Princeton Election Consortium

A first draft of electoral history. Since 2004

Mark Halperin tries out a quantitative approach

April 19th, 2015, 1:30am by Sam Wang



So, Mark Halperin went to New Hampshire to watch the GOP presidential field. And then he evaluated them by handing out grades, which I guess is meant to be rigorous. I think these “grades” reveal at least as much about modern political journalism as they do about what happened in the Granite State.

First, let’s look at the “grades,” which I have replotted in a single graph.

The start of each arrow is the “substance” grade; the end of the arrow indicates the “style” grade. The caret indicates an “overall” grade, which is some kind of combination of all of Halperin’s observations. (For simplicity, I left out cases where the style and substance grades were the same.)

I will make some observations of my own.

  1. “Substance” is supposed to mean how Halperin evaluated their policy statements. However, grades did show any clear relationship to the explanation given. And when the two grades differed, the style grade was nearly always higher (13 out of 14 cases). I wonder if “substance” is really a measure of whether Halperin got bored.
  2. “Style” seems to be nearly equivalent to “overall grade”. If we use these data to estimate what weighting scheme would lead to the overall grades, “style” would have to count for an average of 87% of the grade; “substance” would count for 13%. The median contribution of “style” is 100%.
  3. Consequently, Halperin does not have a good way to distinguish Scott Walker, the sitting governor of Wisconsin, from Donald Trump, who is probably running for president for the publicity.

I conclude that Halperin is just giving a fancy version of telling us his gut reaction to the whole scene. I guess that is what he is paid to do. It might be just as well, since even at its best, Presidential campaign messaging is pretty far from actual policies and laws. Though I do find it an interesting thought that Rand Paul’s current problem is that he is too substantive.

I think the real bottom line is: if he were a teacher, Mark Halperin would give nearly everybody a B of some kind, except for Marco Rubio, who he thinks is fun.

Tags: 2016 Election · President

18 Comments so far ↓

  • Ankush Aggarwal

    Another maddening thing about the focus on style: a candidate’s style is static, while substance more fluid. Can’t change delivery too much, but can shape and shift on policy, and react to current events/new revelations. Despite the cynicism surrounding campaigns, I do think substantive issues affect outcomes much more than style.

  • Scott Supak (@ssupak)

    Check out Halperin’s tweet on this!

    https://twitter.com/MarkHalperin/status/596637473490345984

    “Oh what to do when your job involves indiscriminately averaging polls (& adding phony fairy dust) to make predictions which turn out wrong?”

    HAHAHAHA. He doesn’t even know what you do for a living.

    What a bullshitter.

    • Amitabh Lath

      Even before I clicked on that Politico article by Sabato, I knew somewhere he would say that at this point situation is basically even odds.

      And there it was:
      However, at the starting gate it is wiser to argue that the next election is basically a 50-50 proposition.

      Way to go out on a limb there professor.

    • Sam Wang

      I don’t want to say in a very public manner, but I don’t think the election will necessarily be close. The GOP basically has to avoid nominating someone too damaged or crazy, which is what the primaries are supposed to solve. The difficulty at this point is that there is the possibility of weirdness.

      My gut feeling is that the eventual faceoff will be Hillary Clinton vs. Marco Rubio, and that Clinton is somewhat favored for reasons of current political structure (>240 EV in the bag) and GOP disunity and its loud extremist wing. If it’s not Rubio, then the GOP will have a substantially harder time in the general election.

    • Amitabh Lath

      There is a school of thought that claims white evangelicals stayed at home in 2008 and 2012. And that Jeb Bush is the one to get them out again. Ergo the pushing of a story like Terry Schivo, which may look like a hit piece detailing executive excess to Dems and lean Dems but to the faithful it reads like a parable of a brave man disregarding rules to save a life.

      If indeed there is such a hidden cohort of white evangelicals waiting to come out of the southern and midwestern woodwork, I would expect the LV screens to miss them completely as one of the key questions is “did you vote last time”?

    • Sam Wang

      Honestly, I think Rubio is undervalued there. But I would be just one bidder in such a market.

  • Ian

    What’s going to happen in the UK General Election?
    I know this is nothing to do with this thread but I thought I would try.

    • Sam Wang

      It looks like the third-largest share of seats will go to the Scottish Nationalists. Whether Labor or Conservatives get more seats, hard to tell. And the Liberal Democrats…they are really paying for their alliance with the Conservatives, will lose about half their seats.

      If I had to guess, I’d say a coalition of Labor+LibDem+SNP will end up in charge. But coalition math is somewhat hard to predict because it depends on exactly how many seats that trio of parties will get. Also, the intergroup dynamics are weird: not so clear why LibDems were with Conservatives in the first place, yet there they are. What will they do next?

    • pechmerle

      No question that the SNP will get the third largest number of seats in Parliament. Also, very little likelihood that either Conservatives or Labour can get to a majority of seats in this election on their own.

      The coalition-forming dynamics, however, are indeed very weird this time around. The easiest route to a viable coalition, arithmetically, is in coalition with SNP. But after last year’s bitter independence referendum campaign, Scottish nationalism has become a “third rail” of Westminster politics.

      Miliband has said that Labour will not go into coalition with SNP, not even a “supply” coalition, in which their is no formal agreement but SNP provides critical votes on confidence votes. For him to say otherwise would immediately allow the Conservatives to shout ‘Aha! Labour is aiding a break up of the UK.’ And that cry would resonate with the English voters.

      On the other hand, a coalition involving Conservatives and SNP is a political impossibility. They are anathema to each other at this time. For Cameron to even float such an idea would lead to a back-benchers revolt to end all back-benchers revolts.

      Prediction seems impossible in these circumstances. It is even possible that there could be a hung Parliament with an early second election to clarify the will of the voters.

      The SNP has become rather like the Palestinian parties in the Israeli Knesset — the largest non-major-party bloc, but one nobody wants to go into coalition with, given their antipathy to the very idea of the UK.

      Will be very interest to watch.

  • SF Bays

    Mark Halperin is only interested in this election as a prop for his appearances as a political pundit. In other words, he doesn’t know and doesn’t care what any of the candidates says.

  • Amitabh Lath

    I love this conceit! Here’s my take on these guys as students:

    1) Rubio, Paul, Cruz. These guys are first semester undergraduates who feel they belong in your class. They will probably drop out after the first exam.

    2) Bush. Has family history in your subject. Brother did well, but left the field in a cloud. No fraud was proven but let’s just say no one cites his papers anymore.

    3) Walker. Transferred in from a community college. Transcript looks good but you keep wondering if his preparation is up to snuff. Might ask questions like “what’s an eigenvector and how do I find it?”

    4) Trump. Never registered for the course and never will. Not clear if he’s actually a student. Never actually comes to lecture or exams, but will stop you in the hallways and want to chat about the metaphysics of the uncertainty principle.

  • bks

    If I were a teacher I would give Mark Halperin an ‘F’. –bks

  • Ed Kilgore

    Yeah, Halperin’s reaction to Rubio reminds me of the famous Murray Kempton comment about John Lindsay: “He is fresh and everyone else is tired.” Mark’s already bored.

  • Tony Moore

    Thanks for saying what I was thinking. Halperin is the epitome of everything that’s wrong with American “journalism”.