‘What is a Caucus-race?’ said Alice; not that she wanted much to know

I made the comment, a week or two ago, that the metaphor of the horserace to talk about the primary elections seems like a good one, what with the questions of who is winning, who is gaining, who is dropping back, etc, etc, etc., but this year it seems like the sports metaphor that comes to mind is the NFL playoffs: Team/candidate A will do well if team/candidate B beats team/candidate C in the first round, but if team/candidate C wins, then for team/candidate A to advance, they will have to both beat team/candidate B and hope that team/candidate D beats team/candidate C in a different state a week later.

To some extent, the exercise of choosing a candidate is a lot like that, anyway. The Party has to decide (a) who would make a good President, (2) who would match up well with the other candidate or candidates, and (iii) who would move the Party in the direction we want to go (taking into account the effect of top of the ticket on the other candidates. Generally, I take electability into account. I do not want the next President to be from the Other Party. The fact that all of my Party’s candidates are far superior (in my estimate) to all of the Other Party’s candidates is not a coincidence. On the other hand, if I am feeling confident, I will likely prefer a candidate I judge to have a, oh, 56% chance of winning and extraordinary policies, instincts and abilities to a candidate that I judge to have a 59% chance of winning and quite good policies, instincts and abilities. But those percentages are impossible to judge with that kind of accuracy, aren’t they?

Matthey Yglesias looks at Head-to-Head matchups and sees that John Edwards has a distinct advantage in the relevant polls and says that “I think you do need to count this as a serious point in Edwards’ favor when you combine it with the considerable merits of the policy positions he’s staked out.” Similarly, he points out that (according to the same polls) John McCain has a huge advantage over his fellow Republicans.

If I were a Republican, this might make me think twice. As I am a Democrat, I’m inclined to think that despite the slight advantage John Edwards holds, there’s no particular reason to prioritize electability over policy, instinct and ability in this election. Particularly when you keep in mind that anybody who wins a primary election is clearly capable of running a very good campaign, which counts for a lot.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

1 thought on “‘What is a Caucus-race?’ said Alice; not that she wanted much to know

  1. Jacob

    I’ve always been kind of an Edwards guy, so I may be biased, but I suspect this kind of thinking is likely to move things his way when it comes to actual voting. The thing is, I suspect that when people answer poll queries, they don’t want to seem racist or sexist, so concerns about Obama or Clinton due to race or sex get put aside. But in the privacy of the voting booth, and especially when folks are thinking “sure, I’d be happy to see a black president (or a female president) but we’ll never get him (or her) past those bigots in the general election” we may see folks picking Edwards. It’s not how I want to see Edwards get the nomination. But I don’t have any sense that Edwards or his campaign is pushing this kind of thinking, so that’s good. And he’s the one who I’d like to actually have as president, I think. Though I’ve gotten more fond of Obama lately.


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