Presidential prediction

Monday 10 December 2007

It’s still 11 months until the presidential election, and we haven’t had a primary or caucus yet, but I’m willing to make a prediction: the Republican nominee will win.

I have two reasons. First, all the likely Democrat nominees are senators, and the likely Republican nominees are either governors or mayors. Historically, executive branch candidates do much better than those from the legislative branch. To quote Wikipedia’s U.S. Presidential Elections page:

Contemporary electoral success has favored state governors. Of the last five presidents (Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush), four have been governors of a state (all except for George H. W. Bush). Geographically, these presidents were all from either very large states (California, Texas) or from a state south of the Mason-Dixon Line and east of Texas (Georgia, Arkansas). The last sitting U.S. Senator to be elected president was John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts in 1960. The only other sitting senator to be elected was Warren G. Harding in 1920, whereas major-party candidate Senators Andrew Jackson (1824), Lewis Cass (1848), Stephen Douglas (1860), Barry Goldwater (1964), George McGovern (1972), Walter Mondale (1984), Bob Dole (1996), and John Kerry (2004) all lost their elections.

Maybe this is because of the compromise nature of the legislative process, and the hay that can be made of it. Remember “He voted for the war before he voted against the war”? Maybe it’s that personalities that succeed in Congress are not well-suited to executive branch work. I don’t know.

The second reason is that both parties have moved to the left. Clinton and Obama are both more liberal than Kerry was, and neither Romney or Giuliani is as conservative as Bush was. That means that the Republicans are moving toward the center at the same time that the Democrats are moving away from it. I’ve heard more than one liberal Massachusetts friend say that Giuliani wouldn’t be bad, for example.

I hope I am wrong, but from this (admittedly early) vantage point, it doesn’t look good for Democrats.

Comments

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Tim Tripcony 8:26 AM on 10 Dec 2007

You make some intriguing points. The pundits are spinning the race between Hillary and Obama as one of "change vs. experience", and the latest polling seems to imply that, at least this time around, voters would rather have change... as Obama puts it, "nobody had a longer resume than Cheney or Rumsfeld, and that hasn't worked out so well." Party identification seems to be inching in the Democrats' direction, so regardless of who is the nominee, they may be able to pull this off. Particularly if it's Obama, since he seems to be getting the most support from Republicans of any in his camp. In fact, a lot of folks that get dragged by a friend to one of his appearances by a friend walk away saying that they thought they were Republican until they heard what he had to say and now they realize they aren't.

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Nate 8:30 AM on 10 Dec 2007

blech... that's really too bad, because I think the republican nominees are mostly a bunch of crap. The problem is that hillary is somehow the front runner in the democratic race, and she'll get completely blown out of the water in a general election, because I'm not sure the rest of the country is ready for a woman to be president, especially one whose major qualification is "was wife of prior president". She dipped a toe in the senate just long enough to get into the presidential race. The one thing she does have going for her is that she comes off as strong and determined.

Obama, whose book I read, The Audacity of Hope, has a lot of good ideas and could easily appeal to a lot of people, but I'm not sure if he comes off as strong and leadershippy enough. Plus, he's half black, and a large amount of stupid-ass white folk won't vote for him because of that alone, not to mention the wacky name.

Yeah, we're probably screwed, I think the best we can hope for is to ride to victory on Bush's horrible failure at everything.

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Bernard Farrell 9:57 AM on 10 Dec 2007

Ned

I think the democrats have an interesting challenge ahead of them. Their two front runners are both politically challenging. Clinton because she's a woman and her husband has more than a little political baggage, and Obama because he's black and he's relatively inexperienced. I think there's a large segment of the US population that would be challenged to vote for either of these people, and probably for different reasons.

I also think it might be disastrous if the Democrats ran the Senate, Congress and owned the White House. That won't necessarily make it easier for them to accomplish things.

I'd consider myself as a slightly left of center voter and I think Mike Huckabee looks interesting to me. And he has a clear interest in the health problem, which I suspect will dominate American politics in the not too distant future.

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mikey 10:51 AM on 10 Dec 2007

Ned, you hit it right on. In my opinion, the Dems have had a hard time fielding an electable candidate, and are heading down that same road again. In the liberal Northeast, we sometimes forget that the voters as a whole are far less so.

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mike 11:40 AM on 10 Dec 2007

if we're going to look at this from a "whats happened in the past point of view" we can also look at northeastern-centric candidates (giuliani, romney) historically losing presidential elections....with kennedy being the last exception (who, it was said, could not win because he was Catholic, another "rule" that changed). This might be the first time that we may have a female candidate, or an african american candidate...the "conventional wisdom" of the last few decades doesn't have much data on what effect this might have. The leftward shift we're seeing is strictly because GWB has been so utterly, utterly bad. If he weren't so over-the-top brazen and idiotic in everything he and his cabinet does, and instead had been more like a "regular" republican, things would be much sleepier this election. So i think extraordinary circumstances might provide extraordinary results.

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susan 4:36 PM on 10 Dec 2007

I have almost always voted Democrat, and I feel utterly frustrated by what happens with my party. Regardless of your nice research, Ned, it doesn't have a lot to do with what happened in the past. It's that neither of the two choices can win with the country at large, because of inexperience, baggage, or racism. And last time, our choice had little baggage and was experienced and yet a total turn-off as a speaker. The Dems need to do what the Republicans already know: get a frontrunner who is experienced and charismatic, and doesn't expect too much of the voters. Someone who can boil down a message and be brave enough to stick with it. Why can't we draft Robert Redford or Paul Newman? They seem like presidents already, or can act the part, a la Reagan, but they are more intelligent.

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Giacomo 10:15 AM on 12 Dec 2007

Ned, sorry but this smells of cheap inside-beltway-ism. Saying Democrats are moving to the left is a bit rich, when they field such centrist candidates as Obama and H. Clinton (check their vote record, not how the media tries to depict them). American political discourse is not moving to the left; after 8 years of right-wing extremism you are just bouncing back to the square centre, where you were in the B. Clinton years.

I'd be very surprised if the American people decided, after 8 years of disastrous policies (see Iraq, Katrina, energy prices, economy, etc etc), to once more elect an hawkish big-money Republican like Giuliani.

But what do I know, I'm a dangerous European socialist ;)

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Bruce Perry 11:09 PM on 13 Dec 2007

I agree with Giacomo. Neither Obama nor Clinton is anywhere near far left, much as the Republicants like to call their every action "far left" or "extreme left". And our press happily prints these tags without asking if they're justified. Some "liberal media"! Would they uncritically pass on the label "neolithic right" if Democrats started using it all the time? I wonder.

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Paul 6:06 PM on 14 Dec 2007

"I've heard more than one liberal Massachusetts friend say that Giuliani wouldn't be bad, for example."

The hell kind of liberals they got in Massachusetts anyway?

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Volker 8:36 PM on 15 Dec 2007

Ned,

I sure hope you are wrong on that one. As far as "both parties have moved to the left", check out this map on The Political Compass: http://politicalcompass.org/usprimaries2008

With the exception of Kucinich and Gravel, every candidate is way to the right of the center. You might argue about how exactly the center is defined but still according to this map, most of the democratic candidates are moving towards the center on their move to the left! I guess this simply illustrates Giacomo's point.

Anyway, I can recommend taking their test (http://politicalcompass.org/test) it is rather informative.

Another dangerous European...

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Ned Batchelder 6:25 PM on 16 Dec 2007

Thanks to our European friends for chiming in. As regards the politicalcompass.org map: I didn't say the Dems were left of center, just that they were more to the left than the Democrat candidate the last time around. And the whole idea that there is some subjective "center" is off the mark anyway. All that matters is what passes for center in any given electorate. Even politicalcompass is plotting people against an aggregate spectrum taken from the societies in which they are interested.

I think people will view Clinton or Obama as further to the left than Kerry was. And they will view Giuliani or Romney as further to the left than Bush was. That's all I was trying to say.

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Giacomo 7:50 PM on 16 Dec 2007

Well, being further to the right of Dick Cheney is almost impossible without a lifetime honorary membership of the KKK... :)

I only commented because framing this debate as "stopping a move to the left" is one of the few ways that Republican will try to stop the otherwise inevitable blue landslide; and it's a very surreal frame. I didn't expect to find it on your blog, that's all.

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Ned Batchelder 8:52 PM on 16 Dec 2007

Believe me, I am not in favor of these trends. I want the Dems to win. I'm just noticing trends and reporting on them.

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Chris Vail 9:23 PM on 17 Dec 2007

You are discounting the tremendous damage George W. has done to the Republican Party. The Republicans CANNOT win this one (anymore than they could have won after Nixon resigned and Ford pardoned him). The best they can hope for is to squeak by in the Senate (with the help of Joe Lieberman). That is why the Republicans are only running clowns this time. The Democrats, on the other hand, are trying to pick candidates the Republicans will vote for. One of my co-workers, an ex-marine and staunch Republican (doesn't like criticism of W.), has pretty much decided for Hillary. I'm holding out for Edwards, the only real Democrat.

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DeanG 6:00 PM on 2 Jan 2008

Waited a couple of weeks to see where this would go and seeing no mention of my primary interest in this election, I've gotta say I'm looking forward to a blog post critiequing Ron Paul and his impact on the race, or run-on, whichever comes first. :-D

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Sylvain Galineau 9:07 PM on 4 Jan 2008

Re: the electability of Senators or governors, correlation is not causation. At this point, the Presidential election is the Democrats' to lose. Fundraising, turnout, polls, activism, general participation, political momentum are on the Dems' side.

As for Democrats moving to the Left, this is normal during the primaries. The Democrats can afford to move left now and tack back to the centre later. Republican candidates are unable to 'go Rove' and do the same thing this year. Their lacklustre fundraising and the Dems' momentum demand that they aim for mainstream Republicans and independents.

Which Democratic candidate is going to win though, I have no idea. The media have so hammered about Hillary's inevitability that I couldn't bet money on her anymore. There is just no upside left.

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bump 3:10 PM on 3 Jun 2008

bump. yes "anything could happen". scads of chads could still hang for Their Cause.

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