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November 01, 2010


Ah, the Kerry campaign--what a delightful trip down memory lane. Was Kerry a lackluster campaigner? As Rod Serling would say, submitted for your approval:

In Pike County, Ohio, Kerry dropped in on the Buchanan Village Gun Shop to inquire, in freshly acquired twang, "Can I get me a hunting license here?"
Perhaps--perhaps!--Kerry's being a lackluster campaigner didn't lose him any votes, but that doesn't change the fact that he was a lackluster campaigner. The political scientists who say differently are channeling Richard Pryor: "Baby, who you gonna believe? Me or your lyin’ eyes?"

Sure, but shouldn't the definition of a lackluster campaigner be losing votes? Now, it's possible the models were wrong and Kerry underperformed, but that requires a more elaborate argument about the appropriate counterfactual.

As you say, it's possible the models were wrong. It's also possible, however, that factors exogenous to the models (e.g., dislike of Bush, hatred of Cheney, disgruntlement over Bush v. Gore, or even disagreement over--suspend your disbelief for a moment here--policy) would have elevated Kerry above the models' predictions, but his lackluster campaign caused him to fritter away these advantages.

I fear my last comment didn't really address your question whether the definition of a good or bad campaign is one that wins or loses votes. Let me try again. It's possible that a poor campaign wouldn't result in any loss of votes if the voters are determined to vote for or against the candidate without regard to the campaign. (Imagine Obama's vote among African-Americans, for example.) Does that mean it's not possible to reach a judgment whether the candidate ran a good campaign or not?

How about a surgeon who botches an operation? If his patient would have died anyway (e.g., he had a hemorrhage unrelated to the botched procedure), does that mean the surgeon didn't botch the operation?

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