Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Is Chris Christie Running for President? Part I

When one considers the various scenarios of how the 2012 Republican primary could turn out, there's one big unknown that looms over it all: Will Chris Christie enter the race? He has been asked the question countless times, and he has been consistent in denying that he intends to run. But he has made a careful point of not denying his intentions in what Elephant Watcher terms a "convincing manner." By contrast: Haley Barbour, Mitch Daniels, Mike Huckabee, and Donald Trump have all exited the race in the appropriate fashion, and have been placed into the "declined to run" category on the Campaign Status page.

To put it another way, Christie has only denied his intentions to run in the same way that Barack Obama denied he would run in 2008, and Rick Perry denied he would run in 2012. Perry changed his mind and is considering a run. Obama changed his mind and is currently president. But while Christie hasn't taken himself out of the race, that doesn't mean he will run. It only means he hasn't decided yet. So will Christie run?

Predicting whether a candidate will run can be a very tricky business. Sometimes the candidate himself doesn't know. Often the decision hinges on personal matters, such as whether the candidate's spouse or children are willing to support him. Earlier this year, Mitch Daniels was considered a strong candidate for president, but he declined to run. Daniels explained that he wanted to run, but his wife and daughters were against it. One might question the logic: If Daniels' wife was so afraid of publicity, why would she allow him to run for governor? Clearly, emotions play a role. Mike Huckabee, who was in an even stronger position to run than Daniels, announced that he would not run, either. He never gave a clear explanation for his decision. He just said that his "heart said 'no.'"

What about using Intrade, which bills itself as "The World's Leading Prediction Market"? On Intrade, investors can take bets on whether candidates will run. From the beginning, Elephant Watcher has cautioned readers that Intrade markets aren't a reliable predictor of election results, for a number of reasons. Intrade markets tend to react to events rather than predicting them.

Intrade investors are relatively certain that Christie won't run. Intrade gives Christie a 10% chance of entering the race. Intrade gave Christie a higher chance last year, before he started making repeated denials. Apparently Intrade investors take Christie at his word.

They also took Rick Perry at his word, until his word changed. Until mid-May, Intrade investors gave Perry a 10% chance of running, just like Christie. When Perry began suggesting he was reconsidering a run, his Intrade market skyrocketed. It now stands at around 75%. Again, that's a reaction rather than a prediction.

Intrade investors fared no better when it came to anticipating that a candidate wouldn't run. Consider the four candidates who were placed into the "declined to run" category. Intrade's predictions? Haley Barbour was given a 70% chance of running until the day he announced he wasn't. Mike Huckabee was given nearly a 60% chance of running until he made a similar announcement. (In January '11, Intrade gave Huckabee an 80% chance.) Donald Trump topped out at over 60% in mid-May, just before he bowed out of the race. As for Mitch Daniels, Intrade priced him at 70% until the day he announced his decision not to run.

We can't read Christie's mind, and neither can Intrade. Are there any factors that can at least assist us in making a prediction about whether Christie will run? We will examine this question in Part II.