Thursday, May 19, 2011

Elephant Watcher Q&A, Part I

As you may have noticed, Elephant Watcher's News page--especially on slow news days--often addresses common questions about the election process. For example, previous posts have discussed subjects such as the usefulness of national primary polls, how it's determined which candidates get included in a debate, the significance of Intrade, and others.

From time to time, we will also answer collections of questions sent by our readers. Elephant Watcher receives hundreds of e-mails, so it would be impossible to answer them all. However, if a similar question is asked by many different people, it may be addressed in a post like this one. Elephant Watcher's contact e-mail is linked here.

Q: How did you know Donald Trump's candidacy would collapse? You gave him a 1% chance of winning even when he was first place in the polls.

As with other candidates we profiled, Trump's challenges were identified early on, and explored further in a post dedicated to the subject. Trump suffered from low perceived conservatism and low perceived electability. A candidate possessing even one of those problems faces a significant hurdle. The Elephant Watcher calculation of Trump's odds was based on that fundamental assessment.

Q: Why are the rankings and odds so steady? What would it take to change them?

This question was more common prior to Huckageddon, when Huckabee's departure rattled the primary field. If an important candidate leaves the field suddenly, or if someone new appears, it can alter the odds. Otherwise, candidates demonstrate either ability or inability to face their unique challenges (like Trump's, described in the answer to the previous question). On the Profile page, you can see each candidate's strengths and weaknesses. Some candidates will overcome their weaknesses, while others will self-immolate. In the beginning, the Rankings are more stable, since fewer primary voters are paying attention to the race. Gaffes, etc. have less impact.

Q: How can Chris Christie be included if he says he's not running?

The roster would be incomplete without Christie for the same reason that a 2008 roster would be incomplete without Obama--despite the fact that Obama had said he was not running. Elephant Watcher has developed criteria to determine whether a candidate is actually staying out of the race. Note that Barbour, Huckabee, and Trump--the three who convincingly declined to run thus far--have all met the criteria, issuing carefully-prepared statements on their own. Christie has only made denials in response to interviewer questions. He has not yet met the criteria of a candidate who truly intends not to run.

Q: Where's Allen West's profile (or some other candidate's)?

This topic was addressed--specifically related to Michele Bachmann's potential candidacy--in an earlier post. It's likely a few additional candidates (like Bachmann and Huntsman) will enter the race and be added to the Elephant Watcher roster. At this point, the roster is complete enough so that it's only necessary to update it if/when new candidates actually announce a run or exploratory committee. Allen West has done neither. But the 2012 Republican primary may still have a few surprises in store.