Sunday, March 30, 2014

How to Report the Invisible Primary

Thus far in the invisible primary of 2016 we've seen plenty of terrible reporting from all quarters of the press that are frankly too numerous to count, much less link up here.  However, there's some really good stuff going on out there.  For my money, Robert Costa of the Washington Post is quickly establishing himself as my personal favorite, as his coverage has really focused on what matters in things invisible primary.  A hallmark of the junk tends to be heavy on the various match ups for 2016 or even worse, the results of horrifically unrepresentative straw polls such as what we saw coming out of CPAC several weeks ago.  Not so for Costa...

Whilst multitasking between Fareed Zakaria, watching the T20 cricket championship (Australia, what are you doing?), and scanning headlines, I ran into this article by Costa and his colleague Phillip Rucker.  Kudos to them both.  

Let's set aside Jeb Bush's chances for winning the nomination for the moment, and focus on the coverage itself, as this is good stuff from the perspective of political scientists.  They quite literally are covering all the bases that matter.  First, they recognize that this isn't just a matter of a candidate trolling for support within the various parts of the party establishment, but the various parts of the party establishment actively vetting a candidate, or as they put it a "draft" is underway.  Second, they recognize the players here are a diverse network and are deeply concerned about both policy and the political feasibility of the noisiest candidate of the moment, Senator Rand Paul.  Third, they hit the importance of money at this point, and not just ability of Bush stuff his own coffers, but as I've noted before, make it rain for other Republicans across the country.  Fourth, they have a nice discussion on the strengths and weaknesses Bush brings to the table and how they will play to the various factions of the party.  If reporting the invisible primary was a four-banger of a motor, they'd be firing on all cylinders.

And here's where I really appreciate their work and where they separate themselves even more from most of their competition: While they eventually get around to some poll numbers and the (possible) issue of "Bush fatigue," it's at the tail end of the article and well embedded in a nuanced discussion of the factors that matter.  And they're not referencing some idiotic "Jeb vs. Hillary" face-off that litters most coverage at this point, but focusing on factors unique to Gov. Bush.  When we cannot even begin predict what the fundamentals of the 2016 contest will be, those sorts of head to head polls are superfluous.  

Overall, nicely done gentlemen!  I for one, will be following both these people's work rather carefully, as should you all.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Modeling the Endorsement Decision

For political scientists, March means one thing: conference season!  Though the macdaddy of conferences is labor day weekend, the ones I always look forward to the most (for a variety of reasons) are the MPSA and WPSA.  Even though I was crushed that I cannot attend the midwest this year (regional Model UN conferences... sigh), I'm in that sweet spot of a project where I'm furiously working on the models for my latest offering for the western.  It's really rough at this stage, mind you, and will need a significant amount of work in the coming months, but thus far it has some mildly interesting findings that are all about the invisible primary.

Back in late 2011 whilst still at Briar Cliff in Iowa, I was struck by what I thought was an invisible primary oddity.  Rep. Steve King took some time off blaming undocumented Hispanics for all of the nation's ills and expanding upon Todd Akin's legitimate rape comments, to rub elbows with a few of the presidential contenders; or perhaps more accurately, they interrupted his demagoguery to cozy up to him.  The prize being a coveted endorsement from an incumbent Iowan representative.  As we know, the success of an invisible primary candidacy can be predicted rather well by the number of endorsements they accrue in the pre-primary process.  What struck me as particularly odd about this case was that King never gave anyone the nod, despite the high profile hobnobbing.  Which begged a question of "why?"  As I puzzled over his decision not to endorse, I began thinking in broader terms: what factors out there can we associate with this decision?  What is it that drives this important behavior?  Luckily, the clever minds behind The Party Decides have a nifty data base of endorsements that can give a digital ream or two of information necessary to model this decision.  With the help of an undergraduate research monkey, I began to append some vital bits of data to every Representative and Senator in the 2000 presidential election cycle to build a logit model or two.

Though it's taken some time, thought, and rethinking, I'm beginning to see some results.  For those of you who wince at the sight of Stata outputs and the like, kindly avert your eyes and skip down the post a ways.  I modeled each party separately, as I reckoned there may be some differences between them.  The key independent variables are (in order presented): what week the presidential primary/caucus is in the MC's home state, state level presidential margin in 2000, the same margin squared, the electoral margin in the MC's last election, that margin squared, David Mayhew's state party culture (regular organization as reference), DW-NOMINATE dimensions 1 and 2 (common space, as I intend to go time series soon), years in office, age, and age squared.  The d.v. is a simple 0,1; no endorsement, endorsement.  Please forgive the cumbersome variable names.  Though they probably make no damn sense to you, they do to me, and that's what counts at this stage! 

Here are the Democrats:

And the Republicans:

As you can see there aren't any earth shattering results, but there are some interesting contrasts.  My suspicion that Democrats and Republicans approach the endorsement decision differently is seemingly supported.  Briefly, Republicans seem more sensitive to state level electoral factors (as expressed in an interesting quadratic relationship to the presidential election margin in their home state) and Democrats to the electoral calendar and the enigmatic 2nd dimension of DW-NOMINATE.   Some noteworthy, but non-statistically significant associations are found with Republicans and ideology (both dimensions); and for Democrats, the years served in office and a quadratic effect of age.  Both parties were sensitive to party culture, though in slightly different ways.  And if you're wondering, I did suspect the possibility of non-linear relationships in each of these variables before I even opened Stata on this project.  

So what does all this mean?  Apart from the little story told above that I'll be hashing through and thickening in the next few weeks, I'm not 100% sure at this stage.  Clearly Democratic and Republican MCs see the decision to endorse, at least in 2000, in quite different terms, some of which may speak towards the invisible primary process.  However, as the results suggest, this model is far from complete.  What could be missing from this mix of variables?  I'm also a bit perplexed by the direction of the relationship between 2nd dimension of DW-NOMINATE and the d.v.  As Keith Poole has written on several occasions, the 2nd dimension might be reflecting an insider-outsider dimension within the parties, as the more mavericky/Tea Party types tend to score on the negative side of things.  This was why I included the 2nd dimension in the first instance.  Presumably those on the inside would be more likely to engage in this critical party conversation than outsiders looking in.  While it might not be the perfect measure of this inside-out split, it's a convenient proxy.  Yet for some reason, that initial sense I had appears to be back asswards.  Higher 2nd dimension scores (the more "inside" an MC is), are associated with a lower likelihood of endorsing amongst Democrats, and possibly Republicans as well.  I suspect that it's acting as a proxy for a yet-to-be-accounted-for variable.

So in the spirit of our age and latest trends of the interwebs, I've decided to try my hand in a bit of crowd sourcing on these two key questions:

1) Are there any obvious omissions that come to your mind?  I'm all for clean, short, and sweet models, but glaring omissions need to be attended to...

2) What's with the 2nd dimension of DW-NOMINATE here?  Assuming this is a good measurement of "inside-outside" status, I suppose one could hypothesize that "outsiders" due to their outsider position, might feel more compelled to interject into the party conversation with an endorsement than a real insider.  Frankly, I'm not too happy with that line of reasoning.  Something is clearly going on here, but I'm not convinced I'm on to it just yet.

So crowd, get to it.  Any productive discussion is warmly welcomed and appreciated.  Moreover, I hope to see many of you in Seattle!

Day After Addendum: a technical note you should be aware of is that the dependent variable is an endorsement during the pre-primary period, prior to the Iowa caucuses.  As you may know, most every MC eventually makes an endorsement at some point, but often it's after the nomination's all but sewn up.  This is especially true of Democrats whose role as super delegates in the convention gives them a slightly different incentive structure in the endorsement decision.  One of a few reasons I model the parties separately.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Too Much Bush

GOTCHA! If the title lured you to read this in the hopes of something saucy I apologize. I couldn't resist trying to sex it up because we are snowed in here in Pennsylvania and I'm bored. I'll try to add something salacious to the always hot topic of the Invisible Primary.... but even I may not be that talented.

The "Bush," I reference, of course, would be Jeb. Son of 41, brother of 43, and if the chattering class has anything to say about it, number 45 himself. A nice article from Larry Sabato gives some of the most recent 2016 rankings on the GOP side and puts Jeb as a "wild card" which to me takes a verrrry broad use of the word "wild." A Bush running for president you say? How novel. And using a man named "Jeb" in the same sentence as "wild" just conjures up images of some rollicking country club party where someone nicknamed "Trip" had one too many G & Ts and drove a golf cart into the sandtrap (clutch the pearls!). And it's not so wild to think that he's running since the guy has checked all of the IP marks (wrote a book, gave some big platform speeches) and he's got the name recognition to raise some serious cash. I was actually going to insert some prurient language here about Bush's thick hair and the heat in Florida but I will restrain myself because this is clearly a high-brow blog. Don't say I didn't try.

Anyway, it's the Christie/ GWB kerfuffle that is causing all of the Bush speculation (Go ahead - insert "speculating for Bush" joke here please), because serious people (that's YOU Sus Paley!) have wondered whether Christie can come back from le scandal. I doubt it: His narrative frame has changed and that's never good. People see him as a petty tyrant (as opposed to a tyrant with a purpose which is fine, really). And the world's best comedians have had a field day mocking the crap out of him (the best of which is right HERE. And you are welcome). To quote the scholar Ke$ha: "He's going down. I'm yelling timber."

Which leaves a big hole for the GOP to fill and very few people on the Republican bench who can fill it. Bush is wise to keep quiet, because look at what happened to Christie when his star started to burn really brightly? The inevitable backlash against a winner bit him in the tuchas. This is what most concerns those on Team Clinton: Don't use the "I" word (Which is "inevitable." And certainly don't use "I" in the word "Team" because we all know there is no "I" in "Team." Sheesh) because that inevitability thing helped to tank the HRC campaign in 2008. You become an assumption and two things happens: a) The media takes you for granted; and b) The backlash begins.

So there is reason for Jeb to lay low as long as possible, plus there is the truism that three Bushes may be one too many (some would argue three too many, but I'll leave that to the partisans). The possibility of another Bush-Clinton match is at one time alluring because we can pretend it is 1992 again (and that was a super fun year - am I right?). And yet, maybe former First Lady Barbara Bush was right when she said that the nation has "had enough Bushes." Let me add to that, mayhaps, the possibility that we've had enough Clintons and Pauls too. Just a thought.

And speaking of people named Paul. there is more to say about Rand Paul and his completely absurd conversation about Hillary, Bill Clinton, and Monica Lewisnky but I will let Andy Borowitz take that from here.

I would like to start a snow day contest for the best Bush-IP-sex joke. We're stuck inside - might as well make it interesting. Winner gets a "Ship Happens" tee shirt or I buy them a drink at the Midwest Political Science Association meeting in April. Ready? Set? GO!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

More GOP Rule Changes in Store

Once again, I've been beaten to the punch on things invisible primary, but Fridays are filled with classes and cricket (I'm proud to be the Bob Uecker of the SDSU Cricket Club), so delay was inevitable.  In truth, I've been pondering this post since December when details began to emerge about the rule changes the GOP was considering, particularly their plan to compress the nomination calendar.  The mulling is now over, and changes have been adopted.  Over at Bloomberg, Jonathan Bernstein has an insightful post on the net effects of the rule change on the nomination process.

Speaking for myself from the perspective of a political scientist, the GOP navel gazing is at once heartening, yet quite frustrating.

To the former, as someone who spends a great deal of time studying institutions, it nice to see that politicians and party officials recognize that individual behaviors are affected by rules and structures, and that they are trying to harness that behavior in a positive direction.

What's frustrating is precisely what Bernstein dubs "fighting the last war;" ferreting out what they felt went wrong in the last race and rearranging institutions based on some pretty spurious evidence of what made the election break against them.  Could the calendar have mattered in 2012?  Highly unlikely.  As Bernstein articulates (and as most political scientists would concur) the happenings of the primary season are noticed by only a very small sliver of the population and they're lost in collective memory come November.  Assuming that the divisions of the primary season aren't indicative of deep, irreconcilable factionalism  - and 2012 wasn't such a case - an extended primary isn't the worst thing that can happen to a party.  And frankly, it didn't take an undue amount of time for Republicans to choose Romney in 2012.  GOP suspicions in 2012 that the partial move from primarily winner-take-all to a degree of proportionality in delegate allocation in early primary states drew out the nomination fight were effectively shown to be mythological by Josh Putnam and John Sides.  GOP navel gazing by the likes of Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, and John McCain was purely speculative, superficially impressionistic, and wildly uninformed with readily available empirical evidence.  It seems to me that these rule changes now are due in part to the survival of this myth.  What's more important to the party's general election prospects are election fundamentals, and what candidates can do in their campaigns to make the best of the cards they are dealt.  That's what the party ought to be concerning itself with, not so much the timing of primaries and sanctioning states for breaking their rules.  It's just not determinative of general election results, or even the results of the nomination fight.  Now, if a primary season is extended by an inability of the party to triangulate on an acceptable candidate across factions that is highly problematic, but a compressed calendar isn't going to help, as the party's got far bigger issues to worry about.

One minor departure that I take from Bernstein's post has some direct relevance to the invisible primary.  While he's spot on in noting that "any old crank" can have a good two weeks in the pre-primary period (and if the timing is right lucky, in the early primary states ala Santorum), I'm more confident that threshing machine of the invisible primary will effectively separate the wheat from the chaff.  So by my reckoning, a compressed calendar won't make much of a difference on nominee quality.  While the cranks might stick around for the sake of landing a book or TV deal, the probability was exceedingly low that the GOP would nominate Bachman, Cain, Santorum, or Gingrich, as each were at the very best factional leaders, and frankly, not particularly serious candidates to begin with.  To the extent that proved necessary, Romney had the party behind him before the first vote cast in Iowa.  The invisible primary actually threshed out some serious candidates, as it should, like Governors Tim Pawlenty and Rick Perry.  And though this thought isn't original to me (and for the life of me I cannot remember who had written it) we know they were serious because they dropped out when they recognized nomination was out of their grasp.  What was left for Romney to contend with were empty husks of challengers, that more or less blew away in the in the early primary season winds.

The bottom line for me (like Bernstein) is that neither party should worry too much about the little details of their nomination systems, they just don't matter that much.  While wholesale changes we saw in the aftermath of the 1968 election cycle were very consequential (and the parties had to scramble to adapt), it seems to me that monkeying around on the margins carries high opportunity costs.  Spend the time, money, and effort on ensuring the chaff is separated from the wheat effectively in the primaries while keeping your party unified, and help nominees carefully choose a general election path that maximizes political return on the fundamentals they have to work with.  Should both parties play a larger role throughout the entire electoral process, our democracy will be that much better off.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Sometimes It Isn't So Invisible

A quick tip of the toque (it is -5 outside) to Seth Masket for putting his tweeps onto this NYT article a few moments ago.  As Masket noted, sometimes the signs of party insiders gravitating towards a candidate are very "subtle" indeed.  In this case, with Priorities USA being handed over from President Obama's allies to supporters of Hillary Clinton's likely run, it's as subtle as a sledgehammer.  According to Open Secrets, Priorities USA pumped about $65 million into outside spending in 2012, with nearly all of it on negative ads targeting Mitt Romney.  While they were outpaced by nearly $100 million by Karl Rove's American Crossroads, we're talking about an organization poised to spend a serious chunk of change come election season.  While we're talking big bucks here, the significance of this in regards to the invisible primary, isn't so much the potential funding, but the people lining up in her corner.

As important as this is, we must remember that in the invisible primary, just as in the general election, money isn't a guarantee of success.  As I noted here, not only is the term "money primary" something I'd like to relegate to the dustbin of the political lexicon (as it tends to conflate two separate processes: one nearly determinative of the nomination outcome, one not at all so), the key financial variable that we need to pay attention to at this stage is the money flowing from the candidates to other political organizations (candidate, committees, and parities), rather than flowing to them.  Obviously, the stream of money through outside groups, who in turn spend on behalf of a candidate, has had an imprint on the invisible primary, but just how instrumental of a role it has in securing the actual nomination is yet to be seen.  Of course the rules could very well change in any given cycle, but I'm skeptical about declaring that sort of seismic shift in the invisible primary rule book until we see some hard evidence in our 2016 postmortems.

Regardless, this is a clear sign that many in the Democratic party elite, in this case key operatives and fundraisers, are triangulating on a certain focal point; and boat loads of outside spending certainly won't hurt Clinton's chances.  For me, I'm still betting that the real key to Clinton's invisible primary success or failure will be how much money she can direct towards others within the party, just as George W. Bush was doing at this point in the 2000 election cycle.  The only real difference as I see it between now and then, is that some of the means of funding and spending have been further refined (yes refined) in the intervening 16 years.  The same can probably be said for the rules of the Invisible Primary.

Addendum: I was rereading chapter 8 of The Party Decides this morning for a research project I've just picked up (stay tuned, as it's all about the invisible primary), and a very prescient passage jumped out at me.  For those of you that haven't read the book, do so soon.  For those who have, recall the analogy the authors use of "the restaurant game" (a large group of people deciding on what type of restaurant to go to) for the various factions of a party triangulating on a candidate.  "If fish lovers flock to the fish restaurant, it provides little information to diners who happen not to be fish lovers." (261)  That is largely what's happening here.  The original NYT article notes, that this is a veritable who's who of the Clinton administration's political team, with a few Obama hangers around thrown in the mix.  Obviously the fact that the Obama crew has handed off the structure of Priorities USA is an important development, but we mustn't lose sight of the fact that what we're seeing here is previously loyal Clinton people rallying back to Clinton for this open nomination.  Should they cast a wider net, and start bringing in folks from other Democratic factions (beef and porker lovers, and vegans, to press the analogy further), then we've getting somewhere in terms of invisible primary traction.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Screw me? Screw You! The IP Chris Christie Edition

There is much hullabaloo at this moment about IP fave and current NJ Governor Chris Christie’s political plot to snarl traffic in an attempt to thumb his honker at the Democrats. Christie has acquired for himself a rather bad-boy reputation as an aggressive and plain talkin’ politician who sticks it to the media (bad media!) and opponents (bad opponents!) and teachers (bad – wait. What?).  Christie’s intensity has endeared him to many on the right who like to use words like “strong” and “powerful” when describing the kind of take-no-prisoners leader they idealize. You know – the exact opposite of the wishy-washy equivocating liberal stuff they get from the Democrats.

But there’s always the other side of the coin, and while some may admire Christie’s force others have called him a bully. The kind of bully who yells at people and leaves them shaking in fear. Which is why the story about the GW Bridge feeds into the Christie narrative so well, and is such a compelling story to tell nationwide.

What could be seen as a regional spat went global because of Christie’s anointment as IP front runner for 2016. But it also landed solidly because many people already think Christie is a tyrant. Whether or not he knew that his underlings closed lanes of the George Washington Bridge as a political maneuver is almost beside the point, because people already believe he is capable of such scheming. The joke lands because we get it. Christie’s a bully. We got it.

Also, there is the question of what kind of office he is running. According to military experts (meaning: My husband) there is an Army expression called “Command Climate” which is loosely defined as the environment established by a leader. In other words: The example set by a boss  is important. If Christie’s command climate encouraged or even just allowed such machinating, that speaks loudly to his leadership and management style. And while voters like force, they don’t like intrigues, plotting, and manipulations done out of spite. Ask Richard Nixon – they’ll get you for that.

So this is why the GW Bridge story has legs and why it matters to the Invisible Primary. It will be interesting to see how Christie manages the story and what happens to his front-runner status which has already been codified by big press coverage. It will also be interesting to see how the new NY Mayor deals with all of this, how comedians make hay of the situation, and whether or not it will impact the polar vortex.  Mittened fingers crossed that it helps warm things up outside the Christie household.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Invisible Primary: “Double Down” Edition

The best part of a political campaign is the after-action review that comes when some enterprising journos grab DC insiders by the lapels and convince them to talk about all the crap that went down on the trail. Convincing politicos to talk is not as difficult as it seems, since most people in DC will yak endlessly about themselves prompted only by the word: “Hi.”

For years this campaign accounting was accomplished nicely by Jack Germond and Jules Witcover, who managed to uncover such nuggets as the one about Dan Quayle being so dumb that if you told him to turn off the light he’d forget what he was doing before he reached the switch. Good stuff. Today we have Mark Halperin and John Heilemann who knocked the socks off of the chattering class a few years ago with “Game Change.” Since Sarah Palin isn’t here to kick around anymore, the newest tome about the race for the White House is “Double Down” and it goes for the Romney jugular while managing to hit collateral damage against Obama's campaign in the process. 

I know what you’re thinking: Of course I haven’t read it. No one will – they’ll do the “Washington Read” where you look in the index, find your name, read about yourself and put the book on the table so people will think you studied it. But I can skim the breathless accounts and book reviews like the next girl, and it seems to me that the whole megillah is less about the past and more about the future: Specifically, what is going to happen in 2016. So buckle in, kids. Here are the gossipy “Double Down” tidbits about our favorite IP candidates. Thanks to Politico for this helpful account:

#1: Chris Christie: Today marks the official Christie gubernatorial re-election walk, but the book is bound to cast some long shadows over Christie’s victory. The book makes several accusations about lateness, errors, and temper tantrums that would make a three year old stand back and applaud. Basically, the one line summary is that the New Jersey Republican’s file was “littered with potential landmines” which was why he was not considered for a VP position in 2012. Whoops.

#2: Joe Biden: And speaking of Vice Presidents, perhaps the biggest jaw dropper to come out of the book is that the Obama campaign considered dumping my boyfriend Veep Bee for Hillary Clinton. The White House, of course, vehemently denies this, but the account made a larger point that Obama did exclude Biden from a number of campaign appearances which makes him look marginalized at best, like a yutz at worst. The yutz factor has always been Biden’s Achilles heel, so this is not good news if he’s planning a bid against Hillary. 

#3: Bill Clinton: Though not running for anything, the book is apparently littered with tales of Bill’s annoying solipsistic behaviors which may have an effect on the Mrs. as she launches her own 2016 campaign. I doubt anyone is going to be surprised that Bill Clinton, who was once described quite funnily to me as a man with “owl sized appetites” has narcissistic tendencies, but who needs that when Chuck Schumer wants you to be the first woman president?

All of this is good, clean fun unless you are the subject of the fish-themed nicknames that were apparently used in the super-secret vetting process for VP: “Pufferfish” for Christie, “Filet o Fish” for Portman, Rubio was “Pescado” and Ryan was (giggles) “Fishconsin.” Well at least that one was funny.

Does any of this hearsay mean anything as our tireless IP candidates run for the roses? Probably not explicitly. I mean, who cares if Obama said that he liked Bill Clinton “in doses?” What matters is the fuel this book gives to the existing narratives about the candidates. If the public already has a wary eye on Christie's temper or Biden’s ability to be taken seriously, this doesn’t help. But that is why time is a friend to candidates who need to restore their street cred. Remember Rubio’s water lunge from the post-SoTU speech last year? Neither does anyone else. Five bucks says that in a year from now “Double Down” will simply be that awful KFC sandwich that can kill a healthy man with one bite.

Unless the book gets made into an HBO movie with Zach Woods as Paul Ryan.