Apologies to John Sides and Jack Citrin for dismissing their science out of hand on my Tumblr: they really are careful and sophisticated researchers, and Sides is well within his rights to give me a good slap.
Alex Lundry and I have a new post at Model Politics that repeats a version of our earlier experiment. We again randomly assigned survey respondents to see information about how likely each Republican candidate is to win the nomination, win the general election, or both. Just as in our earlier study, this information makes a big difference.
In particular, it helps Romney—the candidate most likely to win the nomination (by a large margin) and who currently polls best against Barack Obama. So as the New Hampshire results and later results convey similar information to voters, expect the Romney bandwagon to grow.
Commentators have consistently underestimated Romney’s appeal within the party. But as I said in my post yesterday, a lot of people who aren’t currently supporting Romney aren’t necessarily opposed to him. Lynn Vavreck and I talked to several voters in Iowa who said exactly this: although they supported another candidate—and even a quite consevative candidate like Santorum or Perry—they would vote for Romney in November. The Model Politics details one of my conversations:
At a Santorum event in Altoona, Iowa, Sides was approached by a man selling a book he had written…a retelling of The Cat in the Hat, starring Barack Obama as “The New Democrat.” The illustrations resemble the Seussian originals, although the verses differ slightly. To wit:
I’ll make friends with our enemies. They’ll do us no harm… If they see we are weak We must therefore disarm!
Sides asked the author, Loren Spivack, who he was supporting in the Republican primary. He said either Santorum or Perry (“definitely one of the Ricks”). Then Sides asked if he would vote for Romney if Romney were the nominee. He paused a moment, shrugged, and said “Yeah.” His tone suggested that there wouldn’t be any other option.
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?
In the Wall Street Journal, Carl Bialik mentions some of my research with Jack Citrin in a piece called “Americans Stumble on Math of Big Issues”:
Political scientists John Sides of George Washington University and Jack Citrin of the University of California, Berkeley, hypothesized in a working paper that supplying Americans, who typically overestimate the number of immigrants and illegal immigrants among them, with correct numbers would reduce the perceived threat of immigration and change their views. Instead, getting the right number reinforced their views, and even increased their support for letting fewer immigrants into the U.S.