Beware the New Hampshire Expectations Game

Jan 9 '12

Brendan Nyhan:

bq. However, journalists often exaggerate the effects of supposed over- or underperformance, in part by treating the conventional wisdom about how a candidate performed relative to expectations as some sort of objective fact rather than a social construction. (Note, for instance, how DiStaso’s report takes these expectations as given rather than attributing them to a source.) It’s particularly important to consider just how arbitrary the “expectations” that the media place on candidates can be. DiStaso asserts that if Romney does not win by 10 percentage points or more, it’s a “wide open race.” So if Romney wins by 9.9 points, the race is “wide open,” but if he wins by 10.1 points, it’s all over?

The inevitability of Mitt Romney doesn’t seem much like of a storyline.  But it is.  Just a few weeks ago, and even after Iowa, it was all about how he couldn’t break 25%.  Here’s Frank Rich, for example.  Now he’s already broken that threshold.  Part of that is bandwagoning, as Alex Lundry’s and my brief study suggested would happen once information about viability became clear.

But part of it is this: votes for someone who isn’t Mitt Romney aren’t necessarily votes against Mitt Romney.  I”ll have more to say on this later this week.