It seems obvious that they did. He outspent Gingrich 5-1 precisely when his poll numbers were increasing. But, as is well-known in social science, conclusively demonstrating the effects of campaign ads or other media is actually quite difficult.
Thanks to some data that SurveyUSA was willing to provide me, I took a stab in this new post at 538. The conclusions are certainly not ironclad, but maybe they constitute a baby step.
I’m tentatively writing a profile of Eric Cantor, and one of the big-picture aspects of the piece I was hoping to get my head around was the question of who voters hold responsible for congressional intransigence. I’ve always been under the general impression that voters don’t usually differentiate all that much between the parties in their low regard for Congress, even when one party is pretty clearly responsible for Congress’s failings; I’m wondering (a) if that’s actually right, and (b) if so, whether there’s any reason to think based on the evidence that that could change under remarkable circumstances like Cantor et al’s current strategy: the fights over the debt ceiling, payroll tax, etc. I.e., is it reasonable to wonder whether the strategy of legislative intransigence that the Republicans have pursued to great effect since 2009 could actually go too far, and damage the Republican brand with the electorate in the 2012 presidential and congressional elections?
McGovern’s debacle forced the Democratic Party to find its way back from the ideological wilderness—from being the party of delegate quotas and “acid, amnesty, and abortion.” Every successful Democrat after 1972, from Carter to Clinton to Obama, has had at least one foot in the party’s center. A Gingrich rout in November might have the same effect on Republicans—it might drive their party back toward the center, and toward mental health, in 2016. But if Romney wins the nomination and loses the election, the party will continue down into the same dark hole where Palin, Bachmann, Perry, Cain, Santorum, and now Gingrich all lurk.