Kevin Drum - September 2012

The Surprising Power of the New Hampshire Primary

| Sat Sep. 1, 2012 11:39 AM PDT

As you probably know, there are lots of models for predicting who will win the presidential race this year. To summarize: most of the models predict a small Obama victory, but a few predict a Romney victory. Most likely, it's gonna be close.

Dylan Matthews rounds up a few of the forecasts here. Most are fairly ordinary, but I was pretty intrigued by the model from Helmut Norpoth and Michael Bednarczuk of SUNY Stony Brook. Unlike every other forecaster on the planet, they don't include any economic variables at all. Maybe the economy is great, maybe it sucks. They don't care. Their model has two inputs: (1) how well you did in the New Hampshire primary, and (2) whether you're an incumbent running for reelection.

This is....eccentric, to say the least. Not the incumbent thing: most forecasters recognize that, historically, incumbents usually win if their party has been in the White House for only four years. But the New Hampshire primary? According to the authors, it tells us a lot. An incumbent who gets serious competition (Carter 1980, Bush 1992) is in trouble. Likewise, a challenger who doesn't clean up against the opposition is also in trouble. And out of all possible primaries, New Hampshire has the most predictive power. This all gets translated into a formula, of course, and here it is. Note that 3rd and 4th terms are Democrat-centric because the current incumbent is a Democrat:

Here's how the arithmetic plays out:

  • .445 (65 - 56.7) - .138 (63.2 - 47.7) + .366 (53.7) - .333 (48.8) + 48.2445
  • .445 (8.3) - .138 (15.5) + .366 (53.7) - .333 (48.8) + 48.2 
  • 3.69 - 2.14 + 19.65 - 16.25 + 48.2
  • = 53.15% popular vote margin for Obama

As it happens, I don't believe this for a second. Lop off a couple of points because Obama is black and I think you're closer to the final outcome. My best guess is that Obama will win about 51% of the popular vote.

But who knows. The authors claim that their model explains 89% of the variance in party shares of presidential votes, and that's pretty good. On the other hand, it's wise to be cautious. The simpleminded rule that incumbent parties win after four years in office and lose after eight or more years correctly predicts 13 out of 15 elections since 1952 (the outliers are 1980 and 1988). That's an 87% success rate.

Still, I thought this model was pretty fascinating. I have a hard time believing it, but if Obama really ends up winning 53% of the vote in November, my hat's off to the authors.

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Paul Ryan Likes to Supersize It

| Sat Sep. 1, 2012 8:37 AM PDT

Last week Paul Ryan told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt that he had once run a sub-three hour marathon. More specifically, "I had a two hour and fifty-something," he said. That's pretty impressive. And, as it happens, untrue:

This evening, the terrific running journalist Scott Douglas figured out that Ryan had actually run a 4:01 in the Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota, in 1990, when he was a college student. This is not quite so fast.

....Ryan, through a spokesman, responded that he’d just mixed things up: "The race was more than 20 years ago, but my brother Tobin—who ran Boston last year—reminds me that he is the owner of the fastest marathon in the family and has never himself ran a sub-three. If I were to do any rounding, it would certainly be to four hours, not three."

Does Ryan deserve a bit of mockery for this? Sure. But if there's anything really telling about Ryan's character here, it's the fact that when he misrepresents himself, he doesn't do it in a small way. Ryan didn't just shave five or ten minutes off his time, the way some of us might if we were bragging about an old athletic accomplishment that no one could check up on, he shaved off a full hour, giving himself an extremely respectable, elite amateur time. This doesn't quite rank up there with Kim Jong-Il carding eleven holes-in-one on his first round of golf, or Pat Robertson leg-pressing 2,000 pounds at age 76, but it's in the same ballpark.

Keep this in mind when Ryan talks about his tax and budget plan and promises with a straight face that it will slash the deficit, benefit the middle class, protect the social safety net, and supercharge economic growth all at once: lying is easier when you tell a big lie. This is Ryan's oeuvre. His mistake was letting himself be lulled by Hugh Hewitt's blandishments and forgetting that even 20-year-old marathon times, unlike his rather spectacular economic claims, are pretty easy to verify.