Thursday, November 5, 2009

Evidence-free lessons from the elections, part MDXXXVI

Michael Hudome has a novel interpretation of Tuesday's elections:
Here’s a simple, yet overlooked explanation for Republican victories in the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial races this week: President Barack Obama is overexposed.
The argument is that because Obama is always in our faces, he can no longer fire up his base by making local appearances. This could be interesting if true. Do we have any evidence that Obama is more exposed than previous presidents? Does he give more speeches or make more TV appearances? I don't think that's the case, but I'd be interested in seeing the numbers. Hudome doesn't offer any. Actually, he seems averse to the idea of evidence:

We can look at Obama’s historic drop in popularity and job approval ratings as compared with President Ronald Reagan and believe he’s also well-positioned for reelection.

We can thoughtfully analyze interesting historical numbers and argue their relative significance to Tuesday’s results.

That wouldn’t tell the whole story.

In the one metric that matters most — election results — Obama didn’t get it done.

No longer does his base find him interesting or worth paying attention to, let alone going to vote for his favorite candidate.

Well, it is noteworthy that Obama's advocacy for Corzine and Deeds didn't seem to pay off. But is this proof that Obama is overexposed or that his base finds him uninteresting? By pretty much every measure we have of Obama's base, they're still quite enamored of him. You know what would help -- if we had evidence of other presidents trying to help out governors in off-year elections.

So here's an interesting counter-example. In the fall of 2001, at the height of Bush's post-9/11 popularity, he declined to campaign actively for Republican gubernatorial candidates in Virginia and New Jersey. Both contests went to the Democrats. Should Bush have helped his party's candidate's more, like Obama did? The evidence from both election cycles is more suggestive that, in off-year gubernatorial elections, it doesn't much matter what the president does. Similarly, early in Schwarzenegger's gubernatorial career, when he still enjoyed approval ratings in the 60s, he was flatly unable to affect state legislative elections, even though he campaigned very actively for several candidates.

So, no, Obama couldn't save his fellow Democrats. But there's not much evidence that any president could have. And there's certainly no evidence that Obama could have, if only he were less "exposed."

Anyway, Hudome's isn't the worst analysis I've seen. So far, Erick Erickson holds that prize. But we haven't heard from the Sunday talk shows yet.