Paul Ryan: The Base Mobilization Strategy that Romney Doesn’t Need

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.


25 Responses to Paul Ryan: The Base Mobilization Strategy that Romney Doesn’t Need

  1. Leonard August 11, 2012 at 3:33 pm #

    I’d suggest that the “base” he aimed to shore up was not Republican/conservative voters, but conservative opinion leaders. As in 2008, the VP pick will help quiet the noisemakers–perhaps until after the election.

    • jack smithco August 11, 2012 at 11:17 pm #

      yeah? how did that work out for you? i minute i saw palin walk in at the convention, was the day i knew obama was elected. palins pick, shows how inept mccain really was, and why he got smashed. the ryan pick is a terrible choice, and i am loving it. and they are a matching pair, neither of them will show how they are going to pay for the tax cuts to the rich, perfect. but, it is not all bad, for u debt cutting republicans. this tax plan will only add 5 trillion to the debt over 10 years. thought u guys love to balance the budget, and drive down the debt? it is all pixie dust, romney does not have a plan, no specifics, no plan. show the tax returns fool.

      • idiot August 12, 2012 at 2:01 pm #

        Exactly. The vice-president pick is obviously the most important factor when voting for a candidate. I knew there were so many people who were planning to vote for Al Gore but turned against him once Al Gore chosen Joe Lieberman. It shows how inept Al Gore really was, and why he got smashed in Florida.

        Same thing in 2004. Loads of people were planning to vote for John Kerry, but viewed John Edwards as this inexperienced and populist politician who will only add to the federal debt with his ill-considered policies. When they saw that Kerry chosen Edwards as his running mate, they fled to the vice-president candidate they can TRUST, Dick Cheney. Again, the Democrats got smashed.

        In fact, I’m still kinda shocked Obama didn’t choose Dick Cheney as his running mate. I mean, he had a track record of winning vice-presidential elections.

  2. Sam Popkin August 11, 2012 at 3:50 pm #

    To paraphrase LBJ on J Edgar Hoover: Better to have Ryan inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in. This election was already about Ryan and there is no better way to have him support any trimming or changes needed to win.

  3. Andrew Gelman August 11, 2012 at 4:27 pm #

    John, Leonard, Sam:

    Maybe so, but maybe overthinking this. Wisconsin is a swing state.

    • Andrew Gelman August 11, 2012 at 4:29 pm #

      That is, maybe _you’re_ overthinking this, as the Romney campaign already has a perfectly good reason for selecting Ryan: he’s a plausible candidate and he’s from a swing state. Sort of the opposite of Sarah Palin.

    • Nadia Hassan August 12, 2012 at 8:44 am #

      But Professor Gelman, doesn’t that raise questions about why Ryan per se? Bob McDonnell, Rob Portman, and Marco Rubio are in swing states that are more competitive.

      • John August 13, 2012 at 2:18 pm #

        And, having won statewide office, they are all much more likely to actually provide a boost in their state than Ryan is. Why should someone from Green Bay or Eau Claire be more inclined to come out and vote for Paul Ryan than for Tim Pawlenty?

  4. Total August 11, 2012 at 5:02 pm #

    Consolidated in April isn’t the same thing as consolidated *now*. Nor is it the same thing after several months of Romney moving to the center.

    • John Sides August 11, 2012 at 7:08 pm #

      Total: The percent of Republicans supporting Romney hasn’t dropped since April. That’s true in the YouGov data and it’s true in Gallup.

  5. Josh R. August 11, 2012 at 5:35 pm #

    “Consolidated in April isn’t the same thing as consolidated *now*. Nor is it the same thing after several months of Romney moving to the center.”

    Another potential angle – enthusiasm among those who are very conservative is high, but did Romney and his camp believe that it was slipping or that it would slip should they select a moderate? Instead of a reactive base mobilization strategy (e.g. base is not mobilized, need to react that) they could be engaged in a proactive bit of base solidification (keep them mobilized). Course, we won’t know until the shady anonymous sources leak out the reasoning in yet to be written books about the campaign.

    • John Sides August 11, 2012 at 7:10 pm #

      Josh R.: I haven’t seen any polling that suggest that GOP base enthusiasm was slipping. Sure, the strategy could be proactive, it still strikes me as unnecessary. Typically, the party convention and the fall campaign do a fine job of rallying the base. The veep pick isn’t crucial to that.

  6. David Karol August 11, 2012 at 7:01 pm #

    Andrew: If this was a swing-state play Portman and McDonnell would make much more sense. Ohio and Virginia are larger and more competitive than Wisconsin and both of those guys are statewide officeholders, unlike Ryan.

  7. John H August 11, 2012 at 7:44 pm #

    To the degree these things have effects, I do suspect Ryan may help mobilize a base, that is the Democratic one. The question I’m asking is: how does this not make Obama’s job easier?

  8. George W August 11, 2012 at 8:14 pm #

    I contend that the LBJ metaphor that Sam Popkin cites above is close to the mark, but that as VP Ryan will have little or no influence on the watered-down economic recovery proposals the White House sends to Congress. Romney will surround himself with GOP “regulars” and Ryan will be nothing more than a sounding board. First, of course, Romney has to get elected and Ryan’s influence on that outcome is minor-to-none. His role is to whip up the base and defend the plan. He’ll do both well, but it’s still Romney’s job to win.

    • Scott D. August 12, 2012 at 3:06 pm #

      I agree totally, Ryan will have very little influence in the economic policy proposals Obama sends to Congress in the second term

  9. George DeMarse August 12, 2012 at 9:37 am #

    The choice of Ryan solidifies the right wing/tea party base–but it’s not needed. Those are the “anybody but Obama” voters anyway. Romney “double downed” to solidify this already extreme base on the right.

    On the other hand, he just hugely skewed the elderly vote in favor of the Democrats. They want and need medicare in its current form, not as a piece of red meat to the states. Surprisingly, many elderly voters know that Ryan wants to dismantle medicare, they just don’t know how or when. But that’s enough to vote against him. Prior to the Ryan pick, the elderly vote was pretty much Republican.

    In addition, many tea partiers like medicare and social security and are collecting it; creating another question of loyalty: “cut spending or get my small piece of pie while there is still some left?”

    Throw into the mix the fact that many voters under 40 want big defense cuts, and that Ryan and Romney represent “bigger” defense, and those voters tilt Democratic also. Democrats are not yet bragging about defense cuts, but their failure to do so will cost them votes.

    The Sage of Wake Forest

  10. Andreas Moser August 12, 2012 at 10:03 am #

    I got my hands on a secret Romney memo which lists the reasons behind picking Paul Ryan:

  11. Scott McClurg August 12, 2012 at 11:15 am #

    A simple hypothesis — the GOP team thinks they have problem when they don’t. This would be driven by feedback they get from party insiders who have an interest in tying Romney closer to the tea party wing.

  12. La Tanya Gray August 12, 2012 at 2:13 pm #

    Based upon the news reports of Romney’s finalization of his decision weeks ago, I am going to skew another way regarding the Ryan pick. Follow me a bit on this one. Even before the Eric “etch-a sketch” Fehrnstrom comments about being able to change the game in mid-stream during the general election without much of a shift in the Republican base numbers, Romney had a problem. During the primaries and all of the debates, Romney had an issue. With Conservatives, yes. But even more so, with the massive conservative media conglomerate that shapes and molds the minds of average, work-a-day republicans inhabiting the post-Tea Party revolutionary core of modern day conservatism. You saw it manifest itself in all of it’s blond magnificent glory in Ann Coulter’s complete and utter meltdown on the Hannity show. As many have stated, as this article itself states, people were coming out for Romney to vote against President Obama anyway. There was no need for a “Palin with Brains” pick in choosing Paul Ryan. (No disrespect to beautiful women with brains intended here!) The Ryan pick, in my mind and clearly in the minds of others, was more a way to quell the powerful conservative voices who still, to this day, no matter WHAT they say on Sunday morning shows, DO NOT TRUST Mitt Romney one iota further than they can push him. Stop Murdoch running to Twitter, stop Krauthammer critiquing his every move, stop Coulter from literally stripping every ounce of John Frieda highlights from scalp outwards from happening. While many on the right still can not speak Romney’s name without swallowing bile and dying a little inside, the MIGHTY MOUSE (Here I come to Save The Day!!!) Ryan can actually be hailed by those voices without having to utter the name of He Who Shall Not Be Named. A Romney/Ryan ticket allows die-hard conservatives to now tout the side of the ticket they approve, and “Oh yeah, by the way, Romney is here too” without slicing chunks of flesh from their arms and doing Christine O’Donnell-like spells and Pet Sematary like spells to attempt to drag an unwilling Reagan from his peaceful grave, dabbing on a bit of tawny, and just starting the damned 20th Century over.

    • George DeMarse August 13, 2012 at 8:26 am #

      I like it. Good analysis.

      The Sage of Wake Forest

  13. Scott D. August 12, 2012 at 3:12 pm #

    If Romney was really thinking about finding someone who could help govern, Portman would have been a better choice, or Condi Rice, who by all accounts had no interest in the job.

  14. PJR August 12, 2012 at 3:12 pm #

    I’m with Sam Popkin and La Tanya Gray above, with one extension: both considerations apply to the post-election environment, which may be more important to Romney (win or lose). As for election day, Romney may doubt that his VP pick improves his odds of winning, but it might, and that’s a positive when you’re behind even if the odds of doing worse also go up. (In other words: in the victory probability distribution, perhaps the central tendency hasn’t changed but the curve has been flattened.)

    • La Tanya Gray August 12, 2012 at 3:31 pm #

      I agree with you 100% PJR, I was just internally thinking that as well. You folks gotta remember, Romney is a MASTER of looking at what is the overall outcome going to be. Minute details, not so much. So he is like someone planning for his wedding; let the small people do the actual logistics, I’m waiting for the champ to pop. This “campaign” to Romney is useless. And that is one of the reasons i feel he’s just not really in it. To him, it’s beneath him to actually “fight” for a job. Prosperity just arrives on a doorstep like a stork dropping off a Tag, “I don’t have to actually do anything, it just appears.” He believes the current conditions in the market of politics are right for him to come in on his beautiful brown horse, snatch up the american people, and deliver us to his 1920’s ideal of how america can and should be.

  15. CC August 12, 2012 at 8:57 pm #

    A number of conservative and moderate elites have now been opining that the election will now be based on policy choices rather than a referendum on the Obama presidency. Both sides seem like be embracing this narrative, with Democrats doing so perhaps a bit more enthusiastically.

    To what extent are those two options really different? And if they’re true, how does that change the race?