Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Expectations and the 2012 Republican Presidential Nomination

Coming off of the Value Voters Summit 2012 straw poll this past weekend, FHQ has been considering expectations. Expectations are an interesting thing. I often talk to my students (relieved ones, I might add) about having set the bar so low prior to or immediately after taking an exam, that anything C or better is seen as having been successful. [Mind you, I'm not encouraging them to do this; only acknowledging that it takes place.] If you follow college football at all, we saw this play out in the time leading up to and during the University of Florida's game against Tennessee this past weekend. Vegas oddsmakers thought the Volunteers to be a 30 point underdog to the number one Gators. And the talk all week was not about who would win the game, but how much Florida would win by. In other words, expectations were high for Florida and low for Tennessee. That the Volunteers kept it close, ultimately losing by ten points, exceeded the expectations that even the most devout Volunteer fan had going in to the match up. It also had the sports punditry questioning the strength of Florida's team and the odds that the Gators will repeat this year as national champions.

Well, politics is no stranger to the expectations game either. With overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress and Barack Obama in the White House, the sky was the limit for Democrats to get something done on a wide range of issues affecting the United States. However, things have gone anything other than smoothly since the beginning of the year for the Democratic Party and the president. It hasn't been all bad, but those numbers in Congress certainly inflated the expectations at the outset. And the party's inability to pass legislation on health care among other things has fed some of the frustration that is being felt primarily among independent voters. [Check out how the gap on the generic congressional ballot for 2010 has closed since last year's election.]

Expectations also play an outsized role in the presidential nomination process. And though this past weekend's straw poll was anything but representative of the Republican Party as a whole or the state of things over two years down the road, it is hard not to look at the results and think about them in terms of the expectations for each of the nine candidates included on the Value Voters' ballots.

Now let's look at those straw poll results again with expectations in mind. Here are FHQ's grades for each candidates relative to their expectations heading into the vote:
Mike Huckabee 28.48% (exceeded expectations)
Mitt Romney 12.40% (failed to meet expectations)
Tim Pawlenty 12.23% (exceeded expectations)
Sarah Palin 12.06% (failed to meet expectations)
Mike Pence 11.89% (exceeded expectations)
Newt Gingrich 6.70% (failed to meet expectations)
Bobby Jindal 4.69% (met expectations)
Rick Santorum 2.51% (met expectations)
Ron Paul 2.18% (failed to meet expectations)
Now some explanation. I think it is probably wise to draw a distinction among the exceeds expectations crowd. Certainly, Mike Huckabee's win -- the margin especially -- exceeded expectations, but given his background and his performance in last year's Republican primaries (not to mention the 2007 Value Voters straw poll where he placed a close second), it wasn't necessarily unforeseen. FHQ, then, would add the caveat here that Mike Huckabee slightly exceeded expectations whereas Tim Pawlenty and Mike Pence greatly exceeded the expectations that met each heading into the vote.

We often talk about bang for your buck in our posts on the 2012 candidates' usage of Twitter (see especially the Follower Ratio) and that applies here as well. The idea in the context of Twitter is that the more you use the service, the more followers you should have. What we could call the Expectations Ratio is comparable. Tim Pawlenty is running for president. Earlier this year, the Minnesota governor announced he would not seek a third term in 2010 and became vice chair of the Republican Governors Association after Mark Sanford's resignation as chair elevated Haley Barbour to the position and opened up the vice chair's spot. Pawlenty's travel schedule surrounding the RGA vice chair position affords him the opportunity to travel the country and get this name, face and ideas out there among the influential elites within the Republican Party. He has also spoken out more against the Obama administration and taken on a more visible presence in the media.

Contrast that with Mike Pence. Sure, the Indiana congressman's name has been quietly whispered in Republican circles as a 2012 possibility, but he hasn't been able to parlay that into any greater a voice than he had before.

But Pawlenty is very obviously working toward the nomination whereas Pence, though he may be quietly doing so, is not. Who got more bang for their buck? Both were in the pack that essentially tied for second place, but Pawlenty is the one who is publicly working to catch up to Huckabee and Palin and Romney in this invisible primary. Pence, on the other hand, though talked about as a possibility (and that certainly counts), just showed up and delivered a speech at the summit. Indiana's 8th district representative seemed to have gotten more for what he's put into it. However, given his current platform, Pawlenty may be able to utilize his showing the straw poll more effectively.

...but I'll have more on Pawlenty in a post later today.

Let's have a look now at the candidates who failed to meet expectations.

Mitt Romney was hurt by the fact that he won the straw poll in 2007, and failed to match that in 2009. Plus, the fact that the former Massachusetts governor is viewed, at least from a policy perspective (His background in business matches well with the current calls from the right for more fiscal conservatism.), as the frontrunner for the 2012 nomination, also made that 16 point margin between himself and Mike Huckabee seem that much wider. [The two basically tied atop the 2007 straw poll.]

Given that this was a group with which she was thought to be in good standing, Sarah Palin also failed to meet expectations. Now, Palin was working at a disadvantage here and her grade should be tempered by that fact. Unlike many of the others on the ballot, Palin was not in attendance, and as such, did not deliver a speech. In fact, there is a nice line of demarcation between the candidates who attended and those who did not. And it should perhaps not come as a surprise that four of the five candidates who were on the ballot and did not attend also ended up on the bottom in the results. The exception? Sarah Palin. That the former Alaska governor managed a second place finish when all the others not in attendance couldn't break the 7% mark in the straw poll, says something. Yet, given her position as the party's former vice presidential nominee and how she has done in some of the early polling (tightly clustered with Romney and Huckabee in the early primary polling for 2012), her showing amongst a group thought to be among her strongest supporters (though some of the early polling seems to refute that notion) places a certain amount of drag on her showing here relative to the expectations.

Finally, Newt Gingrich, for such a large and influential voice in the party, just simply failed to meet expectations. Yes, the former Speaker of the House has consistently polled behind the Huckabee/Palin/Romney troika, but he has also managed to outpace the "everyone else" category. That was not the case in this straw poll. The former Georgia congressman came in below a couple of heretofore "everyone else" candidates in Pawlenty and Pence.

Do the results hurt Romney or Palin or Gingrich? No, not as much as they help someone like Tim Pawlenty get mentioned in the same breath as that threesome or Mike Huckabee in relation to the 2012 Republican nomination.

*For more on the role of expectations in various aspects of the presidential nomination process please see Haynes, Gurian and Nichols (1997) and Haynes, Flowers and Gurian (2002).

Recent Posts:
About that New Jersey Governors Poll, Part III

State of the Race: Virginia Governor (9/20/09)

About that New Jersey Governors Poll, Part II

No comments: