Romney the radical (and thinking about the meaning of “moderate”)

When EJ Dionne calls anybody a radical, it’s time to take notice.

It’s not exactly “Ask not what your country can do for you,” but these ideas do appeal to Romney’s most faithful constituency in primaries: Republicans earning more than $200,000 a year. In Michigan, they backed him over Santorum by 2 to 1.

They’re Romney’s base for good reason. That “across-the-board” tax cut sounds fair and balanced. But a Tax Policy Center studyin November of the impact of a 20 percent across-the-board rate cut showed that the wealthiest 0.1 percent would get an average tax reduction of $264,000. The poorest 20 percent would get $78, and those smack in the middle would get $791.

Okay, good stuff, but what I really like is that later on Dionne makes a point that I’ve been thinking about for years:

There is a terrible bias in the mainstream media that judges “moderation” almost entirely in relation to positions on social issues such as abortion or gay marriage. The media love these issues because they often involve sex, which everyone likes to read about, and do not demand elaborate explanations, charts or tables.

Go right on social issues, and the extremist charge can’t be far behind. But the media rarely peg an extreme economic conservative as “extreme” because doing so requires tedious math-laden paragraphs. Besides, people in pinstriped suits who are driven by money don’t seem “extreme.”  [emphasis mine]

Bingo!  Back in the day when everybody always used to refer to Christine Todd Whitman as moderate solely on the basis of her being pro-choice, I actually tried to do some political science on this (wow– just found the line on my CV– it was 10 years ago).  Here’s the results section of the abstract from my 10-year old Midwest Political Science Association paper (with Laurel Elder):

Our analysis demonstrates that abortion is a very substantial contributor to overall liberal/conservative placement, rivaling or exceeding the impact of issues such as affirmative action, and government job assistance.  This impact is particularly pronounced among evangelical Protestants.  Moreover, perceptions of where presidential candidates stand on the issue of abortion likewise appear to have a significant impact on assessments of their ideology.  In fact, in most years, only government spending and defense spending exceed the impact of abortion on perceptions of ideology. Overall, our findings suggest that abortion plays an even greater role in American politics than previously thought.

Actually got this half-way to publication and kind of got stuck.  I think it would be well worth revisiting with gay marriage.  I’ve got a very strong hunch that no matter what a Republican thinks about taxes, the economy, etc., supporting legal abortion or any legal recognition for gay couples would make him a “moderate” in the eyes of most voters and pundits.  And that you’d get a similar effect on the Democratic side.  Hmmm, maybe I should revisit for my 2013 MPSA paper.

Obama in NC

I did an interview yesterday about the state of the presidential election in NC.  I looked up the latest polling data (actually a few weeks old, and was actually surprised):


Then again, given the size of Obama’s lead nationally (as seen in the previous post) it makes sense that he would be running about even in NC.  Again, we’ll see how this all shakes out once the general election campaign really gets under way, but if Romney is fighting to hold onto North Carolina, I really don’t see him having much chance of winning.

2008 ≠ 2012

So yesterday I was reading something discussing the fact that the long 2008 primary certainly seemed to benefit Obama, so why shouldn’t we think that the 2012 primary season would ultimately benefit Romney, presuming he’s the nominee.  At the time, I thought, well, we could actually answer this for real by looking at polling data from similar periods in 2008 and 2012.  Ezra Klein clearly had the same thought. The rather substantial difference is that he actually did something about it:

So let’s go to the numbers. The 2008 Democratic primary was surely long and bruising. But according to the Real Clear Politics polling average, on Feb. 28, 2012 — so, the equivalent moment in 2008 — Barack Obama was leading John McCain by 4.1 percent in head-to-head match-ups.

That lead persisted through most of the primary. McCain pulled even for a spell in March, but by April, and continuing pretty much straight through to the Republican convention, Obama remained a couple of points ahead of McCain. There’s no evidence that the long primary with Hillary Clinton caused any swing to the GOP. Indeed, Obama’s lead over McCain was larger in June than it was in February.

Now look at Real Clear Politics’ polling average for 2012.

Mitt Romney pulled ahead of Obama in August, around the time of the debt-ceiling negotiations. But since then, he’s steadily lost ground. Some of that surely reflects an improving economy and a new political strategy in the White House. But a look at Romney’s unfavorables, which have risen from around 35 percent in the fall of 2011 to almost 50 percent today, suggests that there’s been an independent deterioration in his public standing.

Of course, this won’t stop Republicans from spinning otherwise, but, for now at least, the data seems pretty clear.  Ezra suggests, quite rightly I believe, that it doesn’t make sense to think Obama is actually in a superior position in 2012 than he was in 2008.  Presumably, a general campaign is going to make these numbers move some in Romney’s favor.  But that doesn’t change the fact that, in the end, this primary season will very likely have been a net negative for Romney that his reduced his likelihood of winning the Presidency.

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