Sabato's Crystal Ball

Notes on the State of Politics

U.Va. Center for Politics November 17th, 2011

Perry the Pretender

Oh how the mighty have… oops.

Despite his best efforts to poke fun at his poor performance, Texas Gov. Rick Perry is feeling the consequences of his now infamous gaffe in last Wednesday’s debate.  A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll reported that Perry’s now-meager support dropped from 8% to 4% in the days following the debate.

This has led the Crystal Ball staff to downgrade Perry in our 2012 Presidential Possibilities chart. Perry now leads the “Pretenders” category, a dramatic change from his frontrunner status as one of the “Contenders” when he joined the GOP field in August.

Meanwhile, other candidates have felt the effects — both positive and negative — of polling shifts in recent days. A CNN/ORC International poll found that among Republicans and independents, 24% would likely vote for Mitt Romney. Newt Gingrich jumped into the No. 2 spot in the poll at 22%. Herman Cain, still recovering from sexual harassment allegations (and trying to figure out his stance on foreign policy, especially in regard to Libya), has fallen precipitously to 14%, a drop of 11% since the October poll.

And yet hope remains, at least for Cain. A Bloomberg poll found Cain leading in Iowa, followed closely by Rep. Ron Paul and Mitt Romney. Although national polls paint a bleak picture for Perry and Cain, it would be a mistake to count them out of the race just yet.

Tim Robinson

Florida Senate race now a Toss-Up

With Rep. Connie Mack (R) entering the race at the end of October, the dynamic of the Florida Senate race has changed dramatically. While he had previously stated that he would not run, Mack reconsidered when it became evident that no one in the GOP field had the strength to defeat incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D). Now Mack is favored to win the Republican nomination and  face off against Nelson in what could be one of the most competitive Senate races in the country.

Prior polling of the race had shown Nelson leading handily against possible opponents such as former Sen. George LeMieux, ex-Florida House Majority Leader Adam Hasner and former gubernatorial candidate Mike McCalister. Now, however, Quinnipiac’s first poll following Mack’s announcement shows Nelson with only a two-point lead over the congressman. Additionally, the poll has Mack ahead of each of his fellow Republicans by more than 20 points in a crowded primary field. Mack enters the race with good name recognition — his father held this Senate seat from 1989 to 2001.

Considering how Mack’s entry has changed this race, its final result may be heavily impacted by the presidential election. Florida, the biggest and most important swing state in the Electoral College, will surely see huge investments by President Obama and whoever the Republican nominee is. The down-ticket effect of this will mean that there is a decent chance that whichever party wins the state in the presidential battle will also claim the senate seat. For that reason, we are now rating this race a TOSS-UP.

Geoffrey Skelley; Skelley, who holds degrees from James Madison University in political science and U.Va. in history, recently joined the Crystal Ball team.

Will the GOP nominee’s ideology matter?

Last week, Alan Abramowitz laid out President Obama’s prospects for reelection as expressed through the Time-for-Change model, which was bullish on Obama’s chances in part because Obama is in his first party term, and incumbents in first-party terms rarely lose reelection. Abramowitz also discussed New York Times’ analyst Nate Silver’s model, which takes into account the eventual Republican candidate’s ideology.

Building on the discussion of election models is friend of the Crystal Ball Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth College. Nyhan and Jacob Montgomery of Washington University in St. Louis wrote that they thought Silver’s model overstated the importance of Obama’s challenger’s ideology.

Their conclusion:

Ultimately, almost every analyst agrees at this point that it is still too soon to say with much confidence whether President Obama will win in November. In particular, there is still too much uncertainty about the state of the economy next year. However, both theory and data suggest that the conservatism of his opponent is likely to matter less than Silver’s model suggests.

Additionally, Nyhan notes in a different post that a recent slew of election-forecasting critics are knocking down straw men.

Kyle Kondik