Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Do campaigns think rationally, or could they use some help?

[I would have thought that all us bloggers would take a rest after the long campaign, but you sure can't prove it by me.]

On the Dwaffler blog, Greg Glockner writes, from his perspective as an executive of a decision technology firm, a post about the shift in the presidential election from a post-convention dead heat to a pretty convincing win for Barack Obama:
I see two major factors: more bad news about the economy and the public discovery of Sarah Palin. Although the economic news got worse over the last two months, the problems in the economy were definitely not new. Besides which, political candidates have virtually no opportunity to influence the economy in the last two months of a political campaign.

This leaves the question of Sarah Palin. Before McCain picked her as his running mate, she was basically unknown across America. This changed quickly.
He goes on to discuss whether an analytical process would have helped the McCain campaign make a better choice (since it's a corporate blog, it's not surprising that Greg thinks his tool might have helped, but he's not heavy-handed about it). He thinks they could have come up with a set of criteria:
This might include factors such as "appeals to undecided voters", "can convince many voters to switch to our side" and "doesn't eclipse the main candidate". Seems like Palin would have scored low in all of these criteria.
I think this is an excellent way to look at it (and other questions related to a campaign, like "What kind of ads would be most effective?"), so I wrote the following comment:
I've listened to a lot of commentators try to explain what happened to McCain's convention (and Palin-fueled) bounce, even factoring in the natural letdown after the balloons have fallen. And the consensus is that bad economic news, coupled with McCain's inept response to it, was the hammer blow to his candidacy.

I don't believe that myself, to me it was the Palin pick that started McCain's downward trajectory. Greg's idea, that the economy had a lot less to do with it, seems spot on, no matter what the pundits say.

Generally, I don't like to link to myself, but I will, because I wrote about this a couple of weeks ago.

What I said there was that Obama, by choosing non-Hillary as his running mate, "forced" McCain into a really poor choice. One place I slightly disagree with Greg is that I'm not sure that the base would have come out for McCain, they might well have stayed home. So McCain took a shot, went for the base and the Clinton women, got none of the women and none of the center - Palin pumped up the base for McCain, but pumped up the center for Obama, at least those many who were appalled by her ignorance.

Greg's idea that politicians should use a rational process is good, no matter how unlikely. As for his suggested factors, the first and the third seem well-chosen. I would break down the second into "can get the base to the polls," "can pull in the Hillary women," "won't lose the rational members of the center," and "will attract much-needed funds to the campaign." Palin would score high in the first and fourth, very low on the second and third. A rational campaign would have weighed those things appropriately (perhaps using Dwaffler?), and likely have found a better running mate.

Also: While I'm no fan of Internet click polls, given their inherent lack of validity, occasionally the results are really compelling. Chicago Tribune Eric Zorn conducted one on his blog to find out what McCain and Obama's biggest mistakes and smartest moves were, and 71% picked the Palin choice as McCain's biggest mistake. Take from that what you will.
I think the commentators are going to have to get over their reluctance to label the choice of Palin what it was, one of the epic disasters in American electoral history. Perhaps they're concerned that they'll have to deal with her for the next 30 years or so, and don't want to run afoul of her apparent vindictiveness, but sometimes credibility needs to trump access. Doesn't it?

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