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This blog offers an international look at the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. Indeed, campaigners worldwide are fascinated with American election campaigns. We observe relentless paid television advertising, straight-forward attack spots, sophisticated targeting and record-breaking fundraising. One cannot – and should not – simply copy paste American campaign techniques. However, campaigners out there in Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia can get a lot of inspiration and specific takeaways from the most professional campaign in the world. This is the purpose of this blog.

Is Paul Ryan an asset or will he become a liability for the Republican ticket?

It is conventional wisdom that a vice-presidential candidate is chosen with the intention of “adding something” to the presidential ticket. For example, if a candidate didn’t spend much time abroad, he should pick someone with solid credentials on the international stage. This was the case with Mr. Obama and his VP Joe Biden four years ago.

I disagree with this strategy as it overestimates the impact of a running mate. Dick Morris, a famous American political consultant, says that a vice presidential nominee should be used to re-enforce the main message of the candidate. In 1992 for example, Clinton and Al Gore shared many of the same political values. Both stood for “change instead of more of the same” and both where young “New Democrats” from the South with moderate opinions and a strong focus on the economy.

So far, Mitt Romney doesn’t have much of a message so there is not much that a vice presidential candidate could re-enforce. Ironically, Paul Ryan’s budget plan helps to re-enforce Mitt Romney’s weaknesses, namely that he is a cold capitalist who doesn’t care much about the middle class and fails to understand average people. As Jamelle Bouie of The American Prospect noted, Mitt Romney needs to win about 60% of the white vote in order to win the White House. Winning the white vote means winning the senior citizen vote. I doubt that Ryan’s plan to turn medicare into a voucher system will win much votes in that category.

Romney chose Ryan for one main reason: Ryan is a star with the republican right and Romney hopes to excite and bind the conservative base with this choice. The “Tea-Party-Segment” of the party showed a great lack of trust in Romney so far and suspected him of turning liberal and moderate as soon as he would take his oath of office. Conservatives take Ryan’s name on the ticket as a guarantee for their ideals to live on, should Romney indeed be elected President in November. To me, however, the Republican base is enthusiastic enough about beating Obama. There is no need to use the vice presidential nominee to fire them up.

Who will be Mitt Romney’s Vice Presidential Candidate?

With the Republican National Convention only two weeks away, Mitt Romney might announce his running mate any time soon. Marco Rubio (see picture), Senator from Florida, Tim Pawlenty, former Governor of Minnesota or Ohioan Senator Rob Portman are frequently mentioned names for the second spot on the ticket.

Up until today, it is rather controversial to what extent a Vice Presidential Nominee actually helps a ticket on the way to the presidency. Of course, many factors come into play: if the running mate helps with a specific state, socio-demographic group or helps neutralize a weakness of the top candidate.

In search for the “VP-effect”, New York Times journalist Nate Silver found some rather startling evidence in a recent article. In particular, he explored the impact a Vice Presidential Nominee has on the ticket in the home state of the running mate. He found that historically, a running mate helps by no more than 2% points on the average in his or her home state.

The exact impact a possible running mate has, depends on his approval rating, but according to Silver, even an immensely popular figure will hardly win more than 5% additional support. However, what seems like a very small effect now might play out to be of great importance on Election Day! In one of the crucial swing states, two percentage points can well decide on who gets the electoral votes and in an extreme case even on who wins the presidency. According to the average of polls calculated by realclearpolitics, Barack Obama leads in Florida by only 1.4%. Back in 2008, Barack Obama won the state of North Carolina with a razor-thin margin of 49.9% versus 49.5% for John McCain. The same is true for the state of Indiana, which he won with 49.9% compared to 49% for John McCain.

Silver’s calculations have simple implications for Romneys’ strategy in choosing a VP. Picking someone from a state which is either solid blue or dark red would be a waste of votes. Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey for example appears at the top of various VP-shortlists. Even though Christie is quite popular in his state, New Jersey is expected to go for Obama. The other end of the example makes Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. While he is very popular, the state votes traditionally Republican anyway and he won’t gain Romney any additional electoral votes either. This comes down to picking a running mate that is both, popular and coming from a swing state (or a state that leaning only very slightly towards Obama). Qualifying for both criteria are for example, Governor Brian Sandovall of Nevada, Governor Susana Martinez of New Mexico or Marco Rubio of Florida. Senator Rob Portman is frequently named, but while he is indeed from the swing state Ohio, he is not that popular there (33% positive ratings vs. 25% negative ratings). Paul Ryan, the favourite candidate of the republican right is from Wisconsin, but he is to such an extent unpopular there, that if picked, he is estimated to loose rather than win additional votes for Romney. The same holds true for Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and former presidential candidate Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. 

While the hunt for electoral votes is sure to make up for a large part of Romneys campaign strategy, this will surely not be the Republican’s only concern in selecting a Vice Presidential Candidate. It remains to be seen, who will make the cut on to the Republican ticket in the end. Because one thing is for sure – the secret will be revealed rather sooner than later!

The milestones ahead in the U.S. presidential election campaign

The summer is over. From now on, the less engaged and the less politically interested parts of the electorate will tune in and observe the battle between incumbent President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

The following are the important milestones in the race ahead:

  •  Anytime between now and the Republican convention, Mitt Romney will announce the name of his vice presidential candidate. In some way, this is the most important decision a presidential candidate reaches because it is irreversible after the election. After the election, a President-Elect can distance himself from all his plans and campaign promises. However, if Romney were to win the White House, his running mate would ultimately become the next Vice President.
  • The party out of power goes first with its convention. Therefore, the Republican convention will take place from August 27 – 30 in Tampa, Florida.
  • The Democratic convention will take place from Sept. 3 – 6 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Historically, conventions are an important rendez-vous between the political actors, the media and the voters. Four years ago, more than 20 million people tuned in and watched the acceptance speeches.
  • During the month of October, the debates will take place. The first one will be held on October 3 on domestic policy. On October 11, the vice presidential debate between Vice President Joe Biden and the GOP Vice Presidential Nominee will take place. On October 16 the second presidential debate will take place. It will have a so-called town hall format where citizens can ask questions about both domestic and foreign policy. On October 22, the last presidential debate will take place on the issue of foreign policy. Four years ago, more than fifty million people watched the debates on television.
  • On Tuesday November 6, the actual election takes place.

Will Barack Obama win re-election?

It looks like Barack Obama has gained some ground in his fight for re-election. In the latest survey conducted by Reuters/Ipsos, Barack Obama leads Mitt Romney 49% to 42%. In another poll conducted by NBC News/Wall Street Journal, Obama is ahead of Romney with 49% to 43%. And even in the last survey of the conservative television station FOX News, the incumbent president leads his republican challenger by 4% (45% to 41%). But make no mistake. This race will go down the wire.

As I wrote in my recent book, an election involving an incumbent president or prime minister is foremost a referendum about the incumbent (you can get more information about my book and download a free sample chapter at: www.perroncampaigns.com/book.php). Therefore, one should not pay too much attention to match-up questions in surveys. This is even more the case if these surveys are taken months before the election. What matters much more are the underlying dynamics shaping the election: how many percent of the electorate approve of the job the president is doing? How many percent of respondents think that the country is moving into the right direction? If one looks at these poll results, everything points towards a very close election.

Looking back, there were presidents such as Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan who had approval ratings of over 60% and went on to win their re-elections easily. On the other hand, there were presidents such as Jimmy Carter or George H. W. Bush, whose job approval ratings were somewhere in the low 30% and who went on to lose their respective re-election bids. In 2004, when George W. Bush was running for re-election, his approval rating was in between these two, just below 50%. What followed was the closest election in the history of the USA. Ironically, President Barack Obama now faces a very similar situation as George W. Bush in 2004. According to the website realclearpolitics, the average of recent polls shows that 47.9% of the electorate approves of the job Obama is doing, while 47.4% disapproves.

Dick Morris, a famous political pollster, recently pointed out an interesting thing: undecided voters almost always break against the incumbent candidate. In concrete, Morris compared the performance of eight incumbent presidents running for re-election in the last Gallup tracking poll with the actual election results. Six out of the eight incumbent presidents running for re-election lost points between the last survey and the actual election. Only one incumbent president performed better on Election Day, namely George W. Bush in 2004.

Looking at the playbook of George W. Bush means to run a very aggressive campaign. The purpose of such a strategy is to define, put on the defense and destroy the challenger before he has time to define himself. In other political systems and cultures, attacking has to be done in a much more implicit tone. Yet, many other vulnerable incumbents have survived using the same strategy: no matter how bad things are, no matter how high unemployment and the deficit are, things will only get worse if the challenger takes over. By using this strategy, John Mayor won one more election for the British Tories in 1992, Helmut Kohl got re-elected in Germany in 1994 and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo won a second term as President of the Philippines in 2004. I also think that Nicholas Sarkozy would have fared better, had he gone on the offense much earlier instead of underestimating his Socialist opponent. The past weeks seem to indicate that Barack Obama and the Democratic Party are not shy to follow the same strategy as George W. Bush in 2004.