Saturday, April 30, 2011

What Can We Learn from Intrade? Part II

Continued from Part I.

As mentioned in the previous post, Intrade markets are not very good at predicting election outcomes (until right before the election), but they are a decent reflection of the conventional wisdom. More to the point, they reflect the conventional wisdom of Intrade investors.

Although anyone can place bets on Intrade, the people who do are not a representative sample of Americans. Judging by the previous behavior of Intrade markets, they are more likely to be from the "Washington establishment," and they tend to be more liberal. Until just before an election, Intrade markets consistently overestimate the performance of Democrats (presumably out of investors' optimism).

The Intrade market for the 2012 Republican primary is located here. As discussed earlier, there is some fairly high betting for even the least likely winners, because the potential payout for a long-shot bet is great. The candidates leading in the Intrade markets tell us something about the conventional wisdom of the Washington establishment.

At present, Mitt Romney leads the pack on Intrade with about a 25% chance of being elected the Republican nominee for president. This reflects the establishment consensus that he is the front-runner and the "next in line," as Republicans so often choose.

Second place is more interesting: Tim Pawlenty, who sits comfortably in second place with about 16%. Obviously this does not reflect Pawlenty's performance in the polls. But the Intrade investors recognize that his low poll numbers are probably due to low name recognition. Pawlenty's position here seems to reinforce the notion that he has successfully positioned himself as the leading "generic," unknown candidate.

Similarly, Intrade puts Mitch Daniels next at about 11%. Daniels is even less known than Pawlenty. But establishment Republicans see him as a potential consensus candidate. Recognizing Daniels shows some insight on the part of the Intrade investors.

However, you can also see the weaknesses of the Intrade investors' thinking. If Pawlenty can be selected because he's an inoffensive, "generic" candidate, why not Daniels just as easily? Pawlenty's higher numbers reflect the slightly greater name recognition that he has now, which will diminish once the race gets underway.

But Pawlenty is also higher on Intrade simply because he has formed an exploratory committee, while Daniels has not. The question of whether or not a candidate will run seems to weigh heavily on the investors' minds: Christie is at less than 2% on Intrade, and Huckabee at about 8%. If and when they form exploratory committees (or jump into the race), their numbers on Intrade will spike. Rapid swings like this undermine the idea that Intrade markets can predict future events; such a shift should only occur in response to a truly unexpected development, not something as ordinary as a contender officially joining the race.

Then again, neither Daniels nor Huckabee has formed an exploratory committee, but Daniels is ahead of Huckabee--despite Huckabee having a much clearer path to the nomination. This reflects the Republican establishment's preference of Daniels over Huckabee, whom they have never accepted as one of their own.

That's not to say Intrade is never impressed by name recognition. In 2010, Palin was consistently in the lead. Then her numbers cratered in January 2011, giving rise to Romney. Palin suffered from a drop in support around that time, and her visibility lessened in subsequent months. This could be a reflection of the (liberal) establishment view that the Tea Party lost influence after its 2010 victories.

Friday, April 29, 2011

2008 vs. 2012 - Huckabee

Two of the top contenders for the 2012 Republican nomination also ran in the 2008 primary: Romney and Huckabee. It's worth considering the ways in which these candidates are in a better or worse position than the last time they ran. Today we will examine Huckabee.

As explained in our Profile of Huckabee, his 2012 strategy is to repeat his 2008 strategy, but perform a bit better. His path to the nomination is to win Iowa again and to win South Carolina--where he lost by 3% last time.

In many ways, Huckabee is better off today than he was four years ago. He was an unknown, polling at around 0% and in desperate need of greater name recognition. Nobody predicted that he would do well, even in Iowa. Campaign infrastructure (i.e. money) was almost nonexistent, because no one wants to contribute money to a sure loser (unless he's Ron Paul).

Huckabee was also labeled "the preacher," as he had spent several years as the pastor of a Baptist church. The fact that he was the governor of Arkansas for ten years seemed to leave little impression in the media, which was tends to remember only one salient fact about lesser-known candidates. Despite being "the preacher," Huckabee was unable to gain endorsements from prominent Christian leaders. Even they wanted to back a winner, and chose to support candidates like Giuliani or McCain.

Huckabee was dismissed by the Republican establishment, who viewed him as an outsider. They preferred to support Romney. Romney was competing energetically in Iowa, outspending Huckabee by an overwhelming margin

At first glance, it appears Huckabee will start from a much stronger position this time around: He has name recognition and good poll numbers, and Romney is likely to spend his resources in New Hampshire rather than tearing down Huckabee in Iowa. But it's worth pointing out that Huckabee has some new challenges:

First, Huckabee will be faced with more difficult questions during the primary debates. During the primary debates of 2007-08, Huckabee was repeatedly asked questions about his religion. Debate moderators saw him as "the preacher," so their questions revolved around topics like evolution or the Christian role of women. Huckabee feared he was being marginalized. In fact, he was being given a gift. Huckabee was questioned on the very topics he knew best, and his answers endeared him to the religious voters in Iowa.

Second, Huckabee will be viewed as a more serious threat by his opponents. Last time, he took the other candidates by surprise--Huckabee's sudden rise in Iowa during the final weeks before votes were cast was aptly called the "Hucka-boom." Huckabee nearly won South Carolina a few weeks later: McCain barely won, with the assistance of another candidate (Thompson), who devoted himself solely to attacking Huckabee and helping McCain.

When a candidate is viewed as the frontrunner, he comes under withering attacks from all his opponents. Many frontrunners are only temporary for this reason. Huckabee's mettle has yet to be fully tested.

Elephant Watcher currently gives Huckabee a 12% change of winning the nomination.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

What Can We Learn from Intrade?

Intrade is a website that allows users to place bets on whether certain future events will occur. It is most known for allowing people to make bets on the outcomes of elections. Its tagline reads, "The World's Leading Prediction Market." It's often claimed that by studying how the overall market judges the likelihood of events, one can make accurate predictions. But is it true?

The short answer is "No." The slightly longer answer is "No, not until shortly before the election."

Elephant Watcher has observed Intrade activity over the last few elections. Intrade markets tend to do a poor job of predicting the outcome of elections. Worse, they are inconsistent. Typically, the market will make an incorrect prediction over a long period of time and, shortly before the election, it will shift radically in the proper direction. In other words, Intrade is usually no better at predicting an election than a Gallup poll. This shouldn't be surprising, since public polling data is what most Intrade investors use to make up their own minds.

But Intrade can occasionally serve as a reflection of conventional wisdom. Over the course of the Republican 2012 primary, Elephant Watcher will periodically take a look at what the Intrade market has to say about the primary. Intrade's market for the primary may be found here.

On Intrade, candidates with very low chances of winning tend to be somewhat inflated, because the potential payout is so large: If an event occurs, the price of the "stock" goes to 100, so a candidate with a 1% chance of winning is like a 99:1 bet.

Candidates with a greater chance of victory have more stable "prices," and can be interesting to watch. In a future post, we will take a closer look at who Intrade is giving the best odds, and why they are right or wrong.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Obama Releases Birth Certificate: Does It Help or Hurt Trump?

Trump first gained significant media attention for his (potential) presidential run by pursuing the "birther" issue. Trump questioned why Obama would not release the birth certificate, and also questioned Obama's refusal to release other records (e.g. college transcripts). Trump's attacks resonated with Republican voters. They also stirred up enough doubt among the general public that Obama felt he needed to release his birth certificate, after more than two years of stonewalling.

As discussed in an earlier post, Trump can only win the Republican nomination if he improves his perceived electability and convinces voters that he is a genuine conservative. The "birther" issue does not help Trump in either of those areas.

When Obama released his birth certificate, it provided Trump a good reason to move on to other matters. Indeed, Trump's first act was to call a press conference and declare victory. That's not to say there will be no fallout: Trump had insisted he hired private investigators, and that he heard the birth certificate was missing.

Trump's calls for Obama's education records may be met with more skepticism from the press now that Obama has at least released something, even if it was unrelated to the new demands. In addition, some may attempt to drag Trump back into the controversy if "birthers" question the authenticity of the birth certificate.

Nevertheless, Trump was given a much-needed escape hatch. He has the opportunity to engage on other issues, ones which may help him improve his perceived electability and perceived conservatism. Whether Trump takes the opportunity, and whether he is successful, are other matters entirely. Elephant Watcher still calculates that Trump has a 1% chance of winning the Republican nomination.

High Negatives Imperil Palin, Trump

A new Gallup poll sheds light on the challenges faced by Palin and Trump in establishing perceived electability.

According to Gallup's poll of all Americans (i.e. not limited to Republican primary voters), 64% say they will "definitely not vote for" Trump. For Palin it was 65%. Gallup also asked about Huckabee, Romney, and Obama. Each of those received about 45% in the "definitely not vote for" category.

This establishes a clear divide between groups of candidates who may be considered "electable" and those who cannot. Elephant Watcher has given both Palin and Trump a low perceived electability rating.

Possessing low perceived electability is a serious handicap in a primary fight. Republicans may agree with Palin's views, for instance, but are less likely to vote for her in the primary if they think she can't win the general election. Among Republicans, 46% said they would "definitely not vote for" Trump. Beyond Trump's electability issues, this number also reflects the fact that more Republicans are aware of Trump's less-than-conservative political history.

37% of Republicans said they would "definitely not vote for" Palin. For Romney, the number was 26%; for Huckabee it was 22%.

Trump's number is particularly enlightening. Nearly half of Republicans say they are certain not to vote for him--about double the number who say the same about Huckabee. Trump has a following, but he's also starting out with a lot more opposition than other candidates. He has less room to carve out a constituency. Elephant Watcher currently gives Trump only a 1% chance of winning the nomination.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Early New Hampshire Polls Solid for Romney

As always, all of the latest state polls for early primaries are available on the Primaries page. There are still very few polls being done in New Hampshire. Only two of them have been conducted since Trump's political media appearances began:

4/21 ARG -- Romney 32, Trump 17, Gingrich 8, Giuliani 8
4/03 PPP (D) -- Romney 27, Trump 21, Gingrich 12, Huckabee 12
2/14 WMUR/UNH -- Romney 40, Huckabee 7, Pawlenty 7, Palin 6

Individual polls mean little because the chance of inaccuracy is so high. But if they are all in agreement upon a certain point, it's likely to be true. Here, the conclusion to be drawn is that Romney will start the race in very good shape in New Hampshire.

Romney is at about the magic number of 30. In a race with several candidates, polling at 30% usually guarantees victory. The polls suggest that serious opposition to Romney is divided between Trump and Gingrich. For Romney to be threatened by either, one of the two will probably need to bow out of the entire race or flame out in spectacular fashion.

It was argued in a previous post that Trump is likely to have already reached something of a high-water mark: From now on, more and more voters will discover Trump's historic lack of commitment to the Republican party. By contrast, Romney's weaknesses (Romneycare, flip-flopping for the 2008 race) are already known to most primary voters.

As noted in the Candidate Rankings, New Hampshire is a do-or-die state for Gingrich, Romney, and Trump.

Barring a run by Christie, superb debate performances by Gingrich, a radical transformation of Trump, or truly inept handling of the Romneycare issue by Romney, it would seem at this point Romney has New Hampshire in the bag. The likelihood of one or more of those occurring--in particular a Christie run--is substantial. Even if Romney won New Hampshire, he would still need to face off against the winner(s) of Iowa and South Carolina. Elephant Watcher calculates Romney currently has a 10% chance of winning the nomination.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Barbour Declines to Run

Haley Barbour has officially announced that he will not seek the Republican nomination for president. This marks the first time a candidate on the Elephant Watcher roster has decided to leave the race. An update has been made to the Status Page to reflect Barbour's decision.

In addition, the Rankings of the candidates have been updated. Barbour's departure from the race will have negligible impact: Elephant Watcher calculated his odds of winning the nomination at 0%. However, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul--each of whom were ranked lower than Barbour and also have a 0% chance of victory--will advance a rank in Barbour's absence.

Barbour stated that he lacked the "fire in the belly" needed to make the run. His inability to generate enthusiasm or attract support likely played a role in his decision as well.

Match-Up Polls vs. Perceived Electability

As explained in the Profiles section, one of the three attributes primary voters look for in a candidate is "perceived electability." Particularly in the early primaries, voters are strategic and want to select a candidate who can win.

"Electability" contains a number of ingredients: A candidate ought to be mainstream for his Party, experienced, reasonably articulate, free of scandal, and a "traditional" kind of candidate. Sometimes the voters outthink themselves by selecting a candidate like John McCain or Bob Dole: Traditional politicians who aren't "extreme" but whose inability to energize the Party's base leaves them less able to win. Perceived electability does not always translate into the ability to actually win the election.

How does perceived electability compare to the polls pitting Obama against hypothetical Republican nominees? (Match-up polls should not be confused with national primary polls, which Elephant Watcher previously discussed.)

Match-up polls are generally useless when they pit Obama against a relatively unknown candidate like Pawlenty or Cain, since voters have not yet formed an opinion on those candidates. They do yield interesting results when they involve well-known candidates like Palin, Huckabee, and Romney.

A divide is revealed here: Huckabee and Romney each run a few points ahead or behind Obama. Palin always trails Obama by double-digits, sometimes by 15 points or more. It's clear why Palin is perceived to be unelectable: Voters know Obama; they know Palin. Barring a radical transformation on Palin's part, there is no reason to think Palin will be able to improve her numbers by such a great amount and defeat Obama. Palin's supporters are enthusiastic, but history shows early primary voters will not choose someone unless they think he can win. Elephant Watcher currently gives Palin a 2% chance of winning the Republican nomination.

As mentioned, voters may be mistaken about a candidate's actual ability to win elections. Romney is a traditional politician and performs well in polls against Obama, but would he actually run well? Would lack of enthusiasm or a third party Tea Party candidate doom his chances?

Huckabee is another interesting case. In match-up polls, he runs about as well against Obama (or slightly better than) Romney. Yet he has not convinced voters that he is highly electable, only that he is moderately electable. He has not been blessed by the establishment, and he is sometimes pigeonholed as just a preacher or TV show host. If Huckabee is able to persuade voters that he is as electable as the polls say, Romney will need to find another means of getting an edge over him.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

How Do They Decide Who Gets Included in the Debates?

The question of which candidates get invited to the primary debates can be a tricky one. In any given year, the field of presidential candidates is vast. It includes many candidates who have never held office or who have almost no name recognition. It includes some serious candidates and likely frontrunners. And it includes a lot of candidates who fall somewhere between.

Each Republican primary debate is typically sponsored by both a Republican Party organization (e.g. a state chapter of the Party) and a media outlet or two (e.g. Fox, CNN, local TV networks, newspapers).

The organizations holding the debates cannot merely invite candidates on a whim. Nor can they exclude candidates because they don't like them. For various legal reasons, the decision must be based on a set of written rules applied equally to all candidates: For example, they can have a rule that says: "The top four candidates in the next Gallup poll will be invited." The rule is neutral because it does not include or exclude a specific candidate by name.

In theory, all's fair. The reality is somewhat different. Debate organizers can set or change the rules in creative ways to ensure that certain candidates are included or excluded. More frequently it is the latter. If a candidate is considered annoying or distracting--and is not leading in the polls--it isn't difficult for a "neutral" rule to be written that results in his exclusion.

For example, in the 2008 Democratic primary, the top four candidates were Obama, Hillary, Edwards, and Bill Richardson. Only the top three had a chance of winning the nomination, but the Democrats liked that they--unlike the Republicans--had at least one Hispanic candidate competing. MSNBC's rule was that they would invite candidates who placed in the top four in any national poll; they would include the frontrunners and Bill Richardson, but no one else.

Unexpectedly, the diminutive Dennis Kucinich managed to take the fourth spot in one of the polls. Kucinich had criticized the other candidates for not being strongly against the Iraq war and not being far enough to the left. The Democratic Party establishment did not want Kucinich to participate, but the rules were the rules. MSNBC was required to invite him. Before the debate, Richardson dropped out of the race. Since Richardson wouldn't be there anyway, MSNBC changed the rules so that only the top three in any national poll would be invited. Kucinich's invitation was rescinded. Kucinich sued in Nevada state court and won. But MSNBC appealed the ruling and defeated Kucinich: The day of the debate, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled Kucinich could be excluded.

That wasn't the only time such a call was made by debate organizers during the 2008 primaries. Previously, Mike Gravel (another anti-war candidate) had put in embarrassing performances during Democratic primary debates. New rules were written that excluded Gravel alone. He was relegated to taping himself watching the other candidates debate on TV and pausing the footage to insert his own remarks.

Republican debate organizers were no less willing to tailor the rules to the circumstances. Yet another anti-war candidate, Ron Paul, was eventually excluded by new rules basing the invites on each candidate's performance in national primary polls. Paul was not able to meet the requirement. Though Paul was leading Fred Thompson in the New Hampshire polls and beat Rudy Giuliani in the delegate count, Thompson and Giuliani polled well nationally and were included in the debates.

Debate moderators are also able to show some favoritism during the debates themselves. They tend to ask more questions to the more well-known candidates. Some lesser-known candidates may only get a few minutes of airtime during a two-hour debate.

Debate invites will be crucial for those struggling to boost their name recognition. Elephant Watcher has identified Herman Cain as one to watch in this regard: He may or may not be invited. His poll numbers are low (so far) and he has never held elective office. But his poll numbers may be just high enough in Iowa, and the debate organizers may feel it is a good idea to include at least one black candidate in the debates. Cain's fate in the race may well be decided by the debate organizers.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Feud with Glenn Beck Highlights Huckabee's Vulnerability

In the last few days, a feud has developed between Huckabee and Glenn Beck. Beck's website discusses the matter here.

Summary: Beck said that he did not want Huckabee to win the nomination because while Huckabee is a social conservative, Huckabee is a "progressive" on other issues. Huckabee took exception to the label, noting Beck's hatred of progressives, and criticized Beck for using hyperbole. Beck replied with a broadside attack against Huckabee's record as governor of Arkansas. Beck listed the reasons why he does not believe Huckabee has a conservative record.

Analysis: As explained in the Elephant Watcher Profile Page, Huckabee's main weakness is that his credentials as an economic conservative have often come under attack. Beck's attacks went further, criticizing Huckabee's excessive use of pardons as governor, and suggesting Huckabee is only conservative on social (religious) issues. Incidentally, these attacks were related to Huckabee's second and third weaknesses as listed in his Profile.

Beck's attacks are reminiscent of the attacks made by Fred Thompson against Huckabee just before the South Carolina primary in 2008. Huckabee narrowly lost in South Carolina, leading to John McCain's victory there and ultimately the nomination.

Perhaps most troubling for Huckabee is that these criticisms are coming from Beck, who is associated with the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party, rather than from the establishment. Huckabee runs the risk of being attacked by both flanks of the Party, narrowing his constituency considerably.

Beck also said that Huckabee is likely to be an early favorite for the nomination. Elephant Watcher concurs with this assessment, ranking Huckabee second (behind Christie, who will be a late entrant to the race). Huckabee's status as a quasi-frontrunner will make him the target of more attacks. In a future post, we will discuss Huckabee's position compared to the last time he ran.

There is one bright spot for Huckabee: Talk radio hosts and other commentators do not have as much influence on the nomination as one might expect. After all, John McCain won the nomination in 2008 despite widespread criticism from powerful conservatives like Rush Limbaugh. This is because the voters in early primary states tend to investigate the candidates personally: meeting the candidates, watching their debate performances, attending their townhalls, etc. They then make up their mind for themselves, rather than relying on the opinions of political commentators.

Even so, making enemies of Tea Party leaders--especially when already dismissed by the Republican establishment--is the last thing Huckabee needs.

Friday, April 22, 2011

What About Bachmann?

As you can see from the Campaign Status page, Elephant Watcher is currently analyzing the race as if it contains 12 candidates, none of whom have officially declared (yet) they are running for the nomination. Since we are dealing with some candidates who may not run at all, there is necessarily a judgment call: Who is included and who isn't?

In particular, some readers are curious about Michele Bachmann, who is not (yet) included among the candidates Elephant Watcher is analyzing. There is quite a bit of speculation in the media about her potential candidacy, and she is behaving like someone who wants to run.

Bachmann has not been included because her decision whether or not to run appears to be entirely contingent upon another candidate: Sarah Palin. If Palin runs, Bachmann will not; if Palin declines to run, Bachmann will.

It's certainly possible that both could run (or neither). But it would seem that Bachmann is too cognizant of the overlap between them: Both are solid conservatives with a loyal (as of yet, limited) following, Tea Party credentials, and would be competing for the same voters. They are also the only women who may enter the race. It makes sense for Bachmann to defer to Palin, who has not yet decided whether to run.

Elephant Watcher has begun a preliminary analysis of Bachmann, and she will be added to the roster of candidates if/when (A) she officially runs, (B) she forms an exploratory committee, or (C) Palin officially declines to run.

Then there is the matter of some other candidates who have not been included, despite their forming exploratory committees or officially declaring. Perhaps the most prominent is the former governor of New Mexico, Gary Johnson. Johnson has officially declared he is in the race.

Johnson has received minimal attention from the media and has generally not been included in any polls. Johnson will be analyzed and added to the roster of candidates if he gains some support, media attention, or if he is included in any major primary debates.

Speaking of debates, a future post will discuss how it's decided which candidates are invited to the primary debates.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Early Iowa Polls Look Good for Huckabee

Previously on Elephant Watcher: Polls of the early primary states are more important than national polls.

Very little polling has been done in Iowa so far, but numbers are beginning to trickle in. Stay up to date on the polling for Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina on the Elephant Watcher Primaries page.

Four different polls have been conducted in Iowa from March to present. Individually, state polls must be taken with a grain of salt, due to their small sample size and often unproven pollsters. Taken together, they can present a reliable picture of how the race stands.

All but one show Huckabee with a commanding lead:

4/19 ARG -- Huckabee 18, Romney 17, Gingrich 12, Trump 10
4/17 PPP (D) -- Huckabee 27, Romney 16, Trump 14, Gingrich 9
4/04 Neighborhood (R) -- Huckabee 21, Romney 14, Trump 9, Gingrich 8
3/11 WeAskAmerica -- Huckabee 20, Palin 14, Gingrich 14, Romney 13

(The April 19 poll showing Huckabee with only a 1 point lead appears to be an oddball "outlier" poll: It also has Giuliani of all people at 8%, with Palin at 4%. Unless we've traveled back in time to 2007, it's hard to accept any poll showing Giuliani with double Palin's numbers in Iowa.)

Note that the poll from March 11 was taken before Trump's (potential) candidacy started making headlines, and the poll from April 4 partly so. Though Trump is likely to receive a bounce in support if/when he announces he is officially in the race, and though he has the potential to transform himself into a serious candidate, April 17 may end up being roughly the height of Trump's campaign. Up to that point, Trump had something like a "media honeymoon" as far as Republican media is concerned. Trump received positive attention for attacking Obama, his history as a non-Republican had not yet come to light, and mud was not yet being slung.

At any rate, if Trump were to pick up steam in Iowa before the inevitable pushback, that was when it would have happened. Yet the April 17 poll shows Huckabee with a wide lead--the largest of any of the polls--and reaching toward 30 points. (In a four or five-man race, polling at 30 almost guarantees victory.)

The April 17 poll has Trump splitting the support of Huckabee's opponents, but not Huckabee. The poll suggests Huckabee may have established a solid constituency, still loyal from his previous win in 2008. If so, and if Huckabee's base is as large as the poll indicates, his opponents will have great difficulty defeating him in Iowa. It's unlikely, for instance, that Romney could do something new that would close the gap. Only an unexpected late entrant (Christie) could threaten Huckabee's support.

Note: Huckabee has not yet even announced an exploratory committee. If/when he does, he will likely receive a bit of a bounce, since there is some doubt among voters whether he is running.

Elephant Watcher will keep a sharp eye on future Iowa polls to determine whether Huckabee's base is as loyal and sizable as the April 17 poll makes it out to be.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Trump Fumbles During Interview on Abortion

LifeNews, a Pro-Life organization, opined that Trump "faltered" on the question of privacy during an interview April 19th.

Summary: During a discussion of his switch to becoming pro-life, Trump was asked about whether there is a right to privacy in the Constitution. Trump expressed confusion about the connection, apparently unaware that Roe v. Wade established a right to abortion through an implied right to privacy in the Constitution. LifeNews expressed skepticism about Trump's beliefs and his familiarity with the abortion debate.

Analysis: In a previous post, Elephant Watcher explained that in order for Trump to advance in the field, he must establish himself as a genuine conservative and as an electable candidate. The results of Trump's interview suggest that he is struggling in both areas.

Conservative candidates are generally pro-life, and are at least acquainted with the fundamentals of the debate. Specifically, they believe the Supreme Court overreached in Roe v. Wade: It invented a right to abortion by appealing to an "implied" right to privacy.

It is vital for Trump to appear well-versed in politics, otherwise he runs the risk of being tarnished as an uninformed, unserious--and thereby unelectable--candidate. The fact that he made this blunder during questions about his newly conservative beliefs adds insult to injury.

The good news for Trump is that gaffes hurt less when they take place early. He still has plenty of time to recover. But first impressions matter also, and Trump has yet to establish himself as an electable conservative.

Trump's unfamiliarity with the abortion debate reveals a vulnerability not yet exploited by journalists. Thus far they have asked him persistent questions about the "birther" issue. Now it's possible they may attempt to "Couric" him. (Recall that Palin's image was harmed when she was unable to answer Couric's specific questions about what newspapers she read and, ironically, Supreme Court decisions.)

If journalists are able to draw Trump into quizzes about the world of politics, his chances of winning the nomination will fall.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

How Useful Are National Polls?

The Republican Presidential Primary is a series of state-by-state contests, beginning with Iowa and New Hampshire. But instead of polling those states, you often see a lot of national polls, polling Republicans from all over the country. For example, there are currently only two recent polls for Iowa, yet there have been many national polls of late. Why? Because it's easier to get a random sample from a larger population, and because most polling companies don't have enough infrastructure to do a proper poll in just one state. There isn't as much demand for it.

So how useful are national polls, especially this far from the date of the first primaries? The answer is that it depends on which candidate's numbers you're reviewing. National polls measure both support and name recognition. Most primary voters begin to pay closer attention to the candidates only a few months before it's time to vote. So if a candidate is unknown, he will not see any support in the national polls.

An unknown candidate may ultimately do well, once he's had the opportunity to introduce himself to the voters of Iowa, New Hampshire, etc. This was certainly true of Mike Huckabee during the last election: He polled near zero percent all year until he gained support in the last few months of 2007, and then he won Iowa. On the other hand, many unknown candidates fizzle out even after the voters discovery them.

National polls, especially early ones, therefore tell you very little about how an unknown candidate will perform. However, If a candidate's main weakness is lack of name recognition (e.g. Daniels or Pawlenty), then seeing him rise in the national polls is a very positive sign.

National polls tell you much more about candidates with high name recognition. For example, if a candidate is very well known but is doing badly in the polls, that's an indication that he will do badly in the primaries. It's not a bad idea to see how well-known candidates stack up against each other in the early polls.

For example: Romney, Huckabee, and Palin all possess a lot of name recognition. If Palin continues to trail behind the other two in the national polls, she is in trouble. If her national numbers go up, she's back in the race.

Still, the state polls of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina are more important than any national poll.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Why Is Trump Unlikely to Win?

A few recent polls have shown excellent results for Donald Trump, particularly an April 10th poll from Public Policy Polling (a firm affiliated with the Democratic Party): A national primary poll, it showed 26% for Trump, 17% for Huckabee, 15% for Romney and 11% for Gingrich.

Many readers have asked why these polls are not boosting Trump's chances of winning the nomination. Elephant Watcher currently gives Trump only a 1% chance of victory. Trump is ranked below several candidates who are polling much worse than he is.

In a future Elephant Watcher post, we will discuss whether and to what degree national primary polls (as opposed to polling Iowa, New Hampshire, etc.) are useful. For now, it is enough to say these polls show Trump has the capacity to make a decent showing, but not that he is likely to do so.

As explained in Trump's profile, his main weaknesses are that he is not perceived as conservative or electable. Those familiar with Trump's record are aware of his changing views, and many Tea Partiers are asking Trump "Where were you during the fight against Obamacare, the rise of the Tea Party movement, and the 2010 elections?" Early primary voters are likely to become very familiar with the record of each candidate as each election day draws near.

What do the current polls say about these weaknesses--perceived lack of conservatism and electability? The answer is nothing. They reflect Trump's name recognition, the fact that people like what he is saying (and how he is saying it), and their dissatisfaction with the other candidates.

For Trump's probability of winning the nomination to increase, Elephant Watcher will need to see evidence that voters have learned of and forgiven Trump's pre-Republican record, or that Trump's perceived electability has increased. Until then, Trump will have difficulty competing.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Christie Projected to Win Republican 2012 Primary

With 0 of the primaries and caucuses complete, and with 0% of the delegates awarded, Elephant Watcher is now able to project that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will win the Republican Presidential Primary of 2012.

The present Ranking of the candidates gives Christie a 60% chance of victory.

A more detailed analysis of Christie's winning scenario and how events have led to it is included in the Rankings page.

Christie's strategy relies upon a lack of unity in the Republican Party, particularly between candidates favored by the Republican establishment and those favored by the Tea Party. Given the split that actually exists, Christie's winning scenario will likely occur.

However, there is still a significant possibility that Christie will lose. In order to defeat him, one of the other candidates will need to convincingly display an ability to unite the Party. Some of the other candidates are inoffensive to both wings of the Republican Party, but so far they have lacked the ability to generate enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is essential because primary voters generally turn out to vote for a candidate.

Welcome to Elephant Watcher

Welcome to Elephant Watcher, a comprehensive guide to the Republican Presidential Primary of 2012. Our mission is to provide one central location where you can get all the information and analysis you need to follow the race.

Each candidate's status will be updated when he enters the race, forms a presidential exploratory committee, declines to run, or withdraws from the race. Basic information has been provided about each candidate and each primary or caucus. The front page will provide links to important headlines and report on new polling data.

But Elephant Watcher goes far beyond merely reporting the facts. The internet provides an overabundance of information. Elephant Watcher will analyze the available information to explain what is happening and predict the likely outcome of the race.

To that end, the profiles of the candidates also assess their abilities, strengths, weaknesses, and formulate their optimal strategies. The candidates are then ranked according to how likely they are to win the Republican nomination.

The rankings will be continually updated to reflect how the race changes when it is affected by current events or a change in a candidate's strategy.

We hope that you enjoy following the race. Good luck to all of the candidates, and may the best one win.