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Science: Moderation Did Not Lose McCain The Election, And Is An Asset For Electability – And That’s Why The “Establishment” Acts Like It Is

Science: Moderation Did Not Lose McCain The Election, And Is An Asset For Electability – And That’s Why The “Establishment” Acts Like It Is

There is a belief on the right that John McCain lost because he was too liberal and conservatives chose to stay home on election day. Some who hold this belief threaten to go Scozzafava on the GOP and refuse to work to stop Obama if Romney (or in fewer cases, even Gingrich, Perry, or assorted others) gets the nomination.

This is a comforting view for many conservatives – it means we didn’t actually lose the 2008 election. It is the cousin of the liberals’ belief that conservatives won the 2004 election only because we were better wordsmiths, a view that was equally unproductive for any other purpose than making George Lakoff famous.

The evidence does not support the claim that McCain lost because conservatives did not show up at the polls. Considering the economic conditions, the unpopularity of the incumbent Republican president, and Obama’s well-funded and well-run campaign, it would have been extremely difficult for a Republican to win no matter they were.

However, even putting that aside, the evidence also quite specifically is not consistent with the claim that conservative discontent could have made the difference. Depressed conservative turnout did not happen.

A Washington Post poll taken the day of the election of registered voters found 34% conservatives, 21% liberals, and 43% moderates. The last 15 daily polls the Washington Post conducted before the election averaged 21.4% liberal, 41.2% moderate, and 34.2% conservative.

The national exit poll showed that those who voted were 34% conservative, 44% moderate, and 22% liberal – pretty much mirroring the registered voters.  This is actually remarkable, considering the advantages that Obama had over McCain in funds and underlying economic and political conditions.  If anything, we should have expected turnout to skew against conservatives.

It is possible that the Obama campaign may have done a better job of registering voters, although that cannot account for that large a percentage of the electorate.  Also, the difference between registered voters and adults is tiny, and surely the number of disgruntled conservatives who refused to vote for McCain make up a fairly minuscule proportion of the not-registered-to-vote population.

Other factors militated against conservative turnout as well.  The fact that the Obama campaign had a vastly better funded operation than the McCain campaign (mostly due to the desire to give to winners and the support bonus he garnered from Bush’s unpopularity and the bad economy), and the differential effects of economic impacts on the parties (i.e. the effect-via-registration-and-turnout of the economic conditions that mostly determine presidential elections) are ordinarily worth quite a lot. These issues go hand-in-hand, and while differential campaign effects can swing especially close elections , they probably are mostly included (indirectly) in economics-based forecasting models since predictors of support in turn predict campaign resources.  This is also why McCain’s moderation losing him the race by suppressing volunteering is also implausible, along with the fact that there should be some evidence of depressed conservative turnout under such circumstances as well.

While 20% of  conservatives voted for Obama, it is unlikely that these included many conservative purists. It is well established that far more people call themselves conservative than actually are – the vast majority of these were real CINO’s, not protest voters, and even in 2004, a with a vastly weaker (electorally) Democratic candidate , 15% of “conservatives” voted for John Kerry.

In short, the ideological breakdown of the 2008 electorate shows no depressed conservative turnout and is overdetermined as it is – there is no known unexplained difference that could be plausibly attributed to McCain’s moderation, and in fact conservative turnout may even be better than expected under the circumstances.  This is not to say that no conservative stayed home, but this analysis has also not considered the non-zero quantity of moderates that turned out for McCain but might not have voted for a True Conservative.

But enough about that one race.  The current state of science is that looking at the full historical picture, moderation is an electoral asset.

The Republican field is now probably narrowed down to the two candidates with the most heterodox records (other than John “We Are The 1%, Literally” Huntsman and Magneto). True, Romney owns his record of moderation more than Gingrich. Gingrich has been in politics so long that commentators or opponents can seek to portray him as the far-right mean ol’ “Gingrinch Who Stole Christmas” or Scozzafava and Pelosi’s boy-toy, depending on the biases and motivations of the accusing rhetorician.

Considering the current landscape, it is important to emphasize that the scientific consensus on presidential elections is that moderation is an asset – not a liability – for electability.

There are numerous statistical models of that predict presidential election outcomes, mostly relying on economic indicators. When the challenger is considered at all, the relevant variable is generally their moderation. Other studies find an overall benefit to moderation for members of Congress as well.  Similarly, most rational-choice theory and game theory work, particularly common in the analysis of congressional voting, assumes that voters will usually support the closest option to their ideal, meaning that those with fairly extreme views will frequently  compromise rather than render themselves irrelevant and make no gains whatsoever. Much to many activists’ chagrin, this does explain congressional behavior fairly well.

Now it is possible that someone establishes as the new king of the hill a better model for predicting or explaining presidential elections that demonstrates that overly-moderate but plausible candidates will lose more base votes than they will gain from the center  – as always, science marches on.

But until then, “establishment” politicians and consultants, immersed in data and the election sciences, are going to treat the current state of science as fact, as they should. And that means assuming that more extreme candidates are probably harder to elect than more moderate ones, or at least that, else equal, going more extreme in a tough election is not a good strategy.

This does not mean the most moderate possible candidate is always the best option. Instead, it recommends the Buckley Rule, which, based on the idea that conservatives can’t win elections without moderates, says to vote for the most conservative candidate in the primary who can beat the Democrat. This rule was famously suspended by Rush Limbaugh in 2010 in order to support Christine O’Donnell over Mike Castle.

This brings up another important point. While Republicans hurl steady streams of RINO accusations at each other, the main strategic point of contention is whether we prefer the advice of William F. Buckley or Rush Limbaugh. Most people in differing GOP factions are not actually that far apart.  When looking at it that way, these fights and accusations about who is a legitimate conservative look a bit silly.

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Comments

I R A Darth Aggie | November 21, 2011 at 2:47 pm

Most people in differing GOP factions are not actually that far apart.

There are Big Government Republicans. I have pretty much nothing in common with them.

That’s actually a pretty wide gulf.

Don’t forget that Obama was the Affirmative Action candidate.
I personally know many who voted for Obama because it would be historic.

    katiejane in reply to Neo. | November 21, 2011 at 5:54 pm

    I don’t understand why people seem to want to deny that Obama won primarily because he was going to be the first African American POTUS. He had no record of accomplishments or experience to run on so all he had was his status as a minority and his ability to wax poetic and promise unicorns & rainbows.

      ThomasD in reply to katiejane. | November 21, 2011 at 6:33 pm

      Don’t forget the cumulative effects of eight years of BDS from the media followed by the none too subtle trumpeting of the Obama campaigns McSame arguments.

Because a poll shows more people want to jump off a bridge does not mean we should find candidates who look for smaller bridges to jump off of.

In 2-6 years, when everyone at the bottom of the bridge is laying there with broken legs, your candidate and your party will be the ones to blame.

I’m quite glad Obama was the one at the front of this parade. The GOP lost an election but stands to win a generation.

The problem with the Buckley vs Limbaugh directives is the assumption that anyone may accurately determine who may or may not win a forthcoming election. In extreme cases it’s fairly easy to tell, but in most, not so much, and the ‘Aha! See?’-s come after the fact, well in hindsight. That Limbaugh missed the O’Donnell call is not a sufficient indictment of his directive, nor, if she’d won, would it have cemented his directive as the new norm.

In the 2012 presidential election, Republicans and conservatives will vote for the Republican nominee, and it only remains to determine which subgroup will do so while holding their noses. Because of uniformly deep and abiding opposition to Obama, few Republicans and conservatives will stay at home on election day. This suggests there is little additional risk in choosing the most conservative GOP candidate.

Weak campaigns by moderates Dole in 1996 and McCain in 2008 left me enervated and limp by the time the election came round, so certain it was that defeat loomed. My biggest problem with Romney is that he’ll carry on the proud tradition begun by the GOP with Dole and McCain and run a lukewarm, lackluster, let’s not upset the indies campaign and put the entire nation to sleep. Romney’s weathervane political core and slick and shallow political affect are, for me, significant, but secondary problems. It wa sopponent focus on his malleable core that doomed his previous electoral losses. Basically, I don’t think Romney’s got the moxie to stand up to the full frontal assault coming to whomever wins the nomination, an assault worse than we’ve ever seen before, which is saying something these days.

Currently, I’m favoring the Newt, baggage be damned, based on DC experience, media experience, debating talent, and demonstrated skills at political infighting on the country’s biggest political stage.

McCain threw the election.

    McCain had a shot at winning, but it disappeared when the economy tanked. On the other side, he did himself no favors. He tried too hard to run by “the rules” while Obama ran to win.

      I really thought the economy tanking was an opportunity for him, because the focus of the tanking was on the housing meltdown, exemplified by Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac. Oversight for the FMs was one of the things he’d been pushing for, for a long time.

      If he had gone to Washington to get safeguards against this happening again (as I expected he was doing) he could have come out of it better than he’d gone in. Instead, he went back to DC to be just another face voting for a bailout. He wasn’t needed.

      I suspect that pushing for reform at that time would have embarrassed his colleagues who opposed oversight, so he didn’t make waves. Old-school senate collegiality helped neither him nor the country in this case.

    lichau in reply to Federale. | November 22, 2011 at 8:33 am

    Yhr GOP threw the election by nominating McCain. The GOP had almost no chance at winning, why burn a real candidate? Take an old party gadfly, let him have his 15 minutes.

    Palin was a good/bad move. Good because it launched her onto the national stage, where she continues to grow. Bad, because it allowed the MSM to deflect attention away from Obama’s massive lack of experience by focusing on her lesser lack of experience.

    Given everything, it is a mark of Obama’s weakness that he only won by 7 pts.

Was the SEIU “maintaining” voting booths in 2008, as they were in the Nevada Harry Reid re-election – where voters reported seeing their cast votes changes right before their eyes?

Obama won in part because he was going to be the 1st black president which was historic, but I believe that ANYBODY would have beat the republicans, because of the unhappiness they felt with President Bush.

    VetHusbandFather in reply to wendybar. | November 21, 2011 at 5:36 pm

    Personally I think a lot of his success was because he convinced moderates that McCain would be ‘more of the same’ while he represented ‘change’. Moderate voters were very much anti-bush at that point and went for change, instead of asking what either candidate actually represented.

Interesting perspective though what explains this 2009 Gallup post- which could be considered just as legit as any Washington Post poll- indicating that:

“Forty percent of Americans describe their political views as conservative, 36% as moderate, and 20% as liberal. This marks a shift from 2005 through 2008, when moderates were tied with conservatives as the most prevalent group.”

Given that in 2008, Americans who identify themselves as Conservative basically tied with Americans who identified as Moderate how is it that when it came time to vote 44% identified Moderate while 34% identified Conservative?

http://www.gallup.com/poll/123854/Conservatives-Maintain-Edge-Top-Ideological-Group.aspx

Since the 2008 elections there arose the Tea Party movement-a movement based upon a Conservative platform. I offer a Limbaugh perspective rather than a Buckley perspective that when Conservatism is advocated Americans move towards identifying as Conservative rather than identifying as Moderate hence the fact that now more
Americans identify themselves as Conservative rather than as Moderate.

If Conservatism IS the dominate political ideology with which Americans identify then why would any Republican candidate running for President against Obama repeat the 2008 mistake of pandering to the Moderate voter?

Did not the 2010 election (historical landslide in many ways) scientifically prove that Limbaugh is correct and Buckley is wrong when it comes to what is ‘most electable’ and ‘winning elections’?

(And if anyone attempts to use the O’Donnell race as proof that Conservatism is not the most electable recall that O’Donnell lost by a smaller margin than did Romney-supported mega-Moderate Republican Meg Whitman who lost by a wide margin to a re-fried LSD moonbat candidate. Further; O’Donnell garnered more independent votes than registered Republican mostly due to the fact that the night before the election Republican pundits Krauthammer and Rove openly trashed her!)

Lastly; if only 20% of Americans identify as Liberal why then is America governed by a far extreme Left administration?

Perhaps this is due in part to the fact that Republican politicans and pundits are far more concerned with pandering to some mythical moderate middle rather than upholding principles?

    lichau in reply to syn. | November 22, 2011 at 8:38 am

    It is because those who get elected, especially career politicians range from left to center left. The Nation is center-right, but the political class is decidedly left.

    McCain, for instance. He does take some conservative positions, especially faced with reelection, but there is no way you can describe him as right of center. No reason to–he has never drawn a paycheck that didn’t say US Treasury on it. Nor did his father, grandfather, etc.

Syn: As I explained in a previous post that I linked to here, it is a well established fact that Americans systematically overstate their conservatism and understate their liberalism when asked directly, stemming from widespread confusion about where they fall on the political spectrum.

If you ask about specific policies, you find a much more divided electorate, and very many policies on which the liberal view has the majority. In fact, as a general rule, the less specific you are, the better conservatives do, and the more specific you are, the better liberals do. And that is by question. If you applied the standards of CINOdom that many on the Internet use, the number of True Conservatives would be a lot lower.

The Gallup poll you mention is 1) an average of polls in the entirety of 2009, and thus not an acceptable baseline for the 2008 election. I used an average of 15 polls taken in the 15 days before the election (during which there was not significant systematic fluctuations in ideological makeup) to produce a baseline with minimal sampling error that matched the relevant time period. 2), the Gallup poll is an adults poll, not a registered voters poll, and low-information citizens who are not even registered to vote are particularly likely to be unable to place themselves correctly on the political spectrum. Of those who place themselves incorrectly, they tend to incorrectly place themselves to the right of where they actually are rather than to the left.

In 2009, perhaps as a reaction to Obama’s policies, the percentage of self-identified conservatives upticked slightly, but that has no bearing on what happened in 2008, and is quite irrelevant to the long-term science on the relationship between ideological moderation and electoral success.

The evidence shows that conservatives did not cost McCain the election by staying home. In fact, as I explained above, even a somewhat depressed conservative turnout would be expected for entirely different reasons, to the extent that the better question is “why wasn’t it worse?”

Furthermore, I did not use the O’Donnell race as evidence (and the Whitman race is not at all an appropriate comparison), but rather as a description of the origin of the Limbaugh Rule.

The 2010 election was, however, a conventionally-predictable landslide, and to the extent that a single election is evidence, If anything, it vindicated the Buckley Rule – in some places, more extreme candidates can win, and did (and good for them, btw!), but in others, they lost winnable races. I don’t care who you blame for them losing – they lost. In fact, your claim is that they lost because many moderates (i.e. those Republicans who found them too extreme) refused to vote for them, a situation that the Buckley Rule is designed to avoid.

This was especially true in hard-fought senate races such as O’Donnell, Angle, and Miller, in part due to ideology, but also in part due to these being high difficulty campaigns that relative amateurs were less likely to have the skill and experience to win. Many others won in either particularly conservative states (Paul, Lee), or were the experienced sort who straddle the Tea Party and establishment camps (such as former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, whose senior staff is chock full of Romney 2008 alums).

But of course, this one election doesn’t prove anything on its own, nor do several in the same cycle. Data is not the plural of anecdote. In the long term, the numbers are the numbers, and as a general rule, more extreme candidates have a harder time getting elected, while moderation is generally not the cause of defeat in general elections.

    If the so-called ‘relative amateurs’ were capable of defeating the Professional Republican in the primaries then why did so many Professional Republicans actively aid Democrats in defeating these candidates in the general?

    Specifically the Angle and Miller races where we saw the Republican National Party withhold campaign resources while offering discouragement and demoralizing rhetoric. They wents so far as to aid Murkowski who ran as an Independent after she lost the primary race. On top of all this, the Professional Republicans then go to the extreme rhetoric of blaming it on extreme Conservative ideology!

    Recall that Marco Rubio himself said he could not believe he had to run as an insurgent Conservative in the Republican Party; the Republican Party was not going to allow him to run, they supported Crist.

    It was only after Rubio won- who ran on an ‘extreme Conservative views’ platform particularily against abortion, for fiscal conservatism and for strong national defense- did Professional Republicans count him as one of THEIR raising stars. The Professionals treat Rubio not as one of them but as their minority token they can throw around when politically expedient for the ‘latino vote’. Professional Republicans are just as pandering bad about Identity politics as are Democrats.

    I’ll put it this way, the Republican Party has a history of avoiding the promotion of Conservatism-most notable was their campaign against Reagan. The Republican Party is not interested in fiscally conservative, small government policy.

    Since there is the rare voice actively advocating Conservative ideals then there is little difference between Moderate and Liberal.

    Lastly; one cannot promote the most electable Conservative if there is not a Conservative voice through which a Conservative message can be heard.

    When Rubio, Johnson, Scott, Martinez, Haley, West (to name a few) ran in difficult environments they won with a Conservative message rather than Moderate mush. The ‘Moderate’ voter came to them, not the other way around.

    By the way, had Krauthammer and Rove shut their Professional Republican mouths rather than trashing certain Republicans candidates the night before the election then perhaps the outcome would be different.

    When these Professional Republicans spend more time trashing Conservatives than they do Democrats do not expect me to applaud their experience, their opinions, their advice, their polls or their brains.

      Matthew Knee in reply to syn. | November 21, 2011 at 9:14 pm

      That’s a lot of recriminations, but they do not change the fact that some more extreme candidates lost races in which less extreme candidates would have done better because either moderates would not vote for them or those who saw their liabilities decided their resources were better spent elsewhere. It is not like the party officials were holding money back…they were moving it around, trying to put it where it would do the most good. Read up on how Angle’s campaign was run, btw, and tell me that looked like a good investment.

      Nor does mentioning other candidates who won conservative states, house races, primaries, or were fairly experienced politicians with establishment cred (e.g. Haley, a sitting state legislator who was endorsed by Jenny Sanford and Mitt Romney early on) change the fact that things get harder on the hotly-contested senate level. (Though yeah, Johnson pulled it off, and good for him, but it is pretty clear that less experienced politicians have a tougher road in such races – I don’t see why it is so offensive to note that the nation’s most contested senate races are difficult and skill-intensive undertakings that are harder to accomplish for the inexperienced).

      But really, that is a side issue. The main issue is that the current state of science is that as a general rule, more moderate candidates have an easier time than more extreme ones – an entirely intuitive result, since neither party base is big enough to win on its own (and doesn’t protest non-vote in sufficient numbers to counteract gains from moderation), and because moderates respond better to moderation than non-moderation.

      Of course, this argument has gotten pointless, since you clearly don’t accept large swath of the party as being on the same team in any meaningful sense. To me, that’s a great pity, as getting Obama out of office will require both realism and unity.

There’s a lot I’d like to respond to in this post but I’ll limit it to a few points.

First, I’d note that the language we use in these discussions often seems to favor liberals. We hear a lot about moderate and conservative Democrats as well as moderate Republicans, but where are the liberal Republicans?

The middle of the spectrum seems to be shifted left a bit.

What’s responsible for this left shift?

The MSM generally shapes the debate and would have us believe that conservatives in the Republican party have dragged the party so far to the right that there’s no such thing as a liberal Republican.

This perception seems to have become reality. So in 2008 we had a “conservative” John McCain and a “moderate” Barack Obama.

Likewise, in 2012, no matter who the Republicans nominate, whether it’s Ron Paul or Michele Bachmann or Mitt Romney, the Republican will be described as a “conservative” and Obama (his record notwithstanding) will often be portrayed as moderate.

The “moderate” label is quite ductile and malleable.

Matthew, you said that “It is well established that far more people call themselves conservative than actually are…” I strongly suspect that a similar phenomenon exists for moderates, i.e., a lot of uncommitted, independent voters who call themselves “moderate” regularly vote for candidates who are NOT moderate.

In other words, a voter can just as easily mislabel himself a moderate as he can mislabel himself a conservative.

I’m not sure how much success Republicans can expect to achieve by chasing after the moderate label. Whoever they chose in any important contested race will be labeled an extremist of some sort.

The quality of the candidate matters, but conservative ideology is not a liability.

    RightKlik in reply to RightKlik. | November 21, 2011 at 8:19 pm

    “It is well established that far more people call themselves conservative than actually are…”

    It is well-established that polls of American adults skew to the left of those who actually show up to vote.

This post is ridiculous. Bring up David Souter if you think that there is not a difference between conservative and establishment Republicans; see what reactions you get. There is so much wrong here, I can’t even begin to address all of it.

IMHO McCain lost because he could not articulate a clear and convincing conservative vision of America with him as president. Reagan swayed people to the right. McCain was in the middle but Obama swayed them to the left.

“While 20% of conservatives voted for Obama, it is unlikely that these included many conservative purists. It is well established that far more people call themselves conservative than actually are – the vast majority of these were real CINO’s, not protest voters…”

I’m not sure this statement can be supported with evidence. Obama ran as a moderate and he was presented as such by most of the media. I see no reason to assume that these conservatives were “CINOs.”

RightKlik: Adults polls skew to the left on policy/partisanship. Not sure on declared ideology, for reasons I explained and because adults universes, being lower-information, are likely more unstable (thus more subject to momentary trends such as Obama having a hard time), but it is possible. However, the reg voters polls, especially due to their timing (which renders those 2009 polls irrelevant), are still a far better apples-to-apples comparison, and I explained above that the difference is just not enough to matter anyway.

In terms of the 20%, we know that there are a bunch of folks out there who wrongly believe their views to be conservative, so surely this group will be a good portion of the “conservatives” for Obama. Furthermore, I used Kerry’s share of the conservative vote as a baseline, and it is not that much lower. Obama did much better than Kerry, so he should be expected to do better with such a group. When one removes baseline level of “conservatives” who vote Democrat and account for Obama being a better candidate than Kerry, the POSSIBLE impact, even if conservatives who thought McCain was too moderate mostly expressed that by voting for Obama (a fairly implausible story I might add, and certainly no more than a fraction of the unexplained difference), is minuscule.

    RightKlik in reply to Matthew Knee. | November 22, 2011 at 3:14 am

    “RightKlik: Adults polls skew to the left on policy/partisanship…”

    The flip side of that observation is that voters skew to the right on policy/partisanship.

    The peculiarities of the of the 2008 election make the results more difficult to interpret.

    In 2008, among committed conservatives who otherwise might have stayed home to protest a weak, moderate Republican nominee, the threat of a historically bad, extremely liberal president was too important to ignore. So conservatives did show up, but primarily to vote against Obama, not for McCain.

    “The evidence does not support the claim that McCain lost because conservatives did not show up at the polls.”

    Reluctant rock-ribbed conservatives did indeed show up, but they showed up to vote against the liberal. Ultimately those conservatives were unable to do much to help overcome the strength of the Obama campaign because they were unable to convince themselves or their low-information, uncommitted “conservative” compatriots that McCain was a candidate worthy of support.

    “The national exit poll showed that those who voted were 34% conservative, 44% moderate, and 22% liberal – pretty much mirroring the registered voters. This is actually remarkable, considering the advantages that Obama had over McCain in funds and underlying economic and political conditions. If anything, we should have expected turnout to skew against conservatives.”

    It’s not remarkable at all, considering the extent to which Obama stimulated his own opposition.

    Again, these data could just as easily support the argument that many conservatives showed up only because the Democrats lurched so far to the left. If McCain’s listless conservative supporters were more motivated than one might have predicted, that reflects on Obama. These data do not necessarily support the notion that the “moderate” Republican met or exceeded expectations. The results of the Electoral College vote (Obama 365, McCain 173) were pretty much in line with the lowest expectations, skewing very badly against conservatives.

    Moderate voters (including marginal conservatives) were presented with two ostensibly moderate options; unsurprsingly, they went with the fresh-faced novelty moderate.

    “This is not to say that no conservative stayed home, but this analysis has also not considered the non-zero quantity of moderates that turned out for McCain but might not have voted for a True Conservative.”

    An important question would be, “Which group was bigger?” Even more important: “Which group would be bigger in 2012?”

    Given that moderates are not fully wedded to ideology (as evidenced by their very existence) one could argue that ceteris paribus, conservatives will be more powerfully influenced by the ideology (or lack thereof) of any given candidate.

    On the other hand, “true” conservatives and “true” Liberals can attract moderates in droves (See Reagan, Obama).

    Extremists present a problem, but they aren’t leading in the race to replace Obama. In fact, I would submit that conservatives nominated by the GOP are almost always well within the mainstream. Conservative analysts and commentators have probably not done enough to underscore that point.

    “While 20% of conservatives voted for Obama, it is unlikely that these included many conservative purists.”

    That would be a safe bet, I’m sure.

    We can’t expect voters to line up for weak or unconventional candidates, but all things being equal, I see no reason to assume that centrist candidates like Mitt Romney are better equipped hold marginal conservatives in their orbit around the Republican party. Voters who are closer the middle are probably looking at personality and pursuasiveness more than they’re looking at policy and ideology. With both parties determined to produce candidates who all blend together at the midpoint, it’s no wonder many marginal conservatives find it easy to drift to the Democrats.

    “…it recommends the Buckley Rule, which, based on the idea that conservatives can’t win elections without moderates, says to vote for the most conservative candidate in the primary who can beat the Democrat. This rule was famously suspended by Rush Limbaugh in 2010 in order to support Christine O’Donnell over Mike Castle.”

    Conservatives have been burned too often by people like Arlen Specter and Lisa Murkowski (and Murkowski’s Republican supporters in the U.S. Senate). They won’t be easily swayed by the cautionary tale of Christine O’Donnell. Moreover, the O’Donnell story has some important lessons for lazy GOP insiders, if they care to take note.

    Perhaps the most important lesson is that “good strategy” isn’t always going to accomodate the safe, insider-approved candidate who is “next in line.” Recruiting a candidate more conservative than Castle and more electable than O’Donnell might have been quite difficult, but the results couldn’t have been worse for the GOP than what actually transpired.

    GOP insiders insisted on Castle, and Castle failed to deliver. The GOP establishment’s good strategy failed. The Republicans’ professional pols and consultants need to take some responsibility for that.

    Conservatives aren’t always going to settle for the “scientifically” vetted, technocratically-correct candidate if they don’t trust the candidate and if the candidate can’t convince anyone that he/she is a distinct alternative to the Democrat.

    I think republicans do need to be careful about nominating someone who’s too moderate in 2012. Obama has the strength of incumbency now and all the support of the MSM. And I’m sure Obama’s just as good a campaigner as he ever was. I don’t know if a 3rd-place moderate from 2008 can overcome those challenges. If the GOP base can’t make a positive case for the Republican nominee, moderate Obama voters will only move to the Republican if economy in ruins or if there’s some unexpected disater for the Democrats.

      Matthew Knee in reply to RightKlik. | November 22, 2011 at 9:24 am

      The thing is, there will always be a Democrat who hardcore conservatives don’t like hanging over their heads if they don’t vote (and vice versa for hardcore liberals). That’s built into the rationales behind the models. Not backing a candidate you consider too moderate pretty much always will have the cost of someone worse being elected.

      It is possible that Obama was more objectionable than most, but conservative turnout in 2008 was the same as the much more favorable 2004 election, more than the 2000 election, and one point lower than the 1996 election (and in all these years, Gallup’s adult yearly average was better for conservatives than in 2008).

      For your scenario to be correct, conservative turnout were it not for those who stayed home would have to have been of landslide proportions in an election that should have been much worse than the last few elections, especially 2004, and that’s just not plausible.

      Also, if the hardcore conservatives stayed home in such huge numbers, the number of self-identified conservatives who voted for Obama would be elevated enormously. Instead, it is only elevated 5 points from a year in which the Democrats did 5 points worse, meaning that there is minimal wiggle room on that number.

Hmm…
One could write a book based on this blog post-

I’ll say this- McCain was the proper candidate in 2000. Different man, different time in 2008.

Knee deep in the Pats game–maybe I’ll write on this when I get back from fishing tomorrow.

Certainly, a helluva lot more needs to be said on the subject-

I disagree with a lot of your assumptions. First of all, you rely on people to self-identify themselves on the political spectrum, which is questionable. Then you don’t seem to take into account the fact that self-identification isn’t necessarily constant over time. You can’t prove by your numbers that disillusioned conservatives didn’t stay home.

Then you say people actually claim they’re more conservative than they really are. I wish you had given an example of your questions, which you say get more liberal answers as they get more specific. I can think primarily of the opposite: many people are for universal health-care as an idea. But when you explain that it will result in higher taxes, you start to get some dissension. When you also point out that everyone’s premiums will rise, and care will be rationed, you get a lot of dissension.

The tea party candidates you mention – Angle, Miller and O’Donnell had more problems than just their ideology. If they hadn’t had issues which made them unattractive as candidates of any ideology, they might each have won. Don’t blame that on their amateurism – the amateurs that won like Ron Johnson were quality.

And also, 2010 was not a “conventional” landslide. It was huge.

Lastly, I think you are missing the fact that true conservatives are evolving. WE played the good soldiers and voted for RINOS in the past. We’ve seen what happens when we vote for the establishment candidates, and we don’t like it. The rejection of the RINO candidates in 2010 was a redirection of the Republican party. The so-called Republican establishment ignores conservatives at their own risk. We’ve had enough of the Doles, McCains, Romneys and Gingrichs and if you nominate one of them, he won’t win.

    Browndog in reply to NbyNW. | November 21, 2011 at 10:01 pm

    I agree with much of your post-

    Two things-

    I think polling data–demographics–are flawed based on the assumptions- it seems folks have a hard time identifying where they stand politically- the boxes the pollsters put them in don’t fit-

    Secondly, about Newt.

    I reject the notion he is currently a RINO.

    The things he says with passion, are raw conservatism–

    Don’t take my word for it–just watch.

Good article. Well researched, hard to argue with without a lot of work. However…..

I don’t buy it. I have been a conservative since before it was cool. I was going to sit out this last one–McCain/Obama. Unfortunately, in my area we vote by mail. My wife threatened to fill out my ballot if I didn’t. G*d knows what other junk she would have voted for. So, I held my nose and checked the McCain box.

If the election was held today and it was Romney vs McCain, I am going to burn the ballot and maybe hers as well.

I am wishy washy on Romney; he MIGHT be able to change my mind. Right now, he looks like another go along to get along RINO. I would rather have another Obama term, with the blame for the disaster being placed where it belongs.

The lesser of two evils is still evil.

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