in “The Hand You’re Dealt.”  This is, in part, why forecasts that build in economic indicators—as at 538 and Votamatic—suggest the same.  And yet people still think Obama should be losing because of the economy.  That is simply not the case.  The state of the economy does not guarantee him victory but neither does it presage defeat.

Second, partisan loyalties are strong.  A lot of votes are just locked in.  This is true in every election—and therefore hardly a novel observation—but it seems to be especially true now.  Drew Linzer made this graph of the percent undecided in 2012 vs. 2008.

In “The Hand You’re Dealt,” Lynn and I talk about how party loyalty in presidential approval ratings may be helping to keep Obama’s numbers aloft:

Although commentators have often been quick to compare Obama to Carter, one key difference between them is how much more Democrats supported Obama than they did Carter. When Carter’s approval was at its nadir in the fall of 1979, barely one-third of Democrats approved of the job he was doing (compared to about 20% of Republicans), according to Gallup polls. Even Bill Clinton, now seemingly beloved by Democrats, was less popular among Democrats—63% of whom approved of him in June 1993—than was Obama in his first term. In fact, averaging over each Democratic president’s first three years in office, Obama was more popular with Democratic voters than every one of them except John F. Kennedy—and even Kennedy’s average approval among Democrats was only 4 points higher than Obama’s. Obama was actually as popular among Democrats during these years as was Reagan among Republicans in 1981–83.

The chapter ends with the requisite note of caution: the fundamentals do not tilt strongly enough toward Obama to make the outcome a foregone conclusion.  But if we start with those fundamentals and, most importantly, get them right, we can go some distance in explaining why Obama’s lead persists and why it’s still his election to lose.

Again, you can find the first chapters of The Gamble here and here.

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First E-Chapters of THE GAMBLE Are Available

Lynn Vavreck and I are pleased to announce that the first two e-chapters of our book on the 2012 presidential election are now available.  You can find those chapters here and here.  They are available for free.  The book’s website is here.

The book is called The Gamble: Choice and Chance in the 2012 Presidential Election.  Why “The Gamble”?  Because elections involve various bets of a sort.  This year, the Democrats are betting that Barack Obama can win, despite a weak economic recovery.  Republicans are betting that Mitt Romney can accomplish something unusual: defeating an incumbent president.  And voters, the majority of whom are dissatisfied with the direction of the country, must bet on which candidate can turn the country around.

Why “Choice and Chance”?  Because elections involve both.  The choices are those of the candidates, parties, independent groups, the media, and ultimately voters.  These are reflected in the ads, in the news coverage, and at the ballot box.  “Chance” captures the factors that are outside of anyone’s control but may actually affect the outcome more.  The economy is the most important such factor.

The first e-chapter, “The Hand You’re Dealt,” focuses on the broader political and economic context leading into 2012.  We describe how, despite the setback of the 2010 election and the middling economic recovery, Obama was arguably more popular than we would expect.  One reason?  Partisan polarization.  Obama is particularly popular among Democrats—in fact, he is more popular among Democrats than any other Democratic president except John F. Kennedy.  He is as popular among Democrats as Reagan was among Republicans in his first term.

The second e-chapter, “Random, or Romney?”, focuses on the Republican primary up until the Iowa caucus.  We demonstrate, contrary to some commentary, that the surges of candidates like Perry, Cain, and Gingrich during the fall of 2011, were not “random” at all.  They reflected shifts in news coverage, which in turn reflected the incentives of journalists to find new and interesting things—and people—to write about.  We also demonstrate, contrary to a prevailing  impression, that these surges did not reflect a desire among GOP voters for “anybody but Romney.”  By December 2011, Romney was well-positioned to win.  Here’s a little-known factoid: as of December 2011, which group of likely Republican voters had more favorable views of Romney?  Conservatives or moderates?  Conservatives.

I’ll have more to say about our findings in the coming days.  More e-chapters are forthcoming this fall.  In the meantime, we hope you enjoy these chapters.  Thanks for reading.

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