Intelligent Political (Meta)Commentary

From the NYTimes by Nate Silver:

During the Republican nominating contest, competing paradigms have arisen for how to interpret the evidence from polls, voting results and other tangible indicators of success or failure. The paradigms present profoundly different conclusions about the most likely outcome.

One might be called “More of the Same.” It asserts that the traditional rules of engagement in a nomination race still apply, and that the empirical evidence from past contests is reasonably powerful.

That evidence looks something like this: Although the nomination is technically decided by delegate counts, and somewhat less literally by the preferences of rank-and-file voters, ultimately the nominee is determined by a sort of open negotiation among the party elite, which includes elected officials, major donors and the partisan news media, among others….

The competing paradigm might be called “This Time Is Different.” It asserts that a fundamental change has occurred in America’s political culture, or that a temporary shift is especially salient in this year’s Republican race.

Under this interpretation, elite support and the ground game do not matter as much as usual. Instead, success is more idiosyncratic: personalities matter a lot, and nominations are determined based primarily on momentum and news media coverage.

There is the potential under these rules for the process to be chaotic. Not only is there no guarantee that voters will “fall in line,” but they may actively rebel against presumptions that they will do so, leading to rapid changes in momentum, and increasing the potential that a party will nominate an “unelectable” or nontraditional candidate. Under this view, the best indication of voter sentiment at any given time is probably the polling — although it may be acknowledged or expected that the results will change rapidly….

I have tried to weigh these competing paradigms in my coverage of the Republican race. But I had found the evidence for “More of the Same” compelling after Iowa and New Hampshire. Suddenly, but not unexpectedly, according to the theory, everything seemed to have fallen into place. The Republican nomination race of 2012 more closely resembled the Democratic contest of 2004, in which there was some ambiguity about the outcome before the voting began, but one candidate — John Kerry — emerged as a clear front-runner after Iowa and New Hampshire and never looked back.

Then came South Carolina….

In the case of presidential primaries, previous beliefs ought not be accorded all that much weight: Americans have not been picking presidential nominees in quite this way for all that long, and yet a presidential nomination process is complex. In more abstract terms, both conceptual and statistical models of the presidential nomination process may be “overfit” and draw too many conclusions from idiosyncratic examples.

My view is that Mr. Gingrich’s win in South Carolina alone is not enough to be paradigm-breaking. But if he follows it with a win in Florida, all bets are off. Not only would that represent further evidence of Mr. Gingrich’s strength, it would suggest that we had been weighing the evidence incorrectly all along.





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  • Amos Paul

    Funnier still, both Gingrich and Santorum are *not* on the primary ballot in Virginia.

    Gingrich is also missing on the Missouri ballot.,0,5253334.story

    Neither will he (along with Santorum, who has others as well) have a full delegate slate to vote for in Tennessee.

    There’s also plenty of rumours online about other states those two missed and/or did not submit a full delegate slate. Of course, I’m a Ron Paul supporter–but it’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out if support is all over the map for these guys while Romney/Paul are the only two on every poll.


  • TSG

    “The Republican race of 2012 more closely resembled the Democratic race of 2004. in which there was some ambiguity about the outcome before the race began, but one candidate- John Kerry- emerged as a clear front runner after Iowa and New Hampshire and never looked back.
    Then Came South Carolina”.

    I tried to show the Jesus Creed community the merits of Mitt Romney in 2007/2008. My handle then was tscott. This year I’m not backtracking, my positions then as to why he is a good candidate still stand. His family, Olympic history, business history, and governor of a liberal state all are meritorious, despite people nitpicking them for some blood.

    However, the landscape has changed. What Republican wants the result of the analogy of a failed Kerry attempt at nomination by the party in 2004, a success in 2008, only to lose to the incumbent?

    Ron Paul is the grass roots candidate this year. Sort of similar to Ross Perot in the 90’s. If you think the issues that Perot ran on way back then, or the one’s Paul is raising now will go away, you are naive. But I have a personal history with Ron Paul from being with him as an officer in the military at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, in 1968/69. He’s not for me.

    So now the bottom line. A brokered convention is a minute possibility. The cards are stacked against the two ways this could happen. You can read about it elsewhere. If you hear of favorite son’s later in time, you know this is a last ditch effort for a brokered election. The other possibility is a late February entry. This isn’t so far fetched, and you can bet that behind the scenes there is much ado about this, and not much ado about nothing. And the old adage of politics making for strange bedfellows applies. Even Gingrich and Santorum are not on many primary ballots in more than a handful of states. And the person that is the late entry may not even be the Republican candidate in August. Mark my words.

  • Robin

    A late entry is getting more impossible by the minute. Kentucky is 44th in primary dates, yet even we have a paperwork deadline in less than a week. I have a hard time believing that many of the primaries between now and April still have open deadlines for candidate paperwork. We are stuck with one of the 4 or a brokered convention.

  • Robin

    Also, I strongly subscribe to the “this time it’s different” philosophy for this election. In addition to the technologies that have emerged in the past 8 years – I mean could Ron Paul have financed his campaign with internet moneybombs in 2004 – we also have citizens United. Newt has a sugardaddy that has spent >$10 M directly in the past month or two. I’m still not sure all of the ways this election is different, but I know that it is very different than what we faced 8 years ago.

  • Amos Paul


    I’m sorry, but your reasons given *for* Romney and *against* Paul all sound like personal reasons (things you like or dislike about their life/history), and not policy reasons.

    I’m not saying you don’t have policy reasons for your choices, but that kind of crap bugs the shenanigans outta’ me. Not that I don’t recognize most people vote based upon who the media tells them to vote for anyway, but it bothers me that people generally justify *why* they’re ‘for’ or ‘against’ somebody because, “He’s a businessman!” or “I don’t like his personality” or whatever, IMO, superfluous non-politcally related reasons.

    I don’t care what your policy stances are (as in personally judging, of course I’d rather have more people agree with my views politically), but people *need* to recognize that we *have* to have solid political discussions and not this vapid, hollow rhetoric that the vast majority of political ‘debates’ have begun to morp into.

    We don’t need more races of personality. Fights of arbitrary two-party lines that rarely address the issues in our country with serious weight. Nominal policy-making. A system that evolves by building more laws but never asking if we’ve formed the policy we’re building off of healthfully and well.

    I see very few (if any) policy differences between Gingrich, Romney, and Santorum (that is, the policy ideas they’ve mentioned–not that they’ve given us much objective examples of what they plan to do). I see very few policy differences between Bush and Obama. This country is slowly hobbling along pretty much as is, spreading thinner and thinner economically while our politcal center is becoming little more than theatre.

  • Home On The Range

    I’ve been saying all along that this is the year for the “Dark Horse”. Almost no one I have spoken with is thrilled about any of the Republican candidates, including myself, and I think the results of the 3 so far primaries have shown that. I’m expecting someone, either from the back of the pack or not even on the ballots, to be put forward at the convention. Whoever it is has got to be better than what’s out there!!!