January 23, 2008

The end of momentum.

Somehow, the laws of political physics have changed.

Mickey Kaus's theories:

1. "[L]ate-focusing voters tune in to what the press is saying in, say, the two days before their state's election, which is usually something different from what the press says in the two days after the previous state's election."

2. "[V]oter rebellion against what the press says--Huck's Hot! Barack Rock Star!--and it's overdetermined."

Surely, we can think up some more theories. I'll start:

1. As long as we think a particular candidate isn't going to win, we feel free to embrace him, but once we see him realistically as President, we get cold feet.

2. When a candidate is first emerging, he has more control over his image and can make us like him, but if he's the frontrunner, his opponents do what they can to make him look bad.

3. ...

41 comments:

Simon said...

This is precisely why I said it was daft for a candidate to leave the GOP race right now, just before Thompson did so. No candidate has significant "momentum," next Tuesday Florida will award 114 delegates to the winner, slightly more than the combined total currently controlled by Romney and McCain, the two front runners,* and more importantly, the Tuesday after that, twenty states will choose one thousand and thirty-eight delegates to the GOP Convention - nearly four times the total number of delegates every candidate going into that election combined. In a race this unsettled, unless one of the campaigns is outright bankrupt, I think that anyone talking about top tier contenders dropping out at this point has to be off their rocker.

~s

*This point is only partially vitiated if the national party makes good on its threat to only seat half Florida's delegates as punishment for its early primary - even with only 57 delegates, Florida could be a springboard for any candidate.

Paul Zrimsek said...

3.... Profit!

hdhouse said...

Simon - don't you think though that money is the issue now? obviously there are two fundraising flash points...now to get the nomination and the second near the convention/real race. aside from romney the GOP is generally short on funds. of course that may change but there isn't an event on the horizon that is going to give the republicans a big boost .. not one that i can see and i'm watching CNBC now and this mess is going to be dumped on Bush and carry over to the GOP. Kudlow is proclaiming that this is just smoke and mirrors and the economy is great and not to worry...and he sounds like a loon...and for too long the GOP has been reciting that mantra so as to create the association.

Advertising sales - and this is a finite market driving in election years - haven't been inpacted by inventory shortages caused by campaigns (except state by state which is expected) but national advertising probably won't be a player this fall - with state by state fights for the niche.

localization may not create the momentum that Barnes alludes to..but then again it is Fred Barnes and I find him to be somewhere between jerk and rascal on the spin-o-meter.

Bissage said...

Don’t forget Newton’s fourth law, the law of political fortune:

What goes up must come down
Spinnin' wheel got to go 'round
Talkin' 'bout your troubles it's a cryin' sin
Ride a painted pony let the spinnin' wheel spin

ricpic said...

Point #1 is very insightful. Point #3, not so much.

ricpic said...

I meant Althouse's point #1, not Kaus's.

Original Mike said...

I do think Ann's #1 is it.

Meade said...

My theory: the overwhelming majority of us voters can't stand any of them. Preening power-hungry oily egotists. How to best express our disgust: every time a "front runner" emerges, give him a taste of his own loser-ness.

Fred Thompson should be president precisely because he didn't want it badly enough to be out campaigning for it while his mother is on her death bed. Compare that to Hillary who uses family members as stage props.

Simon said...

"Simon - don't you think though that money is the issue now?"

Certainly I think it's necessary to compete, and to the extent momentum matters right now, it matters only in the sense that it's easier to raise funds when you look like you're doing well. For example, Thompson circulated an email before SC asking for more money, and it was a tough sell: how do you ask someone to give moeny to a campaign that just doesn't seem to be competing? But the corollary to that, I think, is that money will gravitate towards the front-runner, which is now pretty obviously Romney.


"[O]bviously there are two fundraising flash points...now to get the nomination and the second near the convention/real race. aside from romney the GOP is generally short on funds. of course that may change but there isn't an event on the horizon that is going to give the republicans a big boost...."

There was a piece in maybe the NYT or thew Washington Times a few months back that raised an interesting point in connection to that, viz., one of the reasons why Republicans have trailed Democrats in terms of fundraising may be that there's no clear frontrunner, which has made donors unwilling to pitch in. Once a leader is annointed, they'll weigh in, concluded the article.

The corollary I'd add is, once the right leader is annointed. It seems to me that the biggest threat to the GOP right now is fragmentation - Huckabee supporters refuse to show up if Huck doesn't get the nomination, Thompson supporters refuse to show up because Thompson was the only candidate they liked, moderates and economic conservatives refuse to show up if Huckabee gets he nomination, and people from all over the party threatening to stay home if it's McCain. Honestly this nomination process feels like a circular firing squad with everyone threatening to take everyone down with them if they don't get their way. People need to get a grip - about McCain in particular. He's not my favorite candidate, and there are some valid, serious, important concerns about him, but some of the vitriol that's been aimed at him since NH has been borderline delusional.

George said...

Oprah's Law:

Luck is preparation meeting opportunity

Bloomberg's Corollary:

I am what I am and, you know, I'm a very lucky guy.

peter hoh said...

It's not clear that we are seeing a new paradigm. This is an unusual race. Neither party entered primary season with a clear favorite. The compressed nature of primary season might have favored momentum, had any been generated. New Hampshire voters made different picks than Iowa voters. Big surprise.

Here's another theory: voters aren't terribly happy with their options. By voting for someone who did not win the previous primary, they are ensuring that the race remains competitive. "I don't want to see Hillary crushed" seems to have played a part in the NH vote.

The GOP race seems so fluid. Perhaps it's time for someone else to jump in.

Regarding the profit motive: Who wins the most ad dollars during the general election? My guess is that it's local TV stations in the so-called battleground states. Those with competitive US Senate races get a double windfall.

So the big question is this: can a local TV station help create the conditions that lead to their state being regarded as a battleground state?

Henry said...

3. When the candidates are all ciphers, media questions generate their own answers.

By the time people actually vote, they've forgotten what the question prompted them to think.

Or to put it another way:

3. You can measure the momentum of uncertain voters or you can measure their positions, but not both at the same time.

hdhouse said...

good points Simon.

although in the end this has nothing to do with physics. I watched a segment of Carl Sagan's Cosmos about 2 am last night (don't ask). It had to do with Keppler and his three laws of planatary motion...

the best takeaway is that his observations which are the basis of just about everything astrophysics were not done with a telescope but by simple close observation and diligent record keeping..look and write down.

This group of sillys are so difficult to observe that the "write down" part is just a mishmash of crappy observations.

ohhhh canada!

garage mahal said...

1. As long as we think a particular candidate isn't going to win, we feel free to embrace him, but once we see him realistically as President, we get cold feet.

2. When a candidate is first emerging, he has more control over his image and can make us like him, but if he's the frontrunner, his opponents do what they can to make him look bad.


Didn't someone get their knives out at TNR here for assuming the reader was male?

Henry said...

Garage, you do realize the title of Kaus's post is "How Obama Can Win?"

Elliott A said...

It is going to take some skill for the eventual GOP nominee to rally the troops. If Hillary is the candidate, it will be easy. If Obama somehow beats her it will not. He isn't easy to hate.

Original Mike said...

hdhouse said: the best takeaway is that [Kepler's] observations which are the basis of just about everything astrophysics

Celestial mechanics, yes. Astrophysics, not even close.

garage mahal said...

Henry
I couldn't for a second try to dodge the traffic racing in Kaus's head. I responded to Ann's theory there are no women in this race. It struck me as fairly sexist.

Roger said...

HD--as an advertising guru, what's your take oncadidates media strategies prior to Feb 5 super regional primaries? That is, the candidates will be competing with superbowl hype and the Feb 3 superbowl.

Very curious as to what advice professional advertising folks would give candidates wishing to get their message covered prior to superbowl.
(go New England, BTW!)

Elliott A said...

There are obviously no candidates that are not going to win who are female. The law appears to be written with Obama in mind. Also, a question: Is "him" the common legal term for a non-specified individual?

Henry said...

Elliot -- Garage is right that Ann raked The New Republic for making gender assumptions. I think the context for her post is Obama, but you have to follow the link to get that frame.

I agree with your 9:22 comment with the additional observation that Hillary must have Obama as a running mate or she will alienate a large part of her coalition.

The Clintons have the long knives out for Obama now, but they have to play this very close because they need him to happily accept the VP role.

hdhouse said...

Roger...that is a very good and difficult question and I applaud you for thinking of it.

There is a candidate who has Superbowl space and frankly, it is probably a good bet because of the reach and the "audience attention" to the commercials...but it all depends on the placement and the package bought which is "unknown".

I'm advising my clients that unless they have 2.6 million to spend the superbowl will get probably a 60 share (60% of those watching tv at the time) so the wise money is at bargain basement rates on the top competitors.

Superbowls with top 10 market teams really skew things and I would like to tell you that I could predict but I can also tell you with certainty that if I piss upwind i'll get pee'd on my shoes.

long and short..i dunno...i can guess and that's all i can do.

peter hoh said...

English does not have a gender-neutral singular pronoun. Writers do not necessarily imply sexism when they use "him" rather than the awkward "him or her." Writers often avoid the need for the singular pronoun, but this is not always possible.

Of the two instructions written below, we would likely see the latter used to express the idea in the former. Though it is less precise, the latter skirts the gender issues surrounding the singular pronoun.

"Each child should write his name on the outside of his test booklet."
"Children should write their names on the outside of their test booklets."

Had Althouse gone on about each candidate and his wife, well, then you could have a more credible claim of sexism. "Each and his spouse" is a better construction than "each and his wife" if one wants to leave open that "each" could refer to a man or a woman.

Elliott A said...

Along the same frame as the prior comment, you must mean "sex assumptions". People do not have gender, only words. Using "gender" is just a PC way of avoiding asking people about their sex! "Gender" has recently been selected as the number one misused word in the English language, since it is ubiquitous. If I am feeling particularly rebellious I answer N/A to gender questions on forms. Ironically, most English words are gender neutral unlike most languages.

terrance said...

Ann:

Nice post.

peter hoh said...

I'm not totally down with the fluidity of language, but if enough people misuse a word, then it takes on a new meaning. See the discussion of "podium" in another Althouse post.

There are grammar and usage issues on which I will not budge, but the use of "gender" to mean "sex" is not one of them.

Roger said...

HD--thanks for the learned response!! Clearly thats why you get the big bucks. :)

Henry said...

Random House Unabridged, 2nd definition. American Heritage Dictionary, 2nd or 3rd.

Alan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zeb Quinn said...

Here's one: If a southern conservative can't get traction in South Carolina, he won't get enough traction anywhere else to win it.

That's why Thompson got out.

hdhouse said...

Roger..."i dunno" is not in the realm of a learned response..the fact is I don't know.

Any candidate except for Hillary is a waste of money in NY...one of the finalists and Boston is a toss up regarding Romney...a favorite son?...but he isn't loved there so a Superbowl placement gains only national recognition, not local effect (in this case).

This is a stinker of an issue in advertising...always is....and the local packages (pre super tuesday stuff) is extremely costly because of the share in most of the markets....basically all sold out anyway.

I just don't see TV advertising making any dent to regain momentum for anyone....there might be some local plays but why pay a premium for minimal effect. If Obama was a beer or a take out pizze (order now and deliver by halftime) it would be one thing but he isn't and this is not the time or place.

Middle Class Guy said...

Hdhouse said:
This group of sillys are so difficult to observe that the "write down" part is just a mishmash of crappy observations.


That just about sums up this campaign- both sides- perfectly.

Chip Ahoy said...

pardon if this posted twice -- error message

theory: People vote with their hearts not their heads.

They think all their little thinky thoughts then end up feeling their way through, like Patty Duke in the Miracle Worker.

Roger said...

HD--I know asked for specifics, but I am always impressed when the issue is much more complex than external observers like me think it is. So sometimes I dunno works pretty well--and is, in fact, quite learned. :)

Revenant said...

Simon,

This is precisely why I said it was daft for a candidate to leave the GOP race right now, just before Thompson did so.

I'm not sure if you noticed my reply in the other thread, but it seems likely that Thompson dropped out when he did because his mother is seriously ill. He is currently spending his time with her in Tennessee.

Sissy Willis said...

. . . if he's the frontrunner, his handlers do what they can to make him look stilted.

Simon said...

Rev,
Didn't see that, sorry - we ended up having a minor family crisis ourselves to deal with yesterday afternoon, so that took away my attention. If that's really the length and breadth of the reason, I can understand that.

Kirby Olson said...

I wish the candidates were not allowed to speak at all, but just to use body language and grimaces and scowls. At least then we wouldn't have to deal with all the pc abstractions, and could get down to what they really think about each other.

Body language does say a lot, but it doesn't say enough.

They should be able to put their heads on their hips and strut, and stick their tongues out, and pull their ears, and so on, in addition to spreading their legs or tightening them up in as prissy a fashion as possible.

Bush won the last election because he could wiggle his ears. It was a neat trick and the press loved it.

Words don't really mean anything anyways.

Most of these candidates are lawyers.

Revenant said...

If that's really the length and breadth of the reason, I can understand that.

Well, I doubt it was the sole determining factor.

But South Carolina made it pretty clear that Fred's chances of securing the nomination were extremely remote; my suspicion is that he weighed the chances of coming out of Super Tuesday as a credible contender, against his family obligations, and the latter won out.

halojones-fan said...

Revenant, the linked essay is about exactly that kind of attitude. South Carolina didn't "show" anything, because what happened last week has no bearing on what happened this week, and so on. If momentum existed then Huckabee would be the only Republican left in the race!

Revenant said...

Halo,

The idea of "momentum" was that candidates who do well in one primary end up doing better in later primaries. Fred was polling badly in almost every state. That's an entirely separate problem from the ones surrounding momentum. He would have needed momentum, combined with a South Carolina victory (or strong second place finish) to push those other states' numbers up. As it was, there really was no apparent path to the nomination for Fred.

In short, whether or not momentum exists, Fred was almost certainly going to get pasted on Super Tuesday.