Tag Archives: Paul Ryan; Romney VP pick

The Ryan Pick: On, Wisconsin?

It’s been almost two weeks since Mitt Romney announced his selection of Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate, which provides enough time to take a first look at Ryan’s impact on the race so far.   In this vein, I think it is instructive to recall the pundits’ immediate assessment of the Ryan pick.  Needless to say, the reaction evinced a distinct partisan slant.  Romney supporters hailed the pick as Obama’s “worst nightmare”, a bold choice that offered voters a clear contrast  between the President’s unsustainable big spending, deficit-enhancing  policies versus a Romney-Ryan led return to fiscal prudence and economic growth. Moreover, by refocusing the campaign on how best to fix the economy, the Ryan pick shifted  the media narrative away from Bain Capital and Romney’s tax returns and, not incidentally, put Wisconsin back in play. Obama’s backers, on the other hand,  described the Ryan pick as a stunningly bad choice , one that not only exposed Romney’s weak electoral hand but also refocused the campaign from a referendum on  Obama’s middling economic record to a debate over Ryan’s radical House-backed budget legislation, including politically controversial proposals to reform Medicare.

Anyone reading this punditry might wonder if they were describing the same man!  Clearly, however, partisan pundits on both sides indicated that the Ryan pick – if not a “game changer” – was surely consequential in terms of the race.  The divide was over whether it would help or hurt Romney.

There was a third possibility, of course, one that I proposed in a post written shortly after Romney’s pick was announced:  that it wouldn’t have much impact on the race at all.  As I wrote then: “There is always a tendency for the media, particularly in the news-starved period that is August, to overreact to these types of political events.   Pundits have been quick to analyze what the Ryan pick tells us about Romney’s campaign strategy, and to assert that this high risk-high reward type of pick is destined to shake up the race. But we should not let the sheer volume of media analyses blind us to a third potential outcome: that the pick will be largely inconsequential.   Romney, after all, still heads the Republican ticket and the economic fundamentals will still likely drive the decision for most voters.”

I based my prediction on the historical record.  To begin, polls suggest that for most people in previous election the VP pick did not influence their vote choice for the top of the ticket. Moreover, Harry Enten shows the median impact of the VP pick on a candidate’s polling status prior to the convention is about 4%.

Those figures, moreover, tell us nothing about how long that 4% bump lasts.  As you can see from Enten’s chart, three of the four biggest bumps came during losing efforts.  Even that celebrated “game changer” Sarah Palin likely had a minimal impact on the outcome of the 2008 race. Although exit polls indicate that McCain won, 56%-43% among the 60% of respondents that said the Palin pick was “a factor” in their vote, it was not enough to swing the election his way.

All this suggested to me that despite the projections of the partisan punditry, the Ryan pick would have little lasting impact on this campaign.  So far – with one potential caveat – I seem to be right.  Stanford political scientist Simon Jackman’s analysis of polling data suggests the race remains virtually unchanged, with Obama leading Romney by about 46%-45%, as indicated in this graph.

That’s consistent with Mark Blumenthal’s assessment at Pollster.com.

This is not to say the Ryan pick was without consequences, however.  To begin, it appears to have mobilized the Republican base which has responded by opening its collective pocketbooks and contributing to the Romney campaign. Perhaps of greater significance, it may have tightened the race in Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin.   As this Pollster.com chart shows, Romney has gained an average of about 3% in four Wisconsin polls of likely voters since the Ryan pick was announced, which narrows Obama’s lead there from about 5-6% to closer to 2-3%.

We can’t be sure,  of course, whether this polling bounce will last, but for now it makes Wisconsin almost a tossup.  If Romney were to win Wisconsin, and its 10 Electoral College votes, it provides him with a bit more flexibility in how to put together enough states to reach the 270 Electoral College vote threshold. Keep in mind, however, that states tend to move together; if Romney picks up the additional 2-3% needed to put him over the top in Wisconsin, he’s likely to do so in other battleground states as well.   So we shouldn’t fixate on Wisconsin as the key to Romney’s electoral fortunes.

At this point, then, I stand by my initial assessment: the Ryan pick will likely have at best a marginal impact on the 2012 presidential election.

Meanwhile, On Wisconsin!  (This one’s for you, Cason…..)

 

Why Choose Ryan Now? Because There’s No Time To Lose

I’m posting at the Economist today with a short piece on the timing of the Ryan announcement which, as I’ve noted before, is the second  earliest relative to the start of a candidate’s nominating convention since 1976.  While it is tempting to attribute the timing of Romney’s announcement of the Ryan pick to his sliding polling numbers (if, in fact they were sliding!), I think something more fundamental is at work here.  Simply put, campaigns are unfolding at a quicker pace, particularly with the expected increase in early voting which may reach 35% or more nationally, and which in some battleground states could go even higher, to 70% or more according to some estimates.  And, as one Economist reader commented, by announcing the Ryan pick early Romney may be seeking to accelerate his fundraising so that’s he’s ready to spend the money that becomes eligible for him to use in the post-convention period.  And, indeed, there’s some evidence that there’s been a fundraising windfall since Ryan’s pick was announced.

Meanwhile, Romney and  Ryan went on 60 Minutes last Sunday as their first major joint media venture and, much as I expected, Romney was quick to dispel any notion that he’s running on the Ryan budget plan:  “Well, I have my budget plan as you know that I’ve put out. And that’s the budget plan that we’re going to run on. At the same time, we have the record of President Obama. If people think, by the way, that their utility bill has gone down, they should vote for him. If they think jobs are more plentiful, they should vote for him.”   Of course, Romney’s efforts are likely to have almost no impact on efforts by Obama surrogates to argue that he is in fact running on the Ryan plan – or to make him directly repudiate that plan. And that’s why I don’t think the Ryan pick is going to shift very many votes.  It may, however, engage the Republican base a bit more, both  in terms of early voting and fundraising.

I’ll be back here tomorrow with a post on the Fareed Zakaria situation.

 

Three Misconceptions About the Ryan Pick

In my view, there are a number of misconceptions regarding the implications of the Ryan pick for the presidential election that are being exacerbated by the twitter-driven, echo-chamber nature of what passes for political discourse these days.

Misconception one is that this suddenly changes this election from being a referendum on Obama’s handling of the economy into a choice between competing visions about the role of government.  It does not – because this election has always been both a referendum and a choice.   The notion that campaigns are either one or the other is wrong; political scientists (at least in recent decades) have argued that there are elements of both retrospective and prospective voting in presidential elections. That’s why party affiliation rates, while largely stable, nonetheless do change from election to election.  Voters are, in effect, keeping a running tally regarding the relative merits of the two parties, and that evaluation is affected both by assessments of the current party’s performance but also by how voters feel the out-party has performed in the past.   The Ryan pick does nothing to change this general calculus.

The second misconception is that voters will carefully consider the details of the Ryan budget plan as part of their vote calculus, and that this assessment will determine whether they can support Romney.  It is true that pundits have gotten deep into the weeds of Ryan’s budget proposal during the past 48 hours, with both sides trotting out studies showing how it will save/wreck Medicare, help/hurt seniors, increase/decrease the budget and lower/raise middle class taxes.   But for most voters these details don’t and won’t matter for two simple reasons.  First, because Romney is at the top of the ticket, he has the luxury of selectively incorporating elements of the Ryan plan into the Romney plan, which is what he will run on.  Second, like all presidential candidates, Romney will paint his campaign using broad thematic strokes, not pointillist policy proclamations.   Remember Nixon’s “secret plan” to end U.S. involvement in Vietnam?  Or how Reagan would bolster defense spending, cut  taxes and balance the budget?  The reasons these campaigns frames worked is because enough voters were dissatisfied with the status quo to take a flier on an alternative, if poorly specified, vision.  Romney didn’t choose Ryan because he embraced Ryan’s  budget – he chose him to reinforce his preferred campaign frame that the economy is in trouble, and that Romney is a problem-solver.  Ryan’s reputation, deserved or not, as a policy wonk complements this frame.

The third misconception is that by choosing Ryan, who is a movement conservative, Romney missed his chance to appeal to independents, particularly low-income and middle-class whites, and seniors in key battleground states who may still be undecided.  Instead, this pick appeals more to the Republican party base, but because they already back Romney, Ryan adds little to ticket. The reality is that Ryan is largely a blank slate to most voters, as are the details of his budget.  This provides some flexibility for Romney and Ryan to begin filling in that slate with their preferred spin, including amending or even disavowing  portions of the Ryan budget.  (Keep in mind that when the Ryan budget was described to a focus group,  using Ryan’s own words, a slim majority of those surveyed actually supported it.)  Of course, Democrats will be doing the same.  Critics contend that once Democrats point out the implications of the Ryan budget for programs such as Medicare, the Ryan budget will become a drag on the ticket, detracting from efforts to make this election about the economy.   I think that may be true for some voters.  But I also think  that when confronted with competing frames, there will be little net movement among voters based solely on their assessment of the Ryan budget – or on Ryan himself.

There is always a tendency for the media, particularly in the news-starved period that is August, to overreact to these types of political events.   Pundits have been quick to analyze what the Ryan pick tells us about Romney’s campaign strategy, and to assert that this high risk-high reward type of pick is destined to shake up the race. But we should not let the sheer volume of media analyses blind us to a third potential outcome: that the pick will be largely inconsequential.   Romney, after all, still heads the Republican ticket and the economic fundamentals will still likely drive the decision for most voters.

I Was Wrong About Romney’s VP Pick

If media reports are accurate, Mitt Romney is set to announce his vice presidential pick today at 8:45 a.m. (E.T.) during a morning campaign event in Virginia.  Based on twitter feeds, the early betting indicates that Paul Ryan is the choice.  If Romney does announce Ryan as his pick today, this will be the earliest announcement - as measured by the number of days before the candidate’s party convention – of  a vice presidential choice by any presidential candidate, with the exception of John Kerry in 2004, dating back to 1976.  I’ll have much more to say about this later today, but for now I would point out that Ryan – if he’s the pick – has some of the strengths I mentioned regarding Rob Portman: he’s a Washington insider with deep knowledge of budget politics.  In short, he’s Portman, but with the pizazz that Portman – and Tim Pawlenty – lack. If Ryan is the pick, Republican conservatives are going to be very very pleased. As an added plus for Romney, Ryan might make Wisconsin competitive. But I do find it interesting that Romney felt compelled to announce his VP pick this far in advance of the Republican Party convention. My guess – and it is only a guess – is that his decision was influenced in part by recent national polls suggesting Obama had extended his “lead”. Romney is hoping that by announcing the pick this early, he might capture the media headlines and stem, at least for the moment, the seeming erosion in polling support.  I don’t doubt that Romney’s announcement of his VP pick will dominate media coverage for the next several days (although I do question his decision to announce the pick on a weekend!)  But if history is any guide it won’t have any lasting impact on the 2012 presidential race, beyond a short-term polling bump.  And, for what it is worth (which is next to nothing), Condi Rice was the better choice.  My mistake, however, was not in predicting that Rice would be the choice – it was in arguing that Romney would hold off on announcing his pick until shortly before the Republican convention, as almost all previous candidates have done.

I’ll have more to say on this later today .