The real impact of Ryan?

Sam Wang, whose academic specialties are biophysics and neuroscience, but dabbles in politics for fun, has an interesting analysis suggesting that the Ryan pick may end up being most consequential by greatly increasing the likelihood Democrats keep the Senate:

However, his entry onto the national scene does have one important effect: the Presidential Race is now more strongly linked to Congressional races. Why? He is chair of the House Budget Committee. And based on polling numbers, this is not a development that Republicans should welcome.

The whole analysis is basically predicated on the above.  Now, simply House Budget Chair is not enough, but Ryan is not simply any House Budget Chair.  The “Ryan Budget” is a major political touchstone these days and will surely be a huge focus in this campaign.  Nonetheless, I think Wang far too simply suggests this connection will be made. Now, if we do give Wang that supposition, though, here’s what we get:

In this scenario, the median outcome is 52D-48R and the probability of Democratic control is 82%.

Wow.  And he does add a nice caveat:

I should qualify all of this by saying that Senate races are challenging to tie to national issues, and conditions may yet change in the coming months. The point is the same, though: even a small net shift can change the prognosis significantly.

Anyway, that’s what a knife-edge situation looks like. Pundits, please talk about this instead?

I’m no “pundit.”  I’m an “expert” damnit.  But still, I do think his larger statistical point is indeed worth thinking about.  If Paul Ryan has an impact on Senate races even a very small impact could be quite consequential when we are looking at a current Senate prediction basically balanced right at 50-50.  Wang’s final takeaway is not very cautious:

My takeaway: Romney effectively threw Congress under the bus to get a possible (but not guaranteed) advantage for himself. Call it a calculated risk on his part.

I just don’t see it working this way.  If Ryan is hurting Senators, it’s because his budget has become a major focus of the campaign.  And if that happens– which I think is somewhat likely, though no guarantee– there’s no way he’s helping Romney.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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