Showing posts with label presidential elections. Show all posts
Showing posts with label presidential elections. Show all posts

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Presidential Candidate Emergence: An Alternate Measure

I had this link come into my inbox the other day and it really got me thinking about using this Google search data to track presidential candidate emergence during the invisible primary.

[Image Courtesy of Click to Enlarge]

Now sure, Google itself warns against using their Labs-designated (read: not quite ready for primetime) Trends tool data for heavy duty research, which this isn't, so I couldn't help myself. The good folks at Irregular Times got the ball rolling on this in terms of tracking the 2012 Republican candidates' emergence in real time, but that only tells us a little bit of the story. Google Trends stretches back to January 2004 and that affords us the opportunity to track the fluctuations of the 2008 candidates on both sides as a baseline for comparison.

But here's the thing: I actually prefer the Google data over the Cafe Press search data. Yes, Irregular Times makes the point that Google search data pulls in all the search data regardless of whether you were looking up John McCain in 2006 in the context his 2008 presidential bid or some legislative work he was doing on the Hill. I can buy that. And while the benefits of using the Cafe Press search data (searching for actual candidate-related merchandise) are that we are gaining strength of attachment, the drawback is that we are potentially losing out on data concerning searches that while not as strong, are still related to these candidates in terms of the presidency. In other words, I'd like to take the larger view and try to narrow the scope somehow than narrow things unnecessarily right off the bat and miss something important.

[Fine FHQ, what's the point?]

This actually settles quite nicely into the realm of political science. The very first thing I thought of when I saw this data was issue evolution. The classic model constructed Carmines and Stimson (1981) looked at issue changes (such as on racial issues during the 20th century) on two planes. First, issue stances change over time, but secondly, their evolution takes place at the elite level within the party (in terms of perception and actions in Congress) and works its way down to the mass level affecting perceptions on the issues there.

This obviously has a link to the invisible primary period we are in now ahead of 2012. No, it isn't terribly active right now. Not at the mass level, at least. But there's no doubt there is jockeying going on at the elite level and that ultimately finds its way down to the masses. This approach has already seen some attention within the literature. Cohen, et. al (2003, 2005, 2008) have examined this at the elite level, tracking candidates' efforts to woo donors and high-profile endorsements. It strikes me, though, that this Google Trends data is an interesting means of tracking the level to which this permeates the masses. Now granted, the Cohen argument is that the system is set up in a way to allow for party autonomy over the nomination decision, but this data seems like an alternate means of investigating this as opposed to focusing on polling (which may have some endogeneity issues with internet searches) or waiting for vote outcomes in the primaries.

This week, then, we'll be focused on this relationship (among other things). Ideally I'd be able to roll this out in one big post, but I don't have the time tonight (and I suppose I've been sitting on this for a couple of days already anyway) to put it all together. We all may be better served having it broken down into its component parts. Regardless, this should be fun to look at.

Recent Posts:
The 2012 Presidential Primary Calendar (4/4/09)

Georgia in 2012: Back to March?

Championship Set in NPR's 2012 Bracket

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Public Financing, Dead?

John McCain sure thinks so. And that isn't that much of a stretch. [Truth be told, that isn't a stretch at all.]

But as Jay Cost said yesterday over at the HorseRaceBlog, it really isn't as simple as Obama opting out broke the system. The seeds for this were sewn all the way back in 1980 when John Connally shunned the public financing system to go-it-alone in his bid for the Republican nomination. Of course, his $11 million raised (just more than $28 million in 2009 dollars) earned one whole delegate, but the idea was out there. Candidates for office, especially the presidency, could out-raised the matching funds cap, not have to adhere to state spending caps (during the primaries) and be much better off because of it.

Now, Connally's tremendous failure was an example that certainly caused many a presidential campaign pause, but by 1996 the system had (really) outgrown its usefulness. A self-financed candidate like Steve Forbes could enter the fray and make waves without any real political experience. That his efforts and the competition from others in the Republican field that year put Dole at a major disadvantage once the Kansas senator wrapped up the nomination was a lesson to future candidates on both sides of the aisle. In other words, if your gauge is pointing to E at the end of the primary phase and your opponent's (especially an incumbent) is not, then your bid for the White House is going to be that much tougher.

And that lesson was extended to the general election campaign last fall. No candidate can put him or herself behind such a financial eight ball and hope to wind up in the Oval Office.

H/t: John Pitney over at Epic Journey for the Cost link. Good stuff.

Recent Posts:
Florida in 2012: A Companion Bill

NPR's 2012 Bracket Results (2nd Round) Are Now Up

How 'Bout Dem Heels!?!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

What if the General Election was Run like the Primary System?

Yesterday's post on the GOP's presidential nomination reform plan and the possibility of a national primary triggered an interesting discussion (between readers Rob and Bill) and question. Rob decried the pitfalls of a national primary and so doing indirectly pointed out how the primary system in the post-reform era has conditioned the American electorate. The first two experiences following the McGovern-Fraser reforms (1972 and 1976)) witnessed two "long shots" win the Democratic nomination. The result has been that some within the electorate think of this system in terms of its ability to nurture competition and allow for seemingly unknown (yet potentially well-qualified) candidates emerge to vie for the nation's highest office. As the primary system has become more frontloaded, that conception has been threatened. The compression of the calendar, the conventional wisdom holds, creates an easier road to the nomination (Unless you consider 2008. But that's something completely different.).

Something about Rob's rejection of the national primary elicited a dig of sorts from Bill who questioned (in so many words) that if the a national primary is so bad, how come it works in November every four years? And that raises a tangential and counterfactual question: What if the general election was conducted in the same way that primaries have been conducted in the post-reform era? How would that potentially affected the outcome of those general elections? Let's assume then, that states can hold their presidential elections anywhere from the Tuesday after Labor Day to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. And let's go just one step beyond that to assume that states have yet to frontload their contests to the earliest possible point (Tuesday after Labor Day)--the motivation to do so would be the same in that context as it has been in primary elections from 1972 onward. While we're assuming, we have to also assume that the Constitution provided no guidelines on how this process was to be conducted (though we'll leave the electoral college in place). Just for the fun of it, let's use the primary calendar of 1980 as a guide. There was a fairly even dispersion of contests through the March to June window that year.

What is the result? Well, which state goes first is huge. Does that state lean one way or the other along the partisan spectrum? Is their an incumbent involved? Interestingly, Iowa and New Hampshire have been competitive in the last two general elections, so they are ideal (in some ways) first states in this scenario. A state that is solidly red or solidly blue is more likely to be discounted by one candidate, but a state that is evenly divided between the parties becomes an interesting battleground, especially for a candidate challenging an incumbent. Winning or posting a close finish would be a boon to a challenger heading into subsequent states (And simply winning a "state you're suppose to win" would even be beneficial to a challenger as well; more so than it would be to an incumbent.). Winning early then, for a challenger, is important in swing states. Voters in those states who might ordinarily opt for the incumbent (or the status quo) when they are undecided, may be more apt to consider a challenger if that candidate has done well early. Such a system would allow a challenger to potentially cast doubt on an incumbent's ability to win with early victories.

The big question is, how all of this could have affected the outcomes of past races? The closer elections are the ones most likely to see a shift (at least in who the winner was). More comfortable victories or landslides may have seen some states change at the margins but without affecting the outcome (Remember we still have the electoral college here and those electors end up serving essentially the same purpose as delegates to national conventions in this sort of system.). So Mondale or McGovern could potentially have been able to win more than one state each or Gore could have bested Bush (He certainly would have focused more resources on Tennessee.).

How else would having the primary system in place for the general election have affected things? What say you, loyal readers of FHQ? This is a fun one for discussion.

I'll be back late tomorrow with a new set of electoral college maps accounting for the new polls that have come out this week.