As I’ve written, Obama has a clear lead over Romney, by 4.4% (326 EV to 212 EV) as of this writing. A lead of this size in August is very hard for a challenger to overcome, using the time histories of many past re-election campaigns as a prior guide. Based on polls past and present, Obama’s November re-elect probability is about 89%.*
Today I contend that a major consequence of the Ryan VP nomination is not for the Presidential race, but for control of Congress in 2013.
Past VP picks have not shifted the race in a lasting fashion. For example, in September 2008 Sarah Palin’s effect was temporary:
and Ryan is not particularly well-known or well-liked.
However, his entry onto the national scene does have one important effect: the Presidential Race is now more strongly linked to Congressional races. Why? He is chair of the House Budget Committee. And based on polling numbers, this is not a development that Republicans should welcome.
Consider the Senate – a hard prediction problem, but let’s try.
If polls (RCP) stay within a few points of where they are today, Democrats will control 47 seats and Republicans will control 46 seats. The remaining 7 seats are: FL, IN, MA, ND, VA, WI, and MT. Assume that by November, D-R polling margins move by an unknown amount, up to 3 points in either direction. The histogram of outcomes is then
In this neutral scenario (i.e. no Ryan effect), the median outcome is a 50D-50R split and the probability of Democratic control** is 52%.
What if the Romney-Ryan ticket causes candidates to campaign explicitly on GOP budget priorities? Imagine that slightly more voters switch their votes in one direction or the other based on what they hear. If 1% of voters flip toward Democrats, the resulting 2% swing leads to this:
In this scenario, the median outcome is 52D-48R and the probability of Democratic control is 82%.
for a 48D/52R median and a 20% probability of Democratic control. I consider this scenario less likely considering the unpopularity of ending Social Security, Medicare, and cutting discretionary spending by over 50%, all of which are in the Ryan budget. Once voters learn about these GOP priorities, they might not like them. Then again, campaign messaging can work wonders. So you never know.
I should qualify all of this by saying that Senate races are challenging to tie to national issues, and conditions may yet change in the coming months. The point is the same, though: even a small net shift can change the prognosis significantly.
Anyway, that’s what a knife-edge situation looks like. Pundits, please talk about this instead?
The House is also on a knife edge, though this is harder to calculate because those races are not very well-polled. I’ll write about that another day.
My takeaway: Romney effectively threw Congress under the bus to get a possible (but not guaranteed) advantage for himself. Call it a calculated risk on his part.
* This estimate has some uncertainty because of unexpected, black-swan events. It is possible to get a probability of up to 92% with different assumptions.
** This presupposes VP Biden with 89% probability, and VP Ryan with 11% probability.