Monthly Archives: December 2011

Quick introduction to the Iowa caucuses

For anyone confused about the Iowa caucuses (and don’t worry – you’re not alone!), you might be interested in this documentary on the 2008 caucuses produced by the Political Science Department at the University of Iowa. It’s about 45 minutes long. The first 15 minutes or show gives an overview of how the caucus process works, and the rest talks about why the Iowa caucuses are important and how they affect the rest of the nominating process. Enjoy!

Why and how winning the Iowa Caucuses matters for presidential candidates

More from Why Iowa? by David Redlawsk, Caroline Tolbert, and Todd Donovan:

Even though Iowa contributes only a small number of delegates to the national convention, the Iowa caucuses “matter” a great deal because they affect vote choices through the rest of the nomination process. Two features of the caucus results are especially important: 1) how candidates perform relative to “expectations” going into the caucuses, and 2) how media coverage of the candidates changes immediately following the Iowa caucuses.

Relying on a series of public opinion surveys, the authors demonstrate that in early February 2008, roughly half of the primary voters in the Super Tuesday states were able to correctly identify the winner of the Iowa caucuses. Those that knew this information were more likely to vote for the Iowa caucus winners than those who did not. The authors theorize that this is because performance in the Iowa caucuses helps candidates demonstrate viability (likelihood of winning the nomination) and electability (likelihood of winning the general election).

Thus, the authors argue, it is not necessary for a candidate to win the Iowa caucuses, but it is extremely helpful for their campaign if they 1) do better than expected, and 2) the media increases its coverage of the candidate as a result. If these two conditions are met, the candidate is much more likely to win the New Hampshire primaries and then the rest of the nomination battle.

On the representativeness of the Iowa Caucuses

As we’re now less than a week out from the Iowa caucuses, I spent a few days reading Why Iowa? by Professors David Redlawsk, Caroline Tolbert, and Todd Donovan. The book is an extensive and well-researched examination of the effect of Iowa (and New Hampshire) on U.S. presidential nominations. The authors rely on statistical analysis of a series of public opinion surveys fielded during 2007 and 2008 in both Iowa and the nation at large to draw their conclusions. (Personal note: the book was especially interesting to me because Professors Redlawsk and Tolbert were both members of my Ph.D. dissertation committee at the University of Iowa and I had the opportunity to help collect the data analyzed in their book during the 2008 caucus season.)

There’s a great deal of content in the book that would be of interest to a wide audience. Over the next few posts, I’ll share a few of what I view as the most substantively important and interesting contributions that the book makes to our understanding of the Iowa caucuses.

First, many people criticize the Iowa caucuses because they consider them to be elite-dominated and unrepresentative of the people of Iowa. Their survey results indicate just the opposite: on a host of measures, Iowa caucus attenders are not all that different from the voting eligible population in Iowa as a whole, except that Iowa caucus attenders are slightly better educated and more religious than non-attenders.

Second, many people criticize the Iowa caucuses because they view Iowa itself as unrepresentative of the rest of the United States: it’s a small, rural state with very low levels of racial or ethnic diversity. Why, then, should they have the privileged position at the start of the nominating season? The authors cite recent research by Peverill Squire and Michael Lewis-Beck that shows that when you look at a host of economic indicators, Iowa is actually the most “average” state in the country.

More on Romney and Obama’s similarities

This write-up in the NYT on Romney’s time in graduate school is fascinating:

It describes a Mitt Romney who is a pragmatic, over-achieving problem-solver, not an ideologue.

Again, it’s interesting to me how similar Obama and Romney are in their personalities, despite their political differences. Should Romney become the GOP nominee over the next few months, we’ll be faced with a choice between two pragmatic, compromising, wonkish, detail-oriented non-ideologues who would prioritize results over faithfulness to party ideology. From my perspective, we could have a worse set of choices.

2012 Republican presidential endorsement

The InformationKnoll weblog officially endorses former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney for the 2012 GOP presidential primary.

In doing so, I readily admit that Mitt Romney would not be my first choice. In my view, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman is, by far, the superior candidate. It is telling that Huntsman was the only potential candidate that the Obama administration was seriously worried about (which is why they tried to take him out of the running early by appointing him ambassador to China). Huntsman’s moderate policy stands appeal to a wide swath of voters. He’s well-versed in foreign affairs and carries credibility on the international stage. And given current global trends, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to have a president who speaks Mandarin Chinese.

But for a variety of reasons (some his fault, most not) Huntsman has a near-zero chance of getting the nomination at this point. Thus, Mitt Romney is the next least-undesirable choice (I’m saying this as someone who likely will not vote for the Republican candidate next fall, whoever he/she happens to be). And at this point, every vote for Huntsman, especially in New Hampshire, is likely one vote less for Romney. Given the moderately serious threat that Gingrich poses, the moderate coalition of the GOP (in my view, Romney and Huntsman supporters, and a few Ron Paul supporters) needs to get together behind a single candidate with the best chance of winning (and more importantly, making sure that Newt Gingrich is NOT a mere 270 electoral votes away from the White House) — and that’s Mitt Romney.

Even though I likely won’t vote for him in the general election (although that could always change), I readily admit that Mitt Romney would make a fair to decent president. I agree with the editorial board of the Des Moines Register about Romney being the best candidate to demonstrate “sobriety, wisdom, and judgment“. In his heart of hearts, I don’t think that Romney is an extremist and I am skeptical (although I could be wrong!) that he would be an extremist as president. Further, I agree with David Brooks that “Romney can be dull“. However, I also agree with David Brooks that “that’s a good thing“:

Finally, Romney can be dull. Political activists like exciting candidates. But most people, who have lower expectations from politics and politicians, just want them to provide basic order. They want government to be orderly so they can be daring in other spheres of their lives. Romney is the most predictable of the candidates and would make for the most soporific of presidents. That’s a good thing. Government would function better if partisan passions were on a lower flame.       

It’s exciting to have charismatic leaders. But often the best leaders in business, in government and in life are not glittering saviors. They are professionals you hire to get a job done. The strongest case for Romney is that he’s nobody’s idea of a savior.      

My strongest reservation about endorsing Romney is that he is a clear and strong neoconservative in terms of his foreign policy views (see here for a brief overview of neoconservatism). Neoconservatism in the George W. Bush administration got us the Iraq War and drastically increased anti-Americanism throughout Europe and Asia and, I would argue, diminished America’s ability to be a positive influence in the world. I am not anxious to have another president who would approach foreign affairs from a neoconservative perspective.

That being said, the only alternatives with preferable foreign policy views (Huntsman and Paul) are not viable (Huntsman in the primary and Paul in the general). Those with similar foreign policy views are also much less preferable than Romney. I’ve already shared my views on Newt Gingrich. Perry, Bachmann, and Santorum all have serious competency, world-view/ideology, or viability concerns (respectively).

So that leaves us with Mitt Romney. I encourage all my friends in Iowa to caucus for him on January 3rd, and my non-Iowa friends to support him in the various state primaries next spring.

Tough choice for the GOP on the payroll tax cut extension

Nate Silver, on President Obama’s recent modest rise in approval ratings:

But what is driving the change? One popular theory is that Mr. Obama is benefiting from the confrontation with Congress over the payroll tax cut:

“A CNN/ORC International Poll out Tuesday also indicates that the partisan battle over extending the payroll tax cut may be partially responsible for the jump in the president’s numbers.”

I would suggest that another explanation is much more plausible: Mr. Obama’s improved approval ratings reflect rising economic expectations.

Full article here.

If you, like most political scientists, accept the economic argument, it suddenly puts House Republicans in a tough spot. On one hand, failure to pass an extension of the payroll tax cut is increasingly being viewed as though House Republicans are actually for a tax increase on the middle class. On the other hand, economists seem to agree that failure to pass this tax cut extension could be detrimental to the fragile economic recovery. That would be good for Republicans because it increases the likelihood that Obama loses re-election next fall.

Be seen as unfriendly to the middle class on taxes and risk further harming the economy or indirectly improve Obama’s re-election prospects. A tough choice for the GOP, indeed. In this difficult situation, it seems that so far they’re picking the former over the latter.

More on Obama and Romney’s personalities

As a quick follow-up to my previous post, here are some personality profiles on both President Obama and Governor Romney that were published by Audrey Immelman, a political psychologist, during the 2008 election season. It’s uncanny how true-to-form Obama has been since taking office:

Obama (a “confident conciliator”): (this is especially interesting)

Romney (“dutiful and dominant”):

I don’t think that a candidate’s personality is overly predictive of electoral success, but I do think that personality is extremely important to predicting or understanding governing style and overall effectiveness once elected. Thus, taking a candidate’s personality into consideration is important.