Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The Gingrich Dilemma

As Chad notes, the Newt Gingrich campaign is indeed growing in popularity. Though he’s still, at best, in the lower teens in terms of percentage of voter support, and substantially trailing Romney and Cain, looking ahead it’s hard not see him attracting more and more support as the other candidates prove themselves to be incompetent or ideologically unpalatable.

As a long time supporter of the man, my opportunity to say “I told you so!” now seems possible. I then plan to become as annoying as a rabid Archers of Loaf fan talking about how I’ve been in to them since their first EP.

Before I spend too much time perfecting my sneering pose, today’s analysis of Newt’s prospects by Nate Silver bears reading. He identifies the major impediments Gingrich faces that could stop him even if he is the best man on substance. Excerpt:

Overall, I would read three of these factors, establishment support, personal liabilities, and (especially) fund-raising, as being clearly negative for Mr. Gingrich. This contrasts against one, ideological positioning, which is potentially favorable for him. He has both strengths and weakness in the key early-voting states, meanwhile.

That balance is unfavorable enough to suggest that his chances of winning the nomination are weaker than his polls alone would imply. That certainly does not mean that his chances are zero, or 1,000-to-1 against. If Republican voters decide that they really don’t want to nominate Mitt Romney, Mr. Gingrich could be the last man standing. But even if Mr. Gingrich continues to gain in the polls, he will have some major weaknesses to overcome.

As always, his assertions are backed up with a solid logical foundation and persuasive argument. Although the number crunching support he usually provides is largely absent in this opinion piece. For some of that Nate Silver statistical magic, you can refer to this article from the New York Times magazine, handicapping Obama’s prospects for re-election next year.

Silver is also behind this slick interactive calculator, which rates the likelihood of a number of potential GOP nominees to win versus Obama, given various levels of GDP growth and Obama’s poll numbers in 2012.

Critics might say Silver’s liberal inclinations are exposed in his built-in assumptions, which result in the GOP candidate having the best chance under any scenario being .... John Huntsman. And the second best chance under any scenario goes to Mitt Romney. These determinations do have a basis in political science, an analysis of past election results and how they correlate with ideological positioning (extreme to moderate). Results show more moderate challengers to an incumbent President have won far more often than more ideologically extreme candidates.

The calculator does not include Newt Gingrich at all, perhaps an indication of how weak his prospects were considered to be, even a few weeks ago. Silver notes that Gingrich’s ideological positioning is closest to Rick Perry’s and his results can serve as an acceptable proxy.

Under this analysis, to overcome all of his shortcomings, a Gingrich victory in the general election would require something on the order of a stalled economy (<0.5.% GDP growth) at election time or Obama’s approval ratings to drop below 37%. Both of these are higher hurdles than would be faced by Huntsman, Romney or Herman Cain, who could theoretically win with greater economic growth levels and higher Obama approval ratings.

Given the diminished standing Gingrich’s reputation has among the general electorate, that overall conclusion strikes me as correct. He wouldn’t be as easy to elect as these other candidates, unless it’s a time of more acute crisis in 2012. That still wouldn’t change my vote in a primary election. It’s time to take a chance on the best man for the job.