Showing posts with label campaigns. Show all posts
Showing posts with label campaigns. Show all posts

Friday, September 12, 2008

Questions About the Current State of the Presidential Race

Yeah, FHQ has been rather devoted to the electoral college this week. [Well, that and the classes I'm teaching this semester, but that's a different story.] As I've looked at things more and more, I've had a couple of questions about the direction things are actually moving in this race. We have had 46 polls released this week (47 counting the Rasmussen poll of Washington released this morning.) and the overall trend seems to favor McCain -- on both the national and state level. But as I discussed in the map post I put up for today, the biggest shifts are among these states -- traditionally Republican states -- that that have been surprisingly competitive until this post-convention period. There has also been some augmentation of McCain's leads in even some of the ruby red states and some subtle, yet less clear movement in the battleground states.

What does this leave us with, then? Well, even if you hold out the electoral votes from Nevada and Ohio -- two states that are basically tied -- Obama still, even in the midst of this McCain bounce, maintains an advantage over the Arizona senator in the electoral college. Granted, at 273-240, it is a smaller edge and even smaller if we assume that McCain wins both Nevada and Ohio (273-265 EVs). But Obama surpasses 270 in both situations and that's the point. At what point do we (or should we) begin thinking of this current race as similar to the primary race for the Democratic nomination? Similar to the delegate lead he held over Clinton after his February string of victories and subsequently sat on until primary season ended, does Obama simply sit back and play defense in these toss up states that have been favoring him? If we begin thinking of the electoral vote advantages as similar to the delegate advantage, can Obama just simply play defense, leaning on his advantages in the ground game in most of these states (Michigan being the possible exception.) and still win.

Now, this asks us to some extent to suspend our belief that the campaign matters. At the same time, though, we are taking a step back from the micro-level view of the race -- lipstick comments and ABC interviews, etc. -- to take on a more macro- view of where this race is. And with history in the primary campaign as our guide, does Obama reign things in and play defense to ensure a win, however small?

Another question that I've had as more and more polling has emerged this week reverses course from above, focusing on micro-level trends. We have had, as I said above, 46 state polls released this week. Two-thirds of those polls have been conducted in states that are or were toss up states according to our averages at the time the polls were released. But one thing that has stood out is the lack of polling in those "strong" Obama states. Yes, we've had polls from Maine, Maryland and Washington, but there have been twice as many polls released from "strong" McCain states. How much do the large margins in those states feed into the narrative that McCain is surging? Alternatively, are things timed in a way that polling in those "strong" Obama states begins emerging as a potentially stale Palin narrative fades out to be replaced by the next big thing -- an Obama rebound? Or do tighter margins in those states continue to feed the current media narrative?

Now, I've asked more questions here than I've answered, but that's kind of by design. The daily electoral college updates have quashed the variety we've had lately (but so too has the void left by the conventions) and in the process the discussions we've had in the comments section. So what do you think? Is the current state of the general election campaign similar to the primary campaign? Are the states where polling has been released driving the stories in the media? The comments section awaits!

Also, what were everyone's impressions/thoughts on the Palin interview last night?

Recent Posts:
The Electoral College Map (9/12/08)

The Electoral College Map (9/11/08)

The Electoral College Map (9/10/08)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

New Zealand Schoolgirls, Simpleminded Voters and Presidential Elections

What took voters in the US two months to figure out, New Zealand schoolgirls determined just by looking at pictures. It took over half the country's primary electorate to narrow the field of prospective presidential nominees from both major parties down to three. But that process had already been done between May and August of 2007 by college students in Australia and New Zealand and high school girls from New Zealand. And that was all based on pictures of the potential candidates that would be vying for the two major party slots in the general election. So we, here in the new world, opted to have debates and campaign in the snows of Iowa and New Hampshire and fuss over Florida and Michigan delegates for nothing? Well no, but that's the beauty of an electoral system. Those rules that were the crux of the Florida/Michigan question are the rules that govern how these nominations are decided.

I'll avoid the "is the system necessary question," but the one question that lingers is, do campaigns matter? If "snap judgments" of schoolgirls thousands of miles away can accurately predict the nominees six months in advance, are all these efforts to get out the vote and advertise all that necessary? We've had this discussion in this space before, but this frames the matter in a slightly different light. If people are going to fall back on those first impression/snap judgments, then is it all much ado about nothing?

It depends on who you ask. Campaigns matter in that they are efforts to change or maintain certain perceptions about the candidates they represent. It is not unlike the web page ranking that Google undertakes. If you have a web page (and are at all entreprenurial about it--ahem) the goal is undoubtedly to get as many people to look at it and read as possible. The window into that is often a search engine. But people aren't going to find a site if it is off the first couple of pages of search results. If a voter's mind is a search engine, a campaign is an effort to make that first page of results as beneficial to their candidate (or as negative for their opponent) as they can. Campaigns, then, are ways of altering those search results. If you typed in "Obama" in Google and got a first page of results ranging from the Obama campaign's web site to news accounts about his relationship with Jeremiah Wright to rumors of his being Muslim, the Obama campaign would have its work cut out. [In fact, that's very much what the Obama campaign is doing with its Fight the Smears web site, turning those perceptions on their head.] And it is like that in the minds of voters as well. If you were to ask the man on the street to name ten things about John McCain or Barack Obama, you could likely get a glimpse into what those internal search engine results are. And those are the ten things that any campaign is seeking to maintain or change.

Of course, those percptions (first impressions or otherwise) are influenced by partisanship, a person's level of political sophistication, and/or other information shortcuts that help make the vote choice decision an easier one to make. Those heuristics or shortcuts are the root of Samuel Popkin's The Reasoning Voter thesis and more recently have found their way into the work of Lau and Redlawsk. As the latter work shows, however, the efficient utilization of shortcuts depends in large part on how much political knowledge someone already possesses. The more politically sophisticated a person, the better able that person will be to use the shortcuts to arrive at a vote decision in line with their views. For the uninformed, the result of using those heuristics is not as representative.

Even that success/failure of shortcuts is dependent upon the choices provided. If the choice is a clear one between liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican, then the utilization of shortcuts has a greater chance of being fruitful. If you have a more moderate candidate, as John McCain is considered in some circles, the wires get crossed and the useful use of heursitics breaks down. Strategically speaking then, the Obama campaign would likely want to push McCain over to right. McCain has done some of this for the Illinois senator by being on the same side of several issues with the Bush administration. The clearer that choice, the better able folks will be to effectively use shortcuts. McCain, on the other hand, would value occupying the center-right in an effort to muddy the distinction between the two candidates. That, in turn, would affect how effectively those information shortcut would be employed.

...or we could just rely on New Zealand schoolgirls to cut out the middleman and let us know who the next president will be.

Recent Posts:
The Electoral College Map (6/22/08)

2008 Primary and Caucus Final Grade Sheet

Insult to Injury: Obama and His Money

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Do Campaigns Matter? A Reflection on the Results in Pennsylvania

As I awoke this morning to find the final margin in yesterday's Pennsylvania primary, I was haunted, to some extent, by the parallels that were drawn between Ohio and Pennsylvania in the wake of the Ohio primary some six weeks ago. If you operate under the assumption that the demographics in each state are fairly highly correlated, the results of each primary speak for themselves. In both Ohio and Pennsylvania, Clinton's margin of victory was essentially 10 percentage points. So after all that spending and all the bickering and all the revelations (Rev. Wright, Bosnia, lapel pins, etc.) the result of a six week campaign was essentially nothing. Well, that's the way it looks; cynical as that may seem. [Tom Holbrook and Jim Campbell may want to weigh in now on that question.] I don't really subscribe to that because Clinton's original Pennsylvania poll numbers following the Texas-Ohio results got a boost based on her wins. Over time, though, those numbers decayed and came back down to earth. There was some variation in there based on spending, advertising and other revelations, but in the end the six week long efforts by Obama and Clinton (endogenously) and outside factors canceled each other out.

So do campaigns matter? There is the argument that campaigns cancel each other out, sure, but in the end we only get to see the fruits of a campaign's labor when an election is close. And that's what we have here: a closely contested race for the Democratic nomination. Do campaigns matter? No, if all you're doing is looking at margins between certain states. Yes, if you look at Obama's strength in caucuses or Clinton's approach to Texas and Ohio. Each either knew and exploited the rules or took advantage of some last minute doubt raising.

Of course, if you lean on state demographics as the major indicator of success, then most of the remaining states, save Indiana, fall squarely in either Clinton's or Obama's camps. The real battle then, will be waged there and among, ahem, the superdelegates. The party, I'm sure, is really going to step up the pressure on the superdelegates to decide, one way or the other, sooner rather than later.

And what of momentum? Rob has weighed in in the comments to yesterday's post. Is it dead or is it just the uniqueness of this Democratic race that has made it a non-factor? The comments await.

Who's next? Well, Guam is officially up next followed by North Carolina and Indiana. Guam is Obama country and North Carolina appears to be as well. Let's see how yesterday's results get spun though and how the polls move in the meantime. Two weeks is shorter than six, so Obama doesn't have as much time to get things back to "normal" after what should be something of a Clinton boost after yesterday. But then, momentum may not play a role at all.

The Pennsylvania aftermath has pushed the 2008 Electoral College Maps back a day, so I'll be back with those tomorrow.