Is Mitt Romney a Bad Candidate?

The only way to answer the question in the title of this post is to ask a second question: “Compared to what?”  I see a lot of people piling on Romney, but fewer people thinking this through.

First, you can ask about Romney compared to some other specific Republican.  If that’s the question, it’s hard to say that Romney is definitively worse.  Than the other candidates who ran in the primary?  Gingrich, Santorum, etc.?  Than candidates who didn’t run, like Christie or Daniels or Thune or whoever?   I caution against assuming that there was some savior waiting in the wings.  Remember when that savior was going to be Rick Perry or, back in 2008, Fred Thompson?  The fact is, once any candidate gets in the race, the bloom comes off the rose and we quickly discover their shortcomings as well.  Maybe one of these candidates would have been slightly “better” than Romney as of September 2012, but that’s not a slam-dunk case.

Another way to answer “compared to what?” is to compare where the race stands now to what the fundamentals would predict.  Let’s say Obama will beat Romney by something like half a point (in the two-party vote).  That is based on a statistical averaging of the various forecasting models by Jacob Montgomery et al., which pegs Obama’s share of the two-party vote at 50.3% (see here).  At this point, with Obama’s convention bump perhaps dissipating somewhat (or perhaps not?), Romney trails Obama by 3 points, according to Pollster. So, by this reckoning, Romney’s running about 2.5 points behind where he “should” be—although there is reason to suspect that this gap will close.

But if you don’t take the Montgomery et al. averaging of the models as the definitive take on the fundamentals, and you believe the forecasts that are more optimistic for Obama (like the one Lynn and I present in The Gamble, or the Erikson and Wlezien model here), then in fact Romney is not under-performing right now.  In fact, maybe Obama is (slightly).

I’m not suggesting that we can definitively settle this now.  But I don’t think we can say with confidence that Romney is significantly  worse than a generic GOP candidate.  We’ll have a better sense in November, obviously.

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About John Sides 27 Articles

Affiliation: George Washington University

John Sides is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at George Washington University.

Professor Sides studies political behavior in American and comparative politics. His current research focuses on political campaigns, the effects of factual information on public opinion, citizenship laws and national identity, and measurement equivalence. His work has appeared in the American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science, American Politics Research, British Journal of Political Science, Journal of Politics, Political Communication, Political Studies, Presidential Studies Quarterly, and Legislative Studies Quarterly. He helped found and contributes to The Monkey Cage, a political science blog.

Professor Sides received his Ph.D. from University of California, Berkeley, 2003.

Visit: John Sides Page

1 Comment on Is Mitt Romney a Bad Candidate?

  1. Let’s see…

    Santorum- No.
    Perry- possibly, but he had a lot of problems: was a walking gaffe machine and George W on steroids kind of Texan.
    Gingrich- If he didn’t have the baggage.
    Fred Thompson- would’ve been a much more likeable candidate and one the base wouldn’t have been so uneasy with concerning his convictions, but the meme on him was that he didn’t really want it.
    Rudy- if they could’ve gotten past the whole pro-abortion thing.

    They were all flawed, but I think the problem was that a lot of people felt Romney was basically forced on them. That’s just my take though.

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