October 23, 2006

Barron's Sliver Lining

Hatched by Dafydd

Barron's Magazine believes that the GOP will do a lot better in the looming election than anyone else has predicted, based on their own, unique predictive method (even better than Big Lizards thinks!) They will hold both House and Senate by a sliver, says Barron's.

Although I'm not entirely sure I buy the premise -- predicting electoral victory on the basis of who has the biggest war chest -- I'm also not willing to dismiss it out of hand. Barron's makes a persuasive case, marred only by my own obvious bias in the issue:

We studied every single race -- all 435 House seats and 33 in the Senate -- and based our predictions about the outcome in almost every race on which candidate had the largest campaign war chest, a sign of superior grass-roots support. We ignore the polls. Thus, our conclusions about individual races often differ from the conventional wisdom. Pollsters, for instance, have upstate New York Republican Rep. Tom Reynolds trailing Democratic challenger Jack Davis, who owns a manufacturing plant. But Reynolds raised $3.3 million in campaign contributions versus $1.6 million for Davis, so we score him the winner.

The case has been attacked by many on both left and right; for example:

  • University of Wisconsin Professor Kenneth Mayer has nought but scorn for the prediction; Power Line prints his e-mail;
  • Jay Cost flatly rejects the Barron's prediction.

But I believe both of these gentlemen have missed the actual point behind the Barron's prediction. Which is hardly surprising, as Barron's themselves missed it; the article shows significant zig-zagging between two very different points:

  • The actual dollars raised by each candidate;
  • The small-contribution dollars raised by individuals, as opposed to those received from organizations (including parties) and from multimillionaire contributers.

Both these figures are important; but they are important for reasons that are orthogonal to each other. The first tells us how much cash is available for television and radio adverts and for get out the vote (GOTV) operations; the second is a proxy for "grass-roots support," as Barron's put it.

And therein may lie the solution to this conundrum. Barron's only directly addresses this once in their article:

In Rhode Island, we predict Republican Lincoln Chafee will lose to democratic challenger Sheldon Whitehouse, a former U.S. attorney. Whitehouse has raised more than $4 million versus about $3.5 million for Chafee. According to the Center for Responsive politics, nearly 80% of the challenger's money comes from individuals as opposed to political committees. Chafee has raised about 50% from individuals. Clearly Whitehouse has a better organization.

I think Barron's is onto something; but the comparison isn't only warchest to warchest; it's also fundraising capability among ordinary people. Here is where the misunderstanding comes in; Cost devotes his post to debunking the idea that the amount of money determines who wins:

(1) A dollar is worth more to a challenger than an incumbent [because the incumbent is already well defined]....

(2) Not all campaign dollars are created equal [early money does a better job of defining a candidate and his opponent than money spent later in the campaign]....

(3) Weak incumbents raise more money than strong incumbents [because they must]....

(4) Well-funded challengers almost always have good angles [else why would big-bucks backers bother?]

I assume as a given that Jay Cost is correct on each of his points; total money doesn't always determine the wnner, but a certain amount is required to be competitive. But this analysis does not distinguish between a self-financed (or Soros-financed) challenger who pours millions into his own election, and one who has raised his money across the district or state by lots and lots of $50 donations. Alas, Barron's analysis doesn't seem to distinguish between those either, at least not systematically.

(Both Cost and Mayer also point out that the Barron's analysis only uses Q3 figures; but the Q4 figures -- those from October and the first week of November -- are critical to determining late-breaking support.)

I think there is good reason to see the ability to raise many small donations from ordinary constituents as a proxy for voting, certainly more so than answering a poll question. I am pretty sure that virtually everybody in the district who donates $50 or $100 to a candidate will also vote for that candidate. (This doesn't mean the opposite: obviously, the vast majority of people who vote for a candidate never contributed any money.) When you have a district where one candidate has raised $2 million in small donations, and the other candidate has only raised $1 million in small donations, I think that does say something about the voter support for each candidate.

Whereas, a candidate who simply pours millions into his own campaign doesn't necessarily have the level of support that the raw warchest figures would indicate... just ask "Senator" Darrell Issa, who poured $12 million of his own money into the 1998 California primary campaign, only to see himself beaten by Matt Fong, who raised $3 million.

Barron's needs to recalculate its figures, this time paying attention not only to the total warchest of each candidate, but also the percentage of money raised by small donors. They need to craft some formula to combine these two, as both are important. And they need to include at least the October figures to try to pick up the late deciders. I'd also like to see a time series, so we can see if there is any significant momentum to the donations in each race.

Reframing funding as a proxy for eventual voter support by focusing on smaller amounts of money donated by ordinary people should address some of the rebuttal points that Jay Cost raised, especially (2) -- the money may be more important earlier than later, but larger numbers of ordinary people willing to donate is more important later than earlier, since it's a proxy for people finally making up their minds.

Even so, let's not be fixated on any single proxy method of measuring voters... either political polls, warchests, or any other. All should be considered.

Alas, what is happening right now is a political Tet Offensive, where the elite media publish attacks on Republicans, on everything from Iraq to al-Qaeda to the economy to embryonic stem cells to global warming, in order to persuade Americans that defeat is inevitable.

Just as the Vietnamese Communists in 1968 and the Iraqi terrorists this Ramadan tried to make Americans think they were winning -- aided and abetted by the same elite media -- the Democrats today have decided that the best way for them to win is to convince Republican voters that their votes don't matter, because the election is already over.

They tried the same tactic in 2000, 2002, and 2004.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, October 23, 2006, at the time of 5:05 PM

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The following hissed in response by: ShoreMark

I don't have any ready references to link, but I'm pretty sure the Reps have always had a large contingent of small donors as compared to large donations from special interests for the Dems.

The Dems, at least the ones I know, don't like that fact to be advertised (indeed, ironically, often accusing the Reps of being the party of big money), preferring to appear to be the party of the little guy. i.e. the appearance that a million from a union is not a million from a union, it's $10 each from 100,000 union members.

That doesn't change your excellent commentary in any way Dafydd, because if those small donations weren't there the Reps wouldn't have the overall dollar advantage either.

The above hissed in response by: ShoreMark [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 23, 2006 7:35 PM

The following hissed in response by: Mr. Michael

Another factoid to consider is how much of the 'little contributions' actually come from the district in which the candidate is running... this year I am not impressed with any of my local Republican Candidates; I'm one of those folks that the pundits think may sit out the election.

Fat Chance.

The way I manifest my dissatisfaction with my locals is to support (financially) candidates in other districts, even other States - Candidates that will represent my views when they vote on Bills in the US House or Senate. I'm sure the percentage hasn't been large historically... but I wonder if, with the spread of the Internet and "RightRoots" activism etc, the phenomenon of personal contributions from out of state will become an issue in this particular method of prognistication.

In any case, if it's even a few percentage points it may swing the numbers in tight races that have made National news.

The above hissed in response by: Mr. Michael [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 23, 2006 9:08 PM

The following hissed in response by: ShoreMark

You're correct Mr. Michael. I sent a few bucks Diana Irey's way, I'd never have been aware of her attempt to take out Murtha in days gone by.

She may not succeed in that particular race (though I hope she does, he certainly deserves to lose), but this kind of funding will absolutely be a factor to contend with going forward. And the best news of all? It undermines the machine.

So look for a flurry of congressional activity to shut down Internet freedom in the coming years -- they'll (that is those of the last generation that seek to influence our congress) spend down to their last current dollar to protect their future dollars.

They'll not succeed, but it's going to be one helluva battle in the interim.

The above hissed in response by: ShoreMark [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 23, 2006 10:21 PM

The following hissed in response by: Bill Faith

Excerpted and linked. I hope they're right.

The above hissed in response by: Bill Faith [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 24, 2006 1:29 PM

The following hissed in response by: hunter

My bet is that Barron's is a lot closer to the truth. I think the chance of the conservative majority of this country sitting at home and letting their local reps, who have remained pretty popular locally, get fired becasue of stuff happening in Washington is very low. All politics is local.
I alos think that the more Pelosi, mutha, durbin, etc. get exposed, the less likely voters are to want them in office.
The stunt over Foley, with the dems fiegning some sort of moral authority, is disgusting.
The war is far too serious to put into the hands of a bunch who just a few months ago were all over TV declaring defeat and calling our troops nazis. Note how turban durbin and murtha re hiding out lately.
And don't get me started on how the dems have covered up for Harry Reid's tax and election fraud, and Jefferson's freezer full of money.
We have a great economy, inspite of the dhimmicrat lies. We are fighting this war pretty well, despite the efforts of the dhimmies to see us lose it.
Can we do better yes? so why would I vote in people who want to wreck everything? I will vote Republican.

The above hissed in response by: hunter [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 24, 2006 6:10 PM

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