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March 05, 2008

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Brendan,

I'm no political genius, but didn't the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Nixon's southern strategy and Wallace's running have something to do with the numbers?

Joe

See also Jeff Lazarus's article from 2005 in LSQ, which looks at divisive primaries for House seats and seems to apply to this presidential race as well. If the expectation was that McCain was going to win going away in the fall, then I expect that there would be more willingness for Obama or Clinton to drop out.


Unintended Consequences: Anticipation of General Election Outcomes And Primary Election Divisiveness

Author: Lazarus, Jeffrey

Source: Legislative Studies Quarterly, Volume 30, Number 3, August 2005 , pp. 435-461(27)

Abstract:
This article offers the first theory to explain the relationship between primary election divisiveness and general election outcomes that is grounded in candidates' own behavior. Conventional wisdom holds that divisive primaries cause candidates to do poorly in general elections. I show that primary divisiveness does not cause this or any other pattern of general election results. Rather, expectations about general election results cause primaries to be divisive. Non-incumbents enter races they think they can win, and they think they can win where the incumbent is vulnerable. More candidates enter those races than others, splitting the vote among them. This stampede creates divisive primaries in which incumbents are most likely to do poorly, and challengers well, in the general elections. As a result, divisiveness is associated with (but does not cause) better general election performances among challengers and worse performances among incumbents. In this manner, primary divisiveness is an unintended consequence of behavior directed towards the goal of winning the general election. I tested these propositions using data from major-party House primaries between 1976 and 1998 and found that (a) candidate expectations of victory determine when and where divisive primary elections occur, (b) those expectations drive the correlation between primary divisiveness and general election results, and (c) primary divisiveness correlates with incumbents doing poorly, and challengers well, in general elections.

Part of the problem with social science is that it deals, often, in "on average" explanations. It is somewhat comforting to me that, on average, divisive primaries do not weaken candidates for the general. I thought that the finding was, actually (and you'll forgive me if I save my JSTOR research for my own dissertation) that competitive primaries actually improve candidates chances for the general. But let's leave aside on average explanation for the moment to examine this particular case, which precious few people weighing in on this issue have done. The longer the Democratic primary is contested, the longer that McCain, not feeling the pressure, will toady up to unsavory characters like Hagee and hence reduce his chances of winning the general. And the more adversity Obama has had to overcome, the more - to borrow 2/3rds of a slogan from Giuliana - tested and ready he will seem for the general.

I don't think Barack can win the general if he wins the primary "on points." I think that he's got to find a way to score a knockout blow which he almost did in Texas, might have done in Ohio and will have another chance to do in Pennsylvania.

to describe `68 as a "long nomination fight" is a pretty huge understatement, the winner of the primaries, RFK, was assassinated, this following the assassination of MLK a couple of months earlier. Then at the convention a third force, not attached to either nominee, got invlved in rioting with the police in the city in which the convention was held.

All of this on top of a long divisive war, and an unpopular president, to which Humphrey, the nominee, was the VP for. Not to mention a third party run by McCarthy, the loser at the convention.

In an atmosphere of panic social breakdown and a widely held perception by the public that the country was heading toward civil war. Then you can add Wallace and the last hurrah of the Southern Segregationists after the Civil Rights Act.

All this without the factor of the creeping realighnment of Southern Whites toward the Republican Party.

I'd be very interested in hearing a similar scenario for 2008.

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