Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Romney Sweeps the Northeast

For all intents and purposes, the Republican 2012 presidential primary ended earlier this month, when Rick Santorum announced he was dropping out of the race. Even so, there's still a technical requirement that Mitt Romney must win a majority of the delegates in order to win the nomination. From Romney's perspective, it makes sense to continue "competing" in these contests--while spending less money and devoting no resources to attack ads--because it looks good for a candidate to win. Romney will continue running victory laps as long as there are states yet to vote. Do the results in these states tell us anything? Not really. The voters are aware that the contest is over, and they have little incentive to participate, particularly as time goes on. People who really want to cast a vote for the winner will show up, as will the people who really want to cast a protest vote. Prior to today's contests, Newt Gingrich maintained that he was still running; Ron Paul will always be willing to fight on. But they couldn't make much of a dent: Romney won each contest by 30 or more points, including Pennsylvania.

Connecticut Primary (90% reporting)
Romney -- 67%
Paul -- 13%
Gingrich -- 10%
Santorum -- 7%

Delaware Primary (100% reporting)
Romney -- 56%
Gingrich -- 27%
Paul -- 11%
Santorum -- 6%

New York Primary (35% reporting)
Romney -- 58%
Paul -- 17%
Gingrich -- 14%
Santorum -- 10%

Pennsylvania Primary (71% reporting)
Romney -- 56%
Santorum -- 20%
Paul -- 13%
Gingrich -- 11%

Rhode Island Primary (88% reporting)
Romney -- 63%
Paul -- 24%
Gingrich -- 6%
Santorum -- 6%

In a little-noticed move, Gingrich placed all of his hopes on Delaware, where he spent whatever resources he had left. It made a difference, but only compared to the other states, where Gingrich did even worse. If Gingrich held onto any hope that Santorum's departure would consolidate the conservative vote around him again, that hope must be abandoned. As it turned out, the Wisconsin Primary on April 3rd was indeed the last competitive primary. Going forward, the only interesting data will be the numbers from Southern states voting in May; they may tell us something about the extent to which the Anti-Romney vote is coming around to their party's nominee.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Bain Analysis of Romney's Campaign

When Mitt Romney worked at Bain & Company, the consulting firm where he started his career, he was taught to examine companies in a particular manner. Bain consultants studied failing companies by accumulating a very large amount of data, and then formulated ideas for how improvements could be made. The consultants debated these ideas, always taking care to support their assertions with data. When Romney planned his run for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, he probably analyzed his failed 2008 run in much the same way that he had examined failed companies. Based on the changes Romney made in 2012, what lessons can we deduce he learned from 2008?

Romney has said that one of his lessons from 2008 was that people didn't have a clear idea of what his message was. In 2012, his basic campaign message was repeated over and over: The election is going to be about jobs and the economy, and his private-sector experience made him the most qualified to turn things around.

If you're going to make a pitch to voters, it's a good idea to make sure the voters know what the pitch is. Romney succeeded; some other candidates succeeded, while others failed. Jon Huntsman and Tim Pawlenty may have been the worst at defining a clear message for their campaigns. Rick Perry did a relatively poor job, and his message was quickly swallowed by his disastrous debate performances. Others, like Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, eventually defined themselves, but their messages were unattractive. Gingrich's pitch was that he was the best candidate to debate Barack Obama, but it turned out Gingrich wasn't that good at debates. Santorum wanted to focus on the family and values, but most voters weren't interested. Herman Cain succeeded at getting his "9-9-9" message out, but he went too far, defining himself too narrowly.

Another change Romney made in 2012 was to focus all of his attention on one early state, New Hampshire. In 2008, he spread his resources and attempted to land knock-out blows by doing well in Iowa and New Hampshire, as well as some later contests. Romney was able to get second place in both IA and NH, but it didn't do him much good. He concluded that taking first place was absolutely essential. Among IA, NH, and South Carolina, his choice was obvious: He had to stake everything on NH. He did put some last-minute resources into IA when the opportunity presented itself, but otherwise he ignored the state. It's no use spreading resources if you don't get any real credit for second place.

What about the manner in which Romney conducted his campaign? For those who followed both the 2008 and 2012 Republican primaries, it was apparent that Romney gave better debate performances during his second run. While it should be obvious that debates are important, Romney seems to have put in the extra effort. He may have taken a cue from 2008, when Mike Huckabee vaulted from polling near 0% to taking IA and nearly South Carolina and the nomination. Huckabee had no resources or name recognition, but he did very well in the debates. Others didn't take the debates so seriously: It's been reported that Perry spent almost no time preparing for them, and it showed.

In 2008, the various campaigns treated the primary season like an arms race, spending money long before voters even began paying attention. They had assumed that the primary season would last from early 2007 all the way through early 2008, and they didn't want to be left behind. But they misjudged the voters, most of whom didn't start following the race until 2008. Even the early-state voters didn't take notice until the autumn of 2007, and their engagement really ramped up only by December.

It appears Romney learned that lesson. Rather than blanketing the early states with ads at the beginning of 2011, he ramped up his efforts toward the end of 2011. Most telling was the fact that Romney didn't launch his deluge of negative ads (for which he had become infamous in 2008) until a couple weeks before the Iowa Caucus. He allowed Gingrich to get far ahead in the polls, and then viciously cut him down. By contrast, the Romney of 2008 attacked every candidate who got ahead of him even for a moment, and he made enemies. The Romney of 2012 was perfectly happy to see Cain or Ron Paul or Michele Bachmann do well for awhile, and if they fell of their own weight, he didn't make enemies of them.

The candidate who could have benefited the most from that lesson was Pawlenty. He spent more money than he took in, trying as hard as he could to get traction in early-to-mid 2011. The problem was that voters didn't even notice. Even worse, he spent large sums of money trying to win the Ames straw poll in August. When he failed to win, his campaign was in debt and he decided to drop out--a fatal mistake. Bachmann won Ames, but it turned out Ames didn't matter. In 2008, Romney also spent a lot of money to win the Ames straw poll, and it didn't do him any good, either.

It's conventional wisdom that Republicans always nominate the "next in line." They prefer to nominate the runner-up from the previous primary, it seems (Reagan, Bush Sr., Dole, McCain, Romney). But perhaps the real reason this occurs so frequently is that the candidates learn from the mistakes they made the first time around. In the future, candidates would do well to learn from the mistakes of past candidates, rather than spending time and money making them on their own.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

What's Next for Elephant Watcher?

Over the course of the past year, Elephant Watcher has reported on and analyzed the 2012 Republican presidential primary. Now that the primary is effectively over, what's next? During the next few months, we will transition into coverage of the general election in the 2012 presidential race. Analysis of the race will be done in the same manner that proved to be so effective during the Republican primary. The main pages of the website (Candidate Rankings, Primaries, etc.) will be replaced with equivalent versions for the general election, but the Republican primary versions will be archived so that they may still be viewed.

In the meantime, the Primaries page will be updated as the state contests continue to be conducted, and news articles will be posted regarding these contests as needed. But Elephant Watcher will also begin a series of articles reviewing the Republican primary from a historical perspective to see what lessons can be gleaned from the way the process played out. Just as the 2004 and 2008 primary seasons did, the 2012 Republican primary will produce useful information for politicians and political observers engaged in the next primary season.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Rick Santorum Concedes the Race

The Republican presidential primary effectively ended today. Rick Santorum gave a speech to announce that he is suspending his campaign; he conceded the race to Mitt Romney in a phone call. As Elephant Watcher predicted, Santorum's loss in Wisconsin changed the race in a fundamental way, such that no one could any longer deny that Romney was going to win the nomination. Although there were many states left in the primary calendar that favor Santorum, it's likely that Santorum's campaign was able to conclude that Santorum would lose in Pennsylvania. A few days ago, a poll was released showing Romney with a lead in Pennsylvania; Santorum's campaign probably had access to some private polling data as well. Though Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul have not officially dropped out of the race, their efforts to amass delegates were even less successful than Santorum's--and they are no longer considered genuine candidates. At this point, Gingrich would struggle even to win Southern states with a protest vote in May.

Barring a tragic accident, Romney will be the Republican nominee for president this year. A little over six months ago, and about three months before voting began in Iowa, Elephant Watcher was able to project that Mitt Romney will win the Republican nomination. Although Romney could never hope to consolidate both wings of the Republican Party, he won because he was the only remaining candidate who was considered highly electable (aside from Jon Huntsman, who ran to the left of Romney). The rest of the candidates had serious issues, though primary voters tended not to be aware of those issues until after each candidate was brought under media scrutiny. In December, Elephant Watcher explained this was the fundamental driver of the ups and downs in the polls, which in fact continued until Santorum's collapse in March.

Throughout 2011, the conventional wisdom among the news media and political pundits was that Romney was limited by a ceiling of 25% of the Republican primary electorate. Elephant Watcher debunked the 25% ceiling myth in November. As Romney's competitors' electability issues surfaced, Romney surged and broke through the ceiling.

Many in the Tea Party could not believe--especially after their victories in 2010--that the Republican Party would end up nominating another "RINO" for president. They were certain that someone with unimpeachable conservative credentials would win the primary, rather than a moderate. But the fact is that by the beginning of October, the Party had no alternative. A number of highly-electable conservatives could have run (and in Tim Pawlenty's case, did run until his early exit), but they chose not to run. Romney's own weaknesses forced him to fight for the nomination, but the ultimate outcome could not be in serious doubt.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Could Santorum Lose Pennsylvania?

On April 24th, primaries will be held in Connecticut, Delaware, New York, and Rhode Island. Mitt Romney is expected to easily carry each of these states and add a huge haul of delegates to his already insurmountable lead. But there's another state voting on the 24th, one that isn't favorable to Romney at all: Pennsylvania. A Midwestern state, Pennsylvania is inherently friendly to Rick Santorum. It's also Santorum's home state, which gives him a huge bonus.

How big of advantage is the "home state" advantage in a primary? Big. A distinction should be drawn between a typical "home state", and Romney's home state of Michigan--which Romney only carried by a few points. Although Romney undoubtedly has ties to Michigan, a more apt comparison would be to Massachusetts, where Romney is better-known and recently served as governor. On Super Tuesday, Romney won Massachusetts with 72% of the vote, beating Santorum by a whopping 60 points. That same day, Newt Gingrich, whose campaign was already in tatters, won his own home state of Georgia with 47%, just over 20 points higher than Romney; other Southern states voting on Super Tuesday were carried by Santorum.

In summary, it ought to be understood that Santorum is starting out with an enormous advantage in Pennsylvania. Indeed, on February 20th (roughly at the height of Santorum's surge), a Franklin & Marshall poll had Santorum ahead by nearly 30 points there. A lot has changed since then, namely Santorum's key defeats in the Midwestern states of Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, and Wisconsin, along with the overall impression taking hold that Romney is inevitable. Still, that's quite a gap to close, and Santorum's campaign is taking an "all-in" approach in Pennsylvania, if only to avenge his infamous senatorial reelection loss. Here are the most recent polls in the state--most of which were taken prior to Santorum's loss in Wisconsin on April 3rd:

Pennsylvania Primary
04/04 PPP (D) -- Romney 42, Santorum 37, Paul 9, Gingrich 6
04/04 Rasmussen -- Santorum 42, Romney 38, Paul 7, Gingrich 6
04/01 Quinnipiac -- Santorum 41, Romney 35, Paul 10, Gingrich 7
03/27 Wenzel -- Santorum 45, Romney 25, Paul 10, Gingrich 8
03/25 Franklin -- Santorum 30, Romney 28, Paul 9, Gingrich 6

Even looking at the two polls taken after Wisconsin, there's quite a bit of variation: One has Romney up by 5, and the other has Santorum up by 4. But the bottom line is that both of those polls are terrible for Santorum. Romney has repeatedly overcome Santorum's early leads of more than 4 points. Santorum is in deep trouble--Pennsylvania is already competitive.

There are some silver linings for Santorum. As his home state, Pennsylvania may choose to reward Santorum's persistence in a last-minute fit of nostalgia. Santorum will also have three weeks to campaign there. And since Pennsylvanians are already familiar with Santorum, Romney's attack ads should have less effect.

But there's one big problem that could trump all that and give Romney the win: Over the next few weeks, the idea that Romney has already won the nomination will sink deeper into the minds of Republican voters. Without victories to sustain the Santorum campaign, potential Santorum voters will be poisoned by the toxic idea that a vote for Santorum simply helps Barack Obama.

Elephant Watcher believes that Santorum could be persuaded to quit the race early if he loses in Pennsylvania, or if the early Pennsylvania polls are bad enough to convince Santorum that he's going to lose there. Right now, the picture is bleak, but it's not yet certain Santorum will lose.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Intrade: Santorum Below 1 Percent

After losing the Illinois Primary a few weeks ago, Rick Santorum had dropped to a 2.5% chance to win the nomination, according to the Intrade market on the Republican nomination. After losing the Wisconsin Primary, Santorum's odds have hit rock bottom: He's currently trading at 0.7%. Mitt Romney is inching closer to the 100% mark, trading at 96.0%. For the first time, no other candidate is even in single-digits; Romney's competitors are all below the 1% mark.

Ron Paul, despite having failed to win a state so far, is in second place at 0.8%. Newt Gingrich is truly close to 0%, trading at 0.2% along with several candidates who didn't run (Sarah Palin, Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, etc.). Jeb Bush, who for whatever reason is a partial stand-in for the chance of a contested convention, is ahead of Gingrich, at 0.6%. But Intrade investors also feel the odds of a contested convention have fallen substantially: They give it just a 3% chance of occurring.

In fact, the Intrade markets on individual contests appear to be predicting an all-out sweep for Romney from this point forward. Before Wisconsin, they felt Santorum was relatively safe in his home state of Pennsylvania, giving him about a 2/3 chance of winning there. But now they rate the probability of a Romney upset in Pennsylvania at 84.7%. And Romney is almost certain to steal the big Southern prize, Texas: 92.4%, according to Intrade.

Intrade's high level of confidence of Romney winning Texas is particularly interesting, given Romney's weakness in the South so far. One possible explanation is that Intrade investors foresee Santorum dropping out of the race prior to the Texas Primary (May 29th). If they're right about Romney winning Pennsylvania, it's a real possibility.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Romney Wins Wisconsin in a Sweep

Mitt Romney swept the primaries in D.C., Maryland, and Wisconsin on Tuesday. Romney's colossal win in the District of Columbia was expected, given Rick Santorum's failure to qualify for the ballot. Romney was also expected to win by double-digits in Maryland. For Romney, the real prize was Wisconsin. In mid-February, polls had Santorum leading in Wisconsin by about 15 points. It's a state that would naturally favor Santorum. But after a hard-fought campaign there, Wisconsin went for Romney by a comfortable margin. It is the most devastating loss for Santorum yet. The following are the vote counts as of this writing; news agencies have called all three contests for Romney:

Washington, D.C. Primary (58% reporting)
Romney -- 71%
Paul -- 12%
Gingrich -- 11%
Santorum -- [not on ballot]

Maryland Primary (57% reporting)
Romney -- 47%
Santorum -- 30%
Gingrich -- 11%
Paul -- 10%

Wisconsin Primary (42% reporting)
Romney -- 42%
Santorum -- 38%
Paul -- 12%
Gingrich -- 6%

Romney didn't win Wisconsin by a huge amount, but nor was it a razor-thin margin like the one with which he took Ohio, a similar state. Santorum is far behind on delegates, and if he was going to change the dynamic of the race, he needed to do much better in Wisconsin than he did in Ohio. Instead, Santorum did worse. Santorum's final hope--uniting the Anti-Romney vote after beating Newt Gingrich in the South--failed to produce the boost in support he needed.

Santorum's plan to sweep the South and Midwest did not succeed. Romney repeatedly beat Santorum in the Midwest (Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin), all while continually increasing his margins in the Northeast and West.

Romney can persuasively argue that his nomination is inevitable. Santorum's campaign has conceded that they are unable to accumulate a majority of the delegates, and can only hope for a contested convention. This further reduces Santorum's appeal to Republican voters, most of whom care far more about defeating Barack Obama than nominating Santorum.

If Santorum had a realistic chance of winning the nomination, there was no reason for him not to win Wisconsin. It is a pro-Santorum state, he had plenty of time to campaign there, and Gingrich did not split the Anti-Romney vote. Santorum now has no logical reason to believe he can win the nomination. He can only hope for a miracle.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Wisconsin, D.C., and Maryland Tomorrow

Three primaries will take place on Tuesday: Wisconsin, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. Recent polling indicates Mitt Romney will win all three contests. This will be the last series of contests for another three weeks, after which a host of Northeastern states will vote. It's Rick Santorum's final opportunity to stop the delegate math from favoring Romney so overwhelmingly that observers conclude Santorum is wasting everyone's time. While the April calendar is stacked in Romney's favor, Wisconsin was supposed to provide Santorum with a counterweight: In its natural state, Wisconsin is pro-Santorum. Santorum has poured all available resources into Wisconsin, with apparently no reward for his efforts. A loss in Wisconsin would be devastating to Santorum because if he can't win there, he won't be able to win anywhere--except for Southern Anti-Romney states and his home state of Pennsylvania. A loss in Wisconsin now appears likely:

Wisconsin Primary
04/01 WeAskAmerica -- Romney 39, Santorum 31, Paul 16, Gingrich 15
04/01 PPP (D) -- Romney 43, Santorum 36, Paul 11, Gingrich 8
03/29 Rasmussen -- Romney 44, Santorum 34, Paul 7, Gingrich 7
03/28 St.Norbert -- Romney 37, Santorum 32, Paul 8, Gingrich 4
03/27 NBC/Marist -- Romney 40, Santorum 33, Paul 11, Gingrich 8
03/25 Marquette -- Romney 39, Santorum 31, Paul 11, Gingrich 5

Romney holds a lead in every single poll, mostly in the high single-digits. Santorum tends to overperform his poll numbers because some of Newt Gingrich's voters shift to the chief Anti-Romney at the last minute. But aside from the WeAskAmerica poll, Gingrich has already fallen into single-digits, which is where he ended up in Illinois' vote. Thus, Santorum can only hope for the polls to be far off the mark. Because this is a primary rather than a caucus, and because there are so many pollsters reporting similar results, the polls are likely to be accurate.

Maryland Primary
04/01 PPP (D) -- Romney 52, Santorum 27, Gingrich 10, Paul 8
03/28 Rasmussen -- Romney 45, Santorum 28, Gingrich 12, Paul 7

If there was any hope that Maryland wouldn't vote like a Northeastern state, the polls don't offer it. Romney is ahead by a tremendous margin in Maryland. In D.C., there has been no polling, but Romney is guaranteed to win because Santorum isn't on the ballot. Thus, Romney is likely to win in Wisconsin and win by huge numbers in the other two contests tomorrow. Obviously Maryland and D.C. are pro-Romney, but Wisconsin should have been pro-Santorum. For most watching these results, it will be difficult not to conclude that the race is all but over.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

2012 Republican Primary in Review: March 2012

Each month, Elephant Watcher recaps the activity that occurred in the Republican primary during the previous month. Follow these links to read earlier recaps: May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December, January, February.

As March began, the ten contests on Super Tuesday--March 6th--loomed large. It was commonly understood that the Republican presidential primary had become a regional battle. The main battleground was Ohio, a Midwestern state where Rick Santorum had been polling very well prior to the Michigan primary at the end of February. Mitt Romney's campaign put all available resources into Ohio and began to close the gap.

Nationally, public opinion began to turn, slowly, against Santorum. Santorum's strength during the previous month was surface-deep; it was based on voters' lack of familiarity with his weaknesses. Still, Ohio was in his backyard. With Romney pulling ahead in the final polls, Newt Gingrich supporters in Ohio made a last-second shift over to Santorum. But it was not quite enough: Romney won Ohio by one point.

The remaining Super Tuesday states were split, with Romney winning most of them, but with Santorum doing well in the South. Critically, Santorum and Gingrich had failed to get on the ballot in Virginia, adding another win to Romney's column. And Gingrich won in his home state of Georgia, cutting into delegates Santorum would have otherwise easily taken.

Romney's win in Ohio made it readily apparent that he was the man to beat. Santorum's losses in Ohio and Michigan blunted all of the momentum he had gained during February. Yet, the split-decision on Super Tuesday brought something important to light: After a certain point, presidential primaries are based on delegate math, not momentum. In March, Romney's campaign went into full delegate mode, gathering up delegates from every little contest they could. This included several contests in island territories like Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Romney was able to accumulate a disproportionate number of delegates from these contests.

On March 13th, the three leading candidates converged on the Deep South for the primaries in Alabama and Mississippi. Because of Gingrich's strength in that portion of the South, the Anti-Romney vote was split. Early polls suggested Romney might even be able to exploit the split to win in one or both of the states. But as before, Gingrich voters strategically shifted, giving both states to Santorum. Now, finally, Gingrich's campaign was truly dead--though he refused to drop out.

Unfortunately for Santorum, it was too late. The delegate math increasingly favored Romney, who was able to win on his own turf by wide margins, while Santorum's wins usually involved prevailing by smaller margins against Romney or Romney/Gingrich. The possibility of Santorum actually winning a majority of the delegates was slim; instead, it seemed as though he was merely attempting to force a contested convention. That, along with an increasing public awareness of Santorum's faults, caused Santorum's support to erode.

On March 20th, the new dynamic was plain for all to see. Romney won the Illinois primary by a whopping 12 points. Gingrich voters had shifted to Santorum again--basically taking Gingrich out of the equation--but it didn't do much good. Santorum's last, best hope had been that Gingrich's collapse would allow the Anti-Romney vote to coalesce. The Anti-Romney vote did unite behind Santorum, but there weren't enough Anti-Romney voters left. Even in Wisconsin, another Midwestern state, early polls looked good for Romney.

As March came to a close, the Romney-favoring April calendar approached. Romney was in a dominating position. It did not appear likely that the other candidates could stop Romney from getting a majority of the delegates and winning the nomination.