Elections in the United States

Reality Check

For all of the punditry (from myself and others) about Mitt Romney’s unpopularity with GOP voters, it’s worth noting the extent to which Republicans are perfectly happy with the former Massachusetts governor. Here’s Gallup with its most recent look at the Republican presidential contest: Mitt Romney is just as popular as Herman Cain or Newt Gingrich, his problem—in part—is that he has too many competitors, and Republican voters are indulging the extent to which they have a fair amount of choice. When the field begins to winnow in January, odds are very good that Romney will pick up a lot more support from Republican voters.

Are Debates Hurting the Republican Candidates?

So far, the Republican Party has held 11 presidential debates, and between audience cheering for the death penalty, attacks on gay soldiers, or huge candidate gaffes, each debate has shown the GOP candidates in one unflattering light or the other. With 14 more debates to go, The New York Times reports some Republican elites are worried about the effect they could have on public perception. “This is the core of the Republican brand. You mess with it at your peril,” said Peter Feaver, a national security official under President George W. Bush. He compared the foreign policy flubs to reports about safety problems in Toyota vehicles. “The whole reason you bought a Toyota was so that you didn’t have those problems,” he said. “It cuts directly to the essence of the brand. Republicans should be concerned about this.” It’s hard to say how much effect these debates have had on the public’s perception of the Republican presidential candidates. It’s certainly true that primary debates can...

Obama Tied with Romney in the Swing States

Consider this an addendum to yesterday’s post on Nate Silver’s forecast of the 2012 election. According to a recent poll from USA Today and Gallup, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are tied in 12 swing states: New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada. Of the GOP candidates, Obama fares best against Texas Governor Rick Perry in these swing states, winning 49 percent of the vote to Perry’s 44 percent. Despite the coverage around it, this poll doesn’t actually tell us much new about the landscape for next year’s election. Given the current economy and his approval ratings, Obama has long stood an even chance of losing re-election. If it does anything, this poll just underscores the extent to which he is in a precarious position. One additional thing: I’m not sure that it makes sense to call Pennsylvania a swing state, given its track record in presidential elections. It has voted Democratic in every...

Does Money Affect Election Outcomes in US Politics? A Quick Review of the Literature

Yesterday I addressed the question of whether Obama was actually having trouble raising money for his 2012 re-election campaign. This of course begs a larger question: how much does campaign spending actually affect election outcomes in US politics? I put this question to Andrew Therriault , a post-doctoral fellow at Vanderbilt University and an expert on campaign effects. Q: (me) What are the basic conclusions of the literature regarding overall spending in US elections? A: (Therriault): With regard to overall spending, Jacobson (1978) was the first to show an effect on vote outcomes, but this effect was mainly present for challengers [in Congressional elections]. In subsequent years, the effect of challenger spending was confirmed, but others also found effects for incumbent spending as well (e.g. Green & Krasno 1988, Erikson & Palfrey 1995, Gerber 1998). The basic takeaway is that spending more is clearly effective for challengers, and probably also matters for incumbents...

The Game Belongs to Mitt

Last month, I argued that Mitt Romney was on his way to winning the Republican presidential nomination, despite the large anti-establishment faction within the GOP base. Herman Cain might be surging among Republican voters, but recent polls affirm that view. At the The Plum Line , Jonathan Bernstein examines a recent poll of GOP insiders and finds that Romney is well positioned to win wide support among Republican elites. Of the party actors in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, 36 percent report a “good chance” of endorsing the former Massachusetts governor. “Of the entire group,” notes Bernstein, “while 23% have already endorsed another candidate, only another 10% say they have 'no chance' of supporting him for the nomination.” Or, put another way, two-thirds of Republican elites in those states are willing to endorse Romney for the nomination. And given the extent to which endorsements are a key part of winning the party’s support, this is an excellent sign for Romney. With...

The revolving door of U.S. politics

I got the following email today from Jordan Gehrke, Campaign Director, AmericansforHermanCain.com Patriot— They’re at it again. Herman Cain is winning the Republican race for President. So the left-wing media has swung into action. Clarence Thomas called it a “high tech lynching” 20 years ago. That’s exactly what they’re doing to Herman Cain today. This is nothing but an attempt to smear Cain’s reputation and character. . . . The Left spews such hatred at black conservatives because they know that if the GOP ever breaks the Democrat stranglehold on the black vote, they are DONE as a party. . . . I’ll leave it to political scientists such as Tim Groseclose to judge whether the left-wing media has swung into action, but I will say that I think Jordan Gehrke is way wrong when he writes that the Democrats are goners if the GOP breaks their stranglehold on the black vote. On the contrary, I’m guessing that if the Republicans start getting a big chunk of black votes, a bunch of whites will...

Why Tim Pawlenty Should Have Stayed in the Race

This doesn’t come as a huge surprise, but the latest Gallup survey of Republican voters shows Georgia businessman Herman Cain leading the pack with a high positive intensity score. Cain scores 29 on the positive intensity score, a measure of how much voters like a particular candidate. He leads Mitt Romney by 17 points—a sign of Romney’s low favorability among GOP voters—and beats Rick Perry by 23 points. What’s more, Cain is the only candidate whose rating has gone up since entering the race. Here’s Gallup with more: It’s interesting to note that before he left the race in August, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty had a fairly decent positive intensity score—about 13 points —that would have improved as Rick Perry’s star dimmed and conservative voters scrambled for a new alternative to the former Massachusetts governor. Indeed, as The New Republic ’s Isaac Choitner points out , “Were he still running, Tim Pawlenty would have a better chance than everyone else (minus Romney and...

GOP Insiders Seemingly Confident in Herman Cain’s Viability

I am fascinated by this result from the latest HuffPo-Patch poll of Republican party elites in the early primary and caucus states: Nearly three-fourths, 74%, of these party insiders believe that “can beat Obama” describes Cain “very well” or “somewhat well.” That’s more confidence than I would expect. I would be interested to know why these insiders see him as so viable. Given the economic headwinds that Obama faces, there are probably many GOP candidates or non-candidates who could beat him—including, I think, Romney, Perry, Christie, Huntsman, Daniels, Thune, Pawlenty, and others. All you need is some modicum of political experience, a likable enough personality, issue positions that you can massage as needed for your primary and general election audiences, and a minimum of outright wackiness. (And even issue positions that are tougher to massage may not matter much if the economy dominates all other issues.) These qualities typically combine to make a viable candidate who in turn...

Too Much of a Terrible Thing

Between the barrage of debates and parade of activity, it feels like we’re close to finished with the Republican presidential primary. Of course, not only are we more than two months away from the first contest in Iowa, but the large majority of Republican primary voters remain uncommitted to either of the candidates. According to the most recent survey from The New York Times and CBS News, “About eight in 10 Republican primary voters say it is still too early to tell whom they will support, and just four in 10 say they have been paying a lot of attention to the 2012 presidential campaign.” Moreover, about 10 percent of voters say they want someone other than the available choices nominated. Of the Republicans polled, 25 percent say they support Georgia businessman Herman Cain; Mitt Romney garners 21 percent support, and Texas Governor Rick Perry has weakened to 6 percent support. That said, with 80 percent of Republican voters undecided, now is too early to discount Rick Perry, or...

Bachmann’s Staff Revolt

For a time it looked as though Michele Bachmann would be Mitt Romney’s main opponent for the GOP presidential nomination. She launched her campaign in June to significant fanfare, gracing the covers of national magazines and rising to the top of polls in Iowa. She was expected to be a fundraising juggernaut based on her high-dollar US House campaigns. In August she finished first at the Iowa Straw Poll, pushing fellow Minnesotan Tim Pawlenty out of the race in the process. It turned out to be a short-lived streak. Rick Perry stole her thunder when he announced his campaign on the very same day Bachmann won the straw poll, replacing her as the front-runner. Her presence began to recede in the debates, only getting noticed when she made far-out statements scaring parents from vaccinating children. At Florida P5 in September—the next major straw poll after Iowa—Bachmann finished dead last, getting only 1.5% of the 2,600 votes. Now her campaign is officially in tatters. Late last week,...

Iowa's Tea Party King

My article in the Prospect 's October issue is up at the homepage . It's a long feature, but here's a quick version: After the Iowa Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2009, social conservatives at the local and national levels joined forces to attack the court. They used a once-obscure procedure of judicial selection to kick three judges off the bench, though the ruling on marriage still stands as law. What's probably most interesting here at TAPPED is how this judicial election made Bob Vander Plaats -- the guy who led the campaign against the Iowa judges -- into a key figure for the 2012 presidential election. Once he succeeded in his efforts, Vander Plaats formed a group that has been vetting Republican presidential candidates. This summer, he received national attention when he asked them to sign a pledge that hammered home his normal litany of anti-gay rights positions, but he took things a little too far by suggesting that African American families were better off...

More Hope for Campaign Finance Reformers

I overlooked this in yesterday's post , but the Supreme Court's decision in McComish v. Bennett does more than just strike down the "trigger" mechanism in Arizona's public-financing law, which provides funds to participating candidates when they're outspent by opponents; it keeps Connecticut lawmakers from reintroducing an identical provision to their system of public financing, thus forcing them to devise another system for allocating funds. In a small bit of good news, however, the Court also rejected a challenge to Connecticut's law, which should provide hope for public-financing advocates. As part of its 2005 campaign-finance reforms, Connecticut -- like Arizona -- introduced a trigger mechanism for distributing public campaign funds. Instead of a single grant, payments were given on the basis of expense (how much the race actually costs) and when opponents crossed particular thresholds for spending. The system saw wide use in last year's gubernatorial primary, where Democrat...

There's Still Hope for Campaign Finance

Campaign finance reformers are understandably disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision in McComish v. Bennett . Not only does it mark the second time in two years that the Court has ruled for plutocratic interests and against attempts to regulate the flow of money in elections, but the ruling itself is nonsense. Unless “restricting speech” is a euphemism for limiting wealthy interests, it doesn’t restrict speech to provide matching funds for candidates who accept public financing. As Scott Lemieux noted earlier today, “A voluntary public financing system is not a substantial burden on free speech, and even if it was, its justification is among the most compelling—preserving access to the political process.” That said, the Court hasn’t placed a complete lid on public financing. This was a narrow ruling that struck down a particular “trigger” provision that gave candidates extra funds to match a high-spending opponent. As the Campaign Finance Institute points out, the Court “left...

Supreme Court Prefers Plutocracy to Free Speech

Speaking of Catch-22s , the Arizona campaign-finance case that the Prospect 's Jamelle Bouie wrote about last year has been decided by the Supreme Court, with results that are all too predictable. In Citizens United , the Court already made it nearly impossible to restrain expenditures by self-financed candidates or third parties, which allows people and corporations with more resources to drown out the voices of citizens with fewer or none. In response, the state of Arizona responded by providing matching funds to candidates who accept public campaign financing (while allowing candidates who turn down public funding to spend as much as they wish.) Arizona's system would allow candidates to accept public financing without the fear of being swamped by third-party expenditures without directly restricting speech. Alas, today the Supreme Court's Republican appointees made it clear that their real motivation in consistently ruling for big money in politics had more to do with protecting...

When Will Rick Perry Start Running for President?

The Wall Street Journal wrote yesterday afternoon that Rick Perry was ready to jump into running for president. The sourcing for the piece was incredibly unconvincing; I'm not sure how one "normally reliable Republican source" who is clearly not part of Perry's camp would know the Texas governor's intentions (and for what it is worth, Perry's official advisers have said a decision is still weeks away). But my major qualm lies with the timeline described for Perry's announcement. The Journal claims Perry will announce his candidacy around August 6, when he has scheduled a national prayer meeting in Houston. That timing would be the worst possible, as Perry would have both the disadvantages of entering the field late while gaining none of the benefits of a last-minute candidacy. If Perry truly does intend to run for the Republican nomination, he faces a dilemma on when exactly to begin his campaign. At the beginning of the year Perry truly appeared to have ruled out a presidential run,...

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