Monday, February 7, 2011

On the marginal relevance of national party chairs

Jordan Ragusa has an intriguing post up investigating the tenures of national party chairmen since 1856. There are a few nice findings in there, but what particularly caught my attention was the relationship between a party's success in congressional election and a party chair's likelihood of retaining his position. The relationship is a big nothing -- a chair is no more likely to keep his job if his party just saw epic wins in the House or got decimated.

The finding suggests that party insiders recognize that the choice of chair is relatively unimportant to the fortunes of the party. Yes, generally it's nice to have a unifying figurehead in office and to avoid appearances of incompetence and malfeasance, if for no other reason than these things affect the value of the party brand. And while I'm quite confident that the Democrats would have done well in 2006 even without Howard Dean at the helm, his 50-state strategy could possibility be credited for unexpected Democratic pickups in places like Virginia and Montana. But overall, this job doesn't matter that much, and party elites seem to know it.

1 comment:

Jon said...

I have to make a little objection here Seth. The Ragusa model accounts for quitting/retiring from the position and losing a party election as the same thing. It makes perfect sense that in a 'shellacing' that a party chairman might lose and that after a grand victory a chairman might step down from fatigue.

The Ragusa states:

"One thing I want to make clear about the data: the “tenure” of a party chairman blends instances in which he or she retired with those, like Steele, where he or she lost their reelection bid. On the one hand, we would expect chairmen to retire or lose the nomination when an election goes poorly for the party and run for another term (and win) when an election goes well for the party."

Ragusa then mentions:

"In short, it might be worth another look to isolate those instances where the chairman actually lost a reelection bid, as Steele did. Nonetheless, here some are some results from the tenure data I collected."

What seems most important to me is the short period of service of party chairman, signaling that the job of chairman is in such constant flux that it probably is not important.

Just a thought.

- Jon