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Forecasting 2012: How much does ideology matter?

Brendan Nyhan and Jacob Montgomery talk sense here. I am perhaps too influenced by Steven Rosenstone’s 1983 book, Forecasting Presidential Elections, which is the first thing I read on the topic. In any case, I agree with Nyhan and Montgomery that the difference in vote, comparing a centrist candidate to an extreme candidate, is probably on the order of 1-2%, not the 4% that has been posited by some.

Among other things, ideological differences between candidates of the same party might seem big in the primaries, but then when the general election comes along, party ID becomes more important.

I also disagree with the model in which presidential elections are like votes for high school prom king.


  1. krippendorf says:

    There may not be “prom king” voting, but I’m not willing to dismiss the “beauty queen” hypothesis: that voters favor pretty women, and won’t vote for a non-attractive or obese ones. (I can’t think of a nationally recognized female politician who is as obese as Christie. Can you?)

    Beauty pageant participants turned politicians are certainly overrepresented among women at high levels of the GOP/TP. Or at least, I have a hard time believing that Palin, Bachmann, Brewer, and O’Donnell got as far as they did on brains (or even money) alone.

    • Andrew says:


      Yes, you might be right. But I think this is a feature of primary elections—where ideological differences are small, hence other factors can become more important—than in the general election.

  2. engineer27 says:

    Based on the headline, I assumed the post would be dealing with end-of-the-world predictions for 2012!