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NOTE: The Opinions expressed by non-governmental speakers are solely their own and not a reflection of U.S. Government policy. Their presence at the Foreign Press Center does not constitute an official endorsement of these views.
MS. GRUNDER: So good afternoon. I’m Alyson Grunder, Director of the Foreign Press Center. Welcome to another program in the FPC’s Elections 2012 briefing series.
We’re very happy today to have with us Professor Robert Shapiro of Columbia University’s Political Science Department. He is a very well-known figure in the field of opinion research polling. I’ve already sent you his bio data, so I don’t want to take any time away from his remarks and the Q&A that I know you’ll all want to do.
I do want to introduce Tanya Domi, who is also here from Columbia. She’s a great contact for analysts and experts up at Columbia University, so please share your card with her after the program if you don’t already know her.
Professor Shapiro, please take it away.
MR. SHAPIRO: Okay. Thank you very much. I’m very delighted to speak here today. My primary teaching this semester happens to be statistics and quantitative methods, and I’m really delighted to talk about something substantive having to do with real world politics.
First, just by way of acknowledgement, I’m going to be speaking from evidenced data that’s in the public domain that you all have ready access to, and you may have seen all this and it may be redundant. And the best I can hope to do is provide some additional insight for you. But the key sources here are websites – RealClearPolitics.com, Pollster.com, and fivethirtyeight, Nate Silver. And in addition to that, the last two pages of the handout come from a website called the Green Papers, which is actually very important for information with regard to delegate selection rules and primary and caucus doings, and in this case, in the Republican Party.
And what I want to speak to is basically the current progress in the campaign leading into South Carolina and Florida. And the handout you have has nine pages, and I just want to walk you through it. Unfortunately, this is not something that could be summarized real easily. I think – just for purposes of full disclosure, I think it’s important for you to have the full data. I put this together literally this morning for purposes of just getting the latest data. And of course, one of the data has actually changed since I put this together. There’s one additional poll.
Okay. To put this in context, a lot of the American press, particularly those with polling organizations, tend to emphasize the results of what they call the national Republican primary election poll. And the first page is the kind of current state of play of that that RealClearPolitics presents. The key number is their average. What I like about this – these particular data is, for one, their averaging. But for another, literally, they attempt to put together all of the available polls – actually, not quite all the available ones. To get the full range of polls, it’s useful to look also at Pollster.com and fivethirtyeight. So there some that may be excluded here.
What I like about these data is, in terms of reliability and so forth, is that the main recent polls that they average, the RCP average, has Romney ahead by 17.6 points. If you average in the latest Rasmussen poll that has Romney ahead by only three points, the spread is 15.2. Rasmussen differs from these major – what I consider the major credible network polls and Gallup polls, in that they do what’s called robo-calling, IVR, interactive voice response polling. And there’s some question about to what extent those polls have a too much of a conservative bias in them. So I think their results need to be validated by additional polls. The other polls are major network polls. I would include FOX News as a reputable polling outfit, particularly when they’re focusing on horserace kind of – kinds of campaign kind of issues.
For the moment, at least, the big takeaway point is that Romney is really substantially ahead, and I’m not quite sure what to do with the latest Rasmussen poll. I think we need to wait for the most recent polls that will pick up the latest potential closing of the race in the context of the controversy over Bain Capital and also Romney’s failure to kind of fully disclose quickly his tax returns. And then the current reporting of the fact that he’s only paying 15 percent in tax overall has raised some hackles and may change things.
But the bottom line finding here, he’s ahead by a very sizeable amount, and that has implications in two ways. One is it provides the national picture, and it’s kind of easy to understand and report. It actually has some implications that I’m going to come back to at the very end.
Okay. Now with regard to the implications of the fact that Romney’s so far ahead, Nate Silver very nicely has put this in context on the second page. He basically has shown in – if you look at past races, in only three cases when a candidate wasn’t ahead at this stage did that candidate not get the nomination. And in terms of rankings of relative leads, Romney is actually higher than the three candidates – Clinton, Muskie, and Hart – that were – that did well at this stage but didn’t get the nomination. And Nate Silver puts his probability of getting the nomination at very high, as you can see at the – in the graph below.
Now, to put the – I agreed to speak on the upcoming South Carolina and Florida primaries, but to put them in context and to put the polling in context, it’s actually very useful to reflect on the Iowa caucus polling that was done and also the New Hampshire polling that was done to get a sense of how accurate the polls were. And it was, quite frankly, astonishing to me how accurate the polls were, given how difficult it is to poll in caucuses especially and also in primary elections. We can go back to the 2008 election, when the pollsters had Hillary Clinton winning in New Hampshire – I’m sorry, Barack Obama winning in New Hampshire and Hillary Clinton pulled off a surprise, raising all kinds of questions about the quality of polls and so forth.
Now here, the Iowa polling – the Iowa results actually showed how – in my opinion, how good the polls were. And that – even in the context that a few of the polls – the PPP polls and the Rasmussen Report polls – are these IVR robo-polls that often have raised some questions. And the bottom line was that the RCP average basically had the Romney victory within sampling error. But the – of course, the big surprise here, and that led to some criticisms of the polls, is that they were off on Santorum. That was a surprise. However, to their credit, the Des Moines Register poll and I think one or two of the other polls, within the polling that was done, they actually found that Santorum was actually gaining during the last day or two of the polling. And so the fact he did so well wasn’t particularly a surprise, so a plus for the pollsters in Iowa.
Look at New Hampshire on the next page, compare the RCP average with the final results, everything there was basically within sampling error. And in terms of sampling error, given the small sample sizes of these polls and other volatility, you have to put about a plus or minus 4 or 5 percentage points around these numbers, not the more typical 3 percent. And here, all of the results were actually within that sampling error, and the polling error was quite – was really quite surprisingly accurate, based as well on other kinds of calculations that polling statisticians do about the accuracy of their polls. Now which suggests – and we – and again, we won’t know for sure until the election occurs – it suggests that the polling in South Carolina and Florida should be accurate as well.
And if you look at the RCP average – at least the current RCP average – the average currently has Romney ahead of Gingrich by 10 points. We’ll know a little bit better today, at 4 o’clock, when CNN and the Opinion Resource Corporation release their latest poll to see if there’s any tightening as a result of more recent events. But I suspect that when we look at a final table comparing the averaging of the polls before the – right – immediately before the election with the actual election results, my guess would be the pollsters will be fairly accurate, which will suggest that the pre-election polling that you see a day or two before the South Carolina primary and the Florida primary will be fairly accurate.
If you look – you can do this further later – you could actually see what happened after the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, where Gingrich was ahead of Romney prior to those primaries – that primary and caucus. There was a major switch, showing the positive effect that those primaries – the primary and the caucus had on the election race.
The next page – there’s a second page on South Carolina that kind – that actually fills in a couple of gaps. There are a couple polls that Pollster.com for – I’m sorry, RealClearPolitics.com for some reason does not include in its table. In contrast, Pollster.com – and actually, I didn’t include it here, but Nate Silver also includes some additional polls as well, which actually show pretty similar results.
With regard to Florida, basically the same story. There are only a few polls that were done in the last few days, but Romney is basically substantially ahead there, and – suggesting that if he does well in South Carolina and Florida, the national – his national averages, so to speak, will hold up in a significant way, which takes us to the punch line here.
In terms of understanding these results in context and trying to project forward, the key thing – in my opinion, the key additional thing to focus on are – has to do with the consequences of the current delegate allocation rules in the Republican primary and caucuses. And the current Republican rules are actually summarized on the last two pages. It’s taken from the Green Papers. The one thing that has to be adjusted in these delegate selection rules is that these were the rules that the parties in each state wanted going into the primary season.
The Republican Party, however, has ruled that any primary and caucus taking place prior to April 1st has to allocate delegates proportionally, and that has significant implications. Their objective – the Republican Party’s objective was actually to drag out the primary and caucus season just enough to draw positive attention to the party and its candidates, and positive attention to the winner of the primaries and caucuses, with the expectation that the Republican victor in 2012 will benefit from the extended primary and caucus period in the same way that Obama benefitted in 2008. And that, of course, is still an open question. But going forward, it does raise the possibility, because of the proportional allocation, and also because of how well Ron Paul is doing in siphoning off votes, and in turn delegates, that if – that Paul is going to be in the race, if Gingrich does sufficiently well, it’s possible that he may have legs even beyond South Carolina and Florida, which takes us back to the national poll.
The national poll has tended to show that the support for the leading candidate has tended to increase as he’s done better in the primaries and caucuses. The virtue, so to speak, and usefulness of the national poll is it suggests how well the leading candidate will do in the post-April 1st primaries and caucuses where there are a sufficient number of winner-take-all primaries, and such that that leader can actually sew up the nomination then, assuming that the national polls reflect precisely how well that candidate will do in the winner-take-all contests.
And that, to some extent, remains an open question. Taken in the context of the proportional allocation of delegates even in some of the primaries and caucuses that take place after April 1st, this candidate selection process could drag out substantially. And it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that, going into the convention, no candidate will have – that the leader won’t have enough delegates sewn up that it could lead to some interesting politicking at the national convention that we haven’t – have not seen in a very long time.
And I’m going to stop there and take questions.
MODERATOR: One moment. One moment. I’m just going to give you a microphone so you can be on the record.
MR. SHAPIRO: Yes. Okay.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Please state your name and your affiliation.
QUESTION: Thank you. Virginie Robert for Les Echos, French daily. I didn’t understand what happened after April 1st in the allocation process. You were a little fast, if you don’t mind explaining again.
MR. SHAPIRO: Okay. I’m sorry. I’ve spent too much of my life in New York and New Jersey, and tend to – (laughter) – it tends to reflect in how quickly I speak.
Okay. The short answer is, is that before April 1st, the Republican Party requires that the delegates that are allocated by primary and caucus votes, to the extent that they’re allocated at all, be allocated proportionally so that if a candidate gets, let’s say, 25 percent of the vote, he or she would get 25 percent of the delegates if they’re allocated that way. There are some delegates that are not allocated at all, that are sort of the equivalent of the Democratic Party’s superdelegates that can make their decisions later on. After April 1st, the parties in each state are – they’re permitted to allocate the delegates in any way they want.
Now historically, even in the Democratic Party prior to recent years, many states allocated their delegates winner-take-all, meaning that the candidate who won the election, either a plurality or in some case – or sometimes they required a majority – would get all of the delegates from the states, so that if a candidate won a lot of races, he would pick up an enormous number of delegates. The Democratic Party now requires all delegates to be allocated proportionally. And that had a lot to do with why the Democratic race in 2008 got so – got extended as far as it did – very far, actually. And this go-round, because of the proportional allocation, it increases the probability that the Republican race will be extended. The party itself doesn’t want to extend it too long, just enough that – to benefit the party and its candidates in positive ways.
What they didn’t expect, and this is another relevant topic, is that the – is really the degree of intra-party conflict that’s occurring in the party right now that could have some unexpected consequences for the party. And that, in the context of changes in campaign finance rules that allow basically independent organizations to spend on behalf – directly on behalf of the candidates, it’s added another dimension that could continue to drag things out by making the race closer, keeping more candidates in because they can raise independent money, and prevent Romney, in this case, from sewing up the nomination as quickly as a lot of people anticipated.
QUESTION: Gulveda of Ozgur of Haberturk. Now in terms of all the polling that is going on, how soon we will have an idea who would be the Republican nominee? And how late would that be, given that the elections are in November? So how long this will go on, and will the candidate have enough time to actually compete with President Obama?
MR. SHAPIRO: Well, to follow up on your last question first, I think at this stage, the candidates already have been campaigning against President Obama, so I don’t think that’ll affect their ability to campaign against him. And also, they’re raising money, there are independent organizations raising money and so forth. So I think they’ll be competitive in that particular way.
In terms of the polls informing the outcome of the election, at this stage – at this current stage, it really is primary by primary in terms of anticipating what the outcome is going to be in that election. The national poll purportedly provides a good sense with regard to who’s going to win, but who actually will get the nomination will depend when the nominee can count on the majority of delegates, and that could drag on very far.
And in terms of the polling, I mean, let me give you an example. I don’t know the answer at this point, but in the 2008 election, the – there were exit polls done in each of the primary and caucus states. And the consortium of news media, they contract with a polling company, Edison Research in New Jersey, to do these polls. And they usually contract for a certain number of exit polls, and then they’re not expected to do exit polls after that because they’re expecting everything to be over.
In 2008, in mid-March, they had a contract out for additional exit polls in later states because they didn’t know what to expect going forward. And I think we’re actually at a similar stage right now unless, if – unless after Florida, all of the – all of Romney’s opponents decide to drop out of the race, which I’m not ready to bet my house on at the moment.
QUESTION: Yeah, hi. My name is Robert Poredos from Slovenian Press Agency. A technical question: What will be the best source to follow the delegate allocation count? Because I follow different news media, and then they have it all over the place.
MR. SHAPIRO: Well, – one reason it’s hard to get a good count is because there are a certain number of delegates that are actually allocated based on the vote. In Iowa, if you try to find how many delegates were – there are none. There are none because they don’t have to decide there. What you – the best you can – the best I would suggest that you do in terms of figuring out what – the basic rules, go to GreenPapers.com. But in terms of the actual delegates, the best you can do is – I would check just the media outlets, fivethirtyeight, and so forth, and RealClearPolitics.com. They tend to be good. I mean, there are – but there are others, I’m sure – there are others out there that do – that --
MR. SHAPIRO: That’s for the rule. That’s for the rules. And they’ll – and they provide detailed breakdowns of delegates selected in different ways, and then where they say they don’t know. And there you have to also – you’ll encounter some terminology that you won’t understand, and they have a glossary that defines terms.
Yes. Oh, I’m sorry. Go ahead.
QUESTION: When was the last time when you saw an open convention? And what will happen in that case, when there will be an open convention?
MR. SHAPIRO: The last time where things looked somewhat open was in 1980 in the Republican candidate selection process, where there was a battle between Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan. We haven’t seen this in years. We don’t know exactly what to expect. There used to be a lot of activity that went on in what they referred to as the smoke-filled backrooms. I guess this go-around, it will be the smokeless backrooms, where this – in dealing with – the kinds of things that occur as the candidates jockey for things like cabinet posts, vice presidential nominations, speaking time at the Republican National Convention. I would say we don’t know what to expect, which makes things interesting, at this point in time, is that at least at this moment there are so many candidates still in the race that have delegates to play.
The – one very important one is actually Ron Paul in terms of what he’ll do. And I think what the Republican Party will desperately want to do is to prevent him from running as a third-party candidate. Because if he runs as a third party, Obama is going to be a sure thing.
QUESTION: Sherwin Bryce-Pease, South African Broadcasting. Thank you for the briefing, Professor Shapiro. Just sort of a broader question than the analytical ones that we’ve been dealing with: Would you say that the American electoral process is slightly convoluted and complex compared to other countries?
MR. SHAPIRO: (Laughter.) I can say unequivocally that it’s convoluted and complicated. I mean, the primaries are complicated. The general election is complicated enough with the Electoral College. And now, I mean, one of the added complications now, which is very interesting, is that the new rules with regard to unlimited spending by these independent organizations who now can not only campaign on issues, but now can campaign directly for – well, directly for candidates, but not being in contact with the candidates directly, if such a thing is, in fact, possible. But convoluted also in terms of the numbers of elections that occur in the United States now; I mean, you have primary elections for state and local offices as well. An argument that could be made is that in a sense, we have too many elections. There’s a little bit of voter fatigue that goes on here. That may explain the low voter turnout in the United States.
QUESTION: Nick Miller from Australian newspapers. Is there – looking at these numbers, Romney still has less than other candidates who might be called the right – from the right of the Republican Party put together. Is there – given that it’s very complicated and we might still end up with an open convention, nevertheless, is there a level of Romney support that we should look for beyond with which it doesn’t matter? Is there numbers – is there kind of a line you can draw, say, as soon as Romney’s polling reaches this level, it’s a done deal?
MR. SHAPIRO: My rule of thumb on that would be if, in the national polls he breaks 50 percent, that would be significant. At this stage, I mean, the alternative scenario is all of the candidates that are standing to the right of Romney. If they basically came to support one candidate, they could really pose a serious challenge to him, and that’s why the 50 percent mark is significant. I think a lot of the national pollsters and election experts would suggest that Romney’s current lead, if you look at that second page of the handout, suggest that even at his current level, that would be indicative enough, and if he maintains that all the way through, that will do it predicated on the likelihood that he wins the winner-take-all primaries.
Now, a couple of the winner-take-all primaries are winner-take-all if you get a majority, not a plurality. So you have to kind of look – you’ve got to kind of look at the rules there, and I think the press and a lot of the experts haven’t quite fully appreciated some of the subtleties of the rules and how they could come into play if things are very close.
QUESTION: Hi. Virginie Robert again. I had a question about the super PACs that you mentioned.
MR. SHAPIRO: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you think it’s going to be a one-time phenomenon? Because the amounts of money raised are going to be so outrageous that it’s going to be challenged and we’ll never see it again, or is it something that’s going to last in the political system here?
MR. SHAPIRO: I mean, the thing is that the current spending rules are predicated on free speech, and once the Supreme Court ruled that these things can occur on free speech grounds, kind of overturning some of the provisions of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, I think this may very well be something here to stay unless the money dries up – that is, people don’t contribute. And of course, here you have to watch – here you have to keep in mind these organizations can be funded substantially by a small number of people. Okay? So it just – it may just take a few people in the top 1 percent, so to speak, to keep this going, and to keep this going on all sides of the political spectrum. It’s Republicans and Democrats alike.
QUESTION: Adele Smith from Le Figaro French newspaper. How do you explain that the super PAC supporting Obama is twice as small [inaudible] as the super PAC for Romney? Is that because they took it too late or –
MR. SHAPIRO: I think it’s because they’ve just started, and it’s also possible – I haven’t looked at the data yet, but a lot of the fundraising that Obama’s been doing already may have come from sources that might have otherwise gone to those organizations earlier on. And also, the campaign – remember, with respect to Obama’s campaign, that hasn’t really taken off yet.
QUESTION: A follow-up? And because it’s unlimited, you don’t know how much is going to be raised, but do you think that the fact he’s so much ahead in his own fundraising – I mean, Barack Obama – does that level out the super PAC influence or not?
MR. SHAPIRO: It could. I mean, in my view, I think the level – well, first of all, Obama has the advantage of being the incumbent President. He’s very visible anyway. So the value added for the spending really comes into play for the less well-known Republican primary candidates and so forth. I think in the general election, I think both sides will have a sufficiently large amount of money spent by them or by the super PACs and 527 organizations and so forth, enough so that that part of the campaign may very well cancel each other out.
Although here, the thing to focus on is you need to think about this not from a national perspective, but you need to think about this in terms of what – how much is being spent in each of the competitive states, because we’re talking about basically battleground states, not the country as a whole. And my guess is that the money will probably cancel each other out, and I think what’s going to matter in the end is probably the state of the economy or other subtle aspects of the campaign that might give one candidate an edge over the other.
QUESTION: That was basically my question. What do you think, in your expert opinion, will decide the general election and how much importance would the wedge issues have on that?
MR. SHAPIRO: Okay. This is a broader substantive question. I think the first thing you need to recognize is that the American political electoral system at this moment in time in the last few years is very competitive. That is, the parties are very evenly matched. And the key election here was 1994. That was when the Republicans basically captured the House of Representatives for the first time in 40-some odd years. The parties now are basically so evenly matched that virtually no matter what, short of a major financial crash or a foreign – some kind of crisis that tarnishes the Obama Administration, the election’s going to be close.
At this stage, two things are going to matter. One is – and this is in contrast to what political scientists have argued over the years – the campaign will matter because in a close election, little advantages matter. Secondly, in my opinion, I think it may be the case that the economy will improve just enough to make Obama’s performances precedent credible enough to give him an edge in the election. But that doesn’t take into account many unforeseen things that could occur that could cut either way.
QUESTION: Jean-Bernard Cadier with BFM TV, French television. You mentioned briefly a possibility of Ron Paul Independent candidacy. How likely would this be?
MR. SHAPIRO: Well, he said that he’s not going to do it, but it’s very possible because of his own strong ideological views and the strength of his supporters. His running would have to based predicated on him running basically as an ideological candidate trying to get his views out there for the American public to accept, or more likely accept it in the future by one of the parties. The other possibility here – no one’s talked about it yet – is that Ron Paul is in a position – I mean, he could run as a third party and give the election to Obama by doing that. But the one – but the thing that I’m surprised about is that – and it’s an open question – will his movement conceivably turn into a third party? That might not capture the presidency but could capture seats in congressional districts and to the point where the parties will have to pay attention to these independent candidates or third party candidates in terms of passing the kind of legislation that they want to pass.
I think it’s a little – it may be a stretch that that party could capture Senate seats or governorships, but it could pick up enough seats in the House of Representatives that could make a difference in a situation where the Republicans and Democrats are basically evenly split. But no one’s talked about that yet. I think his movement’s important in that context. I think in terms of his decision, I think his decision to run is going to be one that’s going to be won based on principle and not on the possibility of him being elected, unless he does some private opinion polling that suggests he could get elected. For him to get elected as a third party candidate, he would have to win the Electoral College vote straight up, because if he doesn’t – because if his running leads to no candidate getting a majority of the electoral vote, the decision for the presidency will go the House of Representatives, and the House will, I guarantee, pick a Republican or a Democrat, not Ron Paul.
QUESTION: Sherwin Bryce-Pease, South African Broadcasting. The shellacking that the Democrats suffered two years ago in the congressional vote, is that something – I mean, it’s – the presidential vote we understand that there are also some congressional and Senate seats up for grabs. Does that pendulum continue to swing in the Republican favor, or do you see a reversal? You spoke about a Obama edge. Does that have a – does that come to bear on congressional and other seats?
MR. SHAPIRO: I think there’s been somewhat a reversal, because that really stunning Republican victory in the 2010 election kind of was basically a referendum on the performance of the Obama Administration. It also was indicative of the fact that the Republican Party was able to mobilize its base in that race in a way the Democrats weren’t. I think that swung back a little bit. I think the Occupy Wall Street movement, either in and of itself or simply by raising the issue of basically inequality, could offset that mobilization edge that the Republicans have had. I’d say at this moment in time, especially given the context of the Republican primary, the Republicans still have that edge. I think we won’t see if that turns in any kind of decisive way until we get much closer to the general election, where the Democrats know that they have to mobilize their base in order to win.
QUESTION: Marta Torres, La Razon newspaper from Spain. Could you please tell us a little bit about the voters of South Carolina, which are the issues that matter to them and how –
MR. SHAPIRO: Well, South Carolina, I mean, the economy is an issue that looms very large. The thing that we’ve seen right now – you have to remember South Carolina is a southern state. South Carolina is – has been a very securely Republican state. Arguably there, the underlying issue – and we’ve seen it in the campaign – the under – one of the underlying issues there might be race or it might be a code word for race or racial aspects of issues, words like “undeserving.” That is when Newt Gingrich talks about food stamps as basically going to undeserving people, that – one of the undercurrents of that is basically race.
And I think just to show you the power of race in American politics, beginning since the 1960s, if you look at exit poll results and look at how reliably white males vote for Republican candidates, white males vote for Republican candidates in the general election on the order of 85 percent – 80, 85 percent. They are the equivalent of African Americans in the Democratic Party. And that kind of thing looms very large there. Gingrich is banking on that benefitting him there. But the major issue there, and this – and it may – which may be decisive in the end, is really the economy. And that’s why I think Romney has done very well among even the evangelicals and perhaps thinking that they should vote for him because he’s likely to win, but also I think because the economic issue really – unemployment, the economy really resonates with voters across the spectrum. And I think in the end, that will loom pretty large. If Romney wins, my guarantee is that was decisive. If it’s close, there may be other things that could be –
MR. SHAPIRO: At this moment, I’ll say no. But I don’t know if – is it 4 o’clock yet? Yeah. If they’ve released the CNN ORC poll, I’d lend a little bit of credence to that.
MR. SHAPIRO: Okay. Well, that suggests that things are turning in a direction that’s been – that’s probably been affected by what’s happened in the last few days.
MODERATOR: We’ll take a question from Washington.
QUESTION: Press the button. Can you hear me?
QUESTION: Well, it seems that you can’t hear me. Can you say –
MODERATOR: No. We can hear you. Please state your name and organization.
QUESTION: Yes. All right. My name is Fabienne. I am with French public radio. I would like to stay in South Carolina for a minute and with the evangelicals that you mentioned earlier. It seems that the situation is pretty much the same as in 2008 where they were not able to make up their minds behind one candidate, and it’s pretty much the same this time. I was just wondering, are we maybe overestimating the influence, the strength of this large group, but who doesn’t seem to be able to focus on one candidate from an election to another?
MR. SHAPIRO: I think any disproportionate attention to any one state, any one subgroup of people, is really an overestimation of their power. But the theory here driving all of this is that voters who are voting in later states are looking at – looking for indications of the, basically, viability and credibility of candidates. And voters don’t have a lot of time to study issues and detail and – they’re not going to know what Romney’s 59 points in his economic program are. They’re looking for information shortcuts.
And in this particular case, South Carolina is a sufficiently different state from Iowa and New Hampshire that people may be influenced by this. And influence – not simply climbing on a bandwagon, but once – if, hypothetically, Gingrich does very well in South Carolina, it’s not so much they’re automatically going to just gravitate toward Gingrich; they’re going – they might think about, well, why did they – why did people vote for Gingrich? And then they’ll start thinking about problems with Romney, and that may resonate with them, and that may resonate further in subsequent elections. I agree completely that any – that this kind of effect of any one state is really almost shocking. But it’s – it has to do with the psychology of voters in politics in the United States.
QUESTION: Janine Harper, Fuji TV. There’s been a lot of attention by comedian Stephen Colbert to the Super PAC issue. Do you think he’ll have any impact on this race at all? Or is it negligible?
MR. SHAPIRO: Well, it’s interesting. I think in terms of the race itself, probably not, unless he’s able to get on the ballot in some state and siphon off some votes. But I wouldn’t expect that. I think – and I think his objective seems to be one of, well, comedy and parody and so forth. But I think, also, there’s the element of, well, to put it in the most benign way, voter education, and in a less benign way, mockery. And mockery that might lead to some shake up in the way people think about politics and produce down the road some kind of political change.
Of course, you have to keep in mind he’s an entertainer and a comedian, and this does benefit his reputation and career very favorably. So the Colbert Report will be on TV for at least a while longer. I actually think what he’s doing is actually very interesting, and from my standpoint, teaching in college, anything that draws the attention of students to elements of the political process and the public political process is all to the good.
QUESTION: Hi. What do you think in general about the Republican candidates? Because in New Hampshire some American reporters said that it was the weakest group of Republican candidates that they have seen in years.
MR. SHAPIRO: I think, objectively, if you look at the qualifications of the candidates, I would say, objectively, they’re probably good, or at least okay. The reason they’re lamenting over them not being as good as they could be is that there are other candidates out there who dropped out early who people thought are better. Now, whether those candidates would have been better, we’ll never know. But the fact that they dropped out at a time where they could kind of drop out on a white horse, so to speak, basically provides a basis of comparison that’s led voters in the Republican Party to be disappointed.
QUESTION: I’d like to go back to Ron Paul a little bit. I mean, you mentioned that he might end up running as a third party and would that happen – would that change the election system in the United States? I mean, given your expertise, do you expect that to happen?
MR. SHAPIRO: Would it change the electoral system in the United States? I don’t think so. I mean, the history of third parties is basically, either the third parties have gotten big enough to replace one of the existing parties, or the positions of the parties have been adopted by one of the parties, so the parties no longer became necessary here.
If Ron Paul ran and then as a result of that Obama won by a much larger margin than anyone would have expected, I think that that might lead to some rethinking within the Republican Party, and possibly leading the Republican Party to take on positions more similar to Ron Paul’s. Although some of the positions he’s taking are ones that the Republican Party would not find acceptable. His opposition to American activism abroad and military activity abroad is something that they wouldn’t go for.
QUESTION: Yeah. Maria Ramirez from the newspaper El Mundo. Of the candidates who are more likely to stay in the race, I think that you mentioned Gingrich and Paul, so do you think there’s going to be these three or not Santorum, not Perry at all? And secondly, are there any precedents of reverse victory, like the one that we can see in the Iowa caucuses, maybe, this Friday?
MR. SHAPIRO: Well, if Gingrich does – runs close to Romney, that suggests that basically he remains a potentially strong candidate, and both he and Ron Paul will be siphoning off votes. I think in terms of what – in my view, if he basically winds up with an upset victory in South Carolina, my suspicion would be we’ll probably see that in the polls in the next few days. So it’s not fully clear to me we’re going to see surprises. I think the surprise would be is if he wins compared to how things looked a week before the election. And there, what we’re – and if he does win, or do – or run very close, it’s really going to show how important the debates have been and how important the – basically, the day-to-day activity of the campaign has been. And a lot of that day-to-day activity may have been affected by the ability of these outside organizations to spend for the candidates.
QUESTION: (Off mike.)
MR. SHAPIRO: Oh, the reverse of the victory? I think, there, Santorum benefited substantially there just by running within eight votes. I think if it now came to pass that he was declared the winner, I think he would have liked that to have happened at the time, because it would have improved his prospects in New Hampshire. And actually more importantly, where this matters is fundraising. That is, had he won in Iowa, he probably would have been able to raise a lot more money than he did. So those eight votes may have been more meaningful in dollar terms than they have been given credit for.
QUESTION: (Off mike.)
MR. SHAPIRO: Well, there’s still a debate about what happened in the 2000 election, whether or not Al Gore actually won Florida. I mean, these kinds of outcomes – I mean, usually you see these kinds of outcomes that occur more frequently in football games, where a team would have won a game – the New York Giants are now playing in a playoff game against San Francisco and it was a question of whether or not they should’ve won the last time they faced San Francisco in a primary, because the referees admitted after the fact they made a bad call.
QUESTION: Angela Hennersdorf, German Business Week magazine. Recently, we haven’t heard very little about the Tea Party. Do you think it – they do play a role, especially in South Carolina with Nikki Haley, who is a strong Tea Party member? What effect does the party have at all?
MR. SHAPIRO: Well, at this – I think their visible direct effect has seemed to fade. I think – and this, I think, actually poses a problem for the Republicans working under the assumption that the members of the Tea Party are really an element of the Republican Party that will just come back to the fold. I think what you’re going to see, maybe sooner rather than later depending on whether or not a victor emerges in the Republican primary, a concerted effort to reinvigorate the Tea Party for purposes of mobilizing voters in the election. At this go-around, they’ve been a little bit disenchanted; they’re not particularly happy with Romney. They may be more happy with Paul, but Paul doesn’t look like he’s in a position to win the election. I think what the Tea Party needs is a viable candidate that they can support.
QUESTION: And maybe one more question. If you compare South Carolina to then Florida, the economy plays an important role there as well --
MR. SHAPIRO: Yes.
QUESTION: -- but you have a completely different kind of voter. But maybe you explain better --
MR. SHAPIRO: Yeah. I mean, there in Florida you don’t have as hardcore a southern population. That is, you’ve got a lot of people who’ve moved there from other states. It’s a state that’s more cosmopolitan, it’s a state that’s more ethnically diverse in certain ways, but that may not come into play here because it’s a Republican, not a Democratic Party. I mean, going in Romney has potentially more of an edge there given the demographics of the state. But on the other hand, if things don’t go well for him in South Carolina, that’s going to raise questions that could persuade some voters. And a lot also depends on to what extent any of the current candidates drop out, where they will go. Because they have some support – because you have the polling data that shows that the other candidates do have some support in Florida.
MODERATOR: We’ll take another question from Washington. Washington, you’re up. Please state your name and organization.
QUESTION: That’s fine? Okay. Dr. Basem, Petra, Jordanian news. I understand from the professor that South Carolina, it’s a Republican field, let us say. What’s the main power point make South Carolina Republican state?
MR. SHAPIRO: Okay. I think it’s very safe to say at this moment in time, for the most part – most – nearly all of the states in the American South are basically Republican states. That has to do with a transformation that occurred in the American political parties, basically beginning in the mid-1960s, perhaps associated with Lyndon Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Thereafter, through – over a certain number of years, the Democratic Party became the civil rights party. Prior to that, the Republican Party had been the civil rights party. The Democratic Party had been a coalition of northern liberals and southern conservatives. And the Democrats were able to maintain southern support through compromises on issues of labor and also by not vigorously pushing civil rights legislation. That all changed by 1964 as a result of intraparty Republican politics. Beginning with the Nixon Administration, basically southerners became more attracted to the Republican Party. Members of Congress – congressional leaders who had been southerners either changed their party affiliation or they were replaced by Republicans, or in liberal districts, they were replaced by Democrats.
So the southern states are really very solid Republican states. We saw some changes in that with regard to Virginia and North Carolina in 2008. The big question is: Is that an aberration or is that something that the Democrats would be able to benefit from going forward? It doesn’t quite look to be the case yet, and so all this discussion about certain parts of the South – South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi – those are states that used to be Democratic states and now they’re virtually a lock for the Republican Party. So there are historical reasons for that, and it’s a recent history.
QUESTION: Can you tell us what’s the percentage between the Republican and the other party in South Carolina – the Democrats?
MR. SHAPIRO: I haven’t – it – a lot of it depends on how you define the size of the party. Usually, often, the way they do it is by numbers of registered voters. I haven’t seen the latest data on that. There are more – I believe there are currently more registered Republicans than Democrats in South Carolina. That’s a number that can change. If one looks at the national opinion polls that ask people whether or not they think of themselves as Democrats, Republicans or Independent, I know for sure there that they’re more likely to consider themselves Republican.
It’s not by an enormous amount, and one reason it’s not enormous is that there are a fair number of people who regard themselves as Independent. And also, it’s a little bit misleading because it’s often the case that people who identify with the party are weak identifiers and they’re not as particularly loyal as those who identify as strong identifiers. I mean, they’re a good, rough estimate of the balance of partisan support. I would say the best estimate is basically the last presidential election result.
QUESTION: Me again. Prof, you were talking earlier about Stephen Colbert, the impact of comedy and various candidates that are sitting on the sidelines, made me think of Sarah Palin. I wonder, what impact do you think she’ll have on this election? Is she hedging her bets on 2016? And what does that say about the current race? And secondly, does Barack Obama need Hillary Clinton on his ticket?
MR. SHAPIRO: Okay. With regard to Sarah Palin, I mean, Sarah Palin has been a very, I’d say, clever public figure in terms of doing things that benefit Sarah Palin. In terms of her influence, I think in – again, here, I think it has to do with politics in battleground states. I think the Republican Party would just love to have her campaign in certain geographic locations for them, and they could benefit in that way.
With regard to 2016, I mean, it’s a very interesting question. The – for me, the thing to take note of in political figures is their age, because the younger they are, the longer their potential political career can be. And Sarah Palin is relatively young and she doesn’t have to make any decisions right away with regard to running for public office. She can kind of pick and choose along the way. This – obviously, the same could have been said about Hillary Clinton when she was in the White House. We see what happened with her career. Sarah Palin, I think, has – may have similar opportunities as well. I have no idea what her particular plans are.
With regard to Hillary Clinton on the Democratic ticket, I think all the polling data I’ve seen suggests that she could have a beneficial effect, but the problem is, is that you can’t talk about it in the abstract. In talking about it in terms of real world politics, the act of having her substitute for Biden could raise so many questions and create perhaps a little bit – so much acrimony that the net effect of putting her on the ticket would be nothing at all. And you have to keep in mind – is that this is going to be an election about the Obama Administration, Barack Obama. On the other hand, in a close election, if she could make a difference in a few key states – perhaps Florida, perhaps Ohio – that may be something. But I’d say on net, I would say at best, it would have a small effect.
In terms of orchestrating it, it’s a very difficult thing to orchestrate. I think Bill Keller’s op-ed in the Times presented the most credible scenario for that, but I think that scenario – it’s too late for that particular scenario.
QUESTION: Hi. Why usually the campaign gets so ugly when they get to South Carolina? For instance, the – Gingrich advertisement has changed in New Hampshire and in South Carolina, is completely different.
MR. SHAPIRO: Yeah. I think there are three things that contribute to the ugliness. One is it’s a setting where particular candidates are reaching a desperate point. See, that’s going to make them more aggressive. But the thing that makes it more acrimonious is that – is the kinds of things that they’re saying and debating about. And even within – in the Republican Party, there are ideological debates going on between the right-middle and the right that kind of increase the – that have a way of increasing the acrimony. And there was a third thing I was going to say, but I’m – I think I’m going to sound like Rick Perry here and say I can’t remember what it was. (Laughter.)
But I – no, but I think it has to do with the desperation and the ideological nature of things. And also, in this case, I think it has to do with some of the personalities of the candidates. I mean, Newt Gingrich has this particular edge to him that everyone knows about, and we’re seeing it.
QUESTION: And do you expect something completely (inaudible) like what happened in 2008 between George Bush and John McCain, or do you think things are going to --
MR. SHAPIRO: Well, this is – I think the degree of vehemence is such that it’s going to take a lot to mend some of the wounds that will have occurred here, and there’s going to have to be a lot of damage recovery that’s occurring here. Now one thing that could occur is – I don't know how plausible it is at the moment – is that if Romney gets the nomination, the big question is will he pick one of the other candidates as his vice presidential candidate. And if he could do it and smooth things over, that could go a long way toward mending things. On the other hand, the disagreements are such I think it would be – looks increasingly difficult that these candidates can get along with each other.
MODERATOR: We’ll take the question in Washington.
QUESTION: Hi, it’s Fabienne again with French Public Radio. I have a follow-up on the Tea Party. How do you explain that the Tea Party pretty much shaped the race in 2010, was not able to find among themselves a candidate that would suit them? And as they seem to be very disappointed now, do you believe that they can sort of forget about the general election and focus only on the Congress and electing their own people?
MR. SHAPIRO: Well, I think, just to get the last part of your question first, I think they have a clear opportunity just to focus on congressional elections where they can identify candidates that are more palatable to them, where – candidates they support more strongly than the presidential candidates. I think the thing to watch is whoever the nominee is, whether it’s Romney or someone else, they’re going to make a very concerted effort to maintain very strong Tea Party support, not only for the voters who they are, but for their potential to help mobilize other voters.
And I think here, again, the key thing is what’s going to happen in important individual states. They don’t have to worry about the Tea Party necessarily nationwide. It’s basically the Tea Party that could have an effect on states like Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota. And so the thing to watch is what the presidential nominee does and what the party does to keep maintaining this Tea Party support and the Tea Party energy, and whatever they can do with regard to fundraising as well.
QUESTION: Hi again, sir. You mentioned a vice presidential running mate. For Romney – hypothetically, he’s probably going to be winner or not, but sure looks that way – what kind of a vice presidential candidate do you think he should pick?
MR. SHAPIRO: Well, I think Romney needs to pick a – seems to me that he needs to pick a candidate that is more clearly ideologically conservative than he is. That may not be very difficult given the fact that he’s easy to portray as a moderate or people don’t know where he stands, just having someone like a Rick Santorum would be someone who you would look for, someone who would be identifiable with conservative values. And I don’t think he’s in much danger of losing states in the South, but I think he needs a candidate that will appeal to the conservative wing of the party on social issues, and also someone who can also emphasize the economic wants, economic hardships that work in their favor.
QUESTION: I have a question about the debate that took place on Monday night on FOX TV. Do you think the candidates, that they make outrageous statements? Like Newt Gingrich, for example, earlier made this outrageous statement about the Palestinian people are an invented nation, and then Rick Perry on Monday said that Turkey should be kicked out of NATO. I mean, given the importance of Turkey right now, especially in the last couple of months, cooperating with the United States on the high level, do you think that actually those kind of statements hurt the candidates more than they are useful? What is your --
MR. SHAPIRO: I think factually – blatantly factually wrong comments can hurt the candidates because they kind of stand the reality check test. With regard to the Palestinian issue and also – I mean, the one that struck me was Newt Gingrich talking about food stamps in a way that really raised race as an issue and welfare as an issue. I think they could have short-term positive effects within the Republican primary and the primary election. I think those kind of statements could come back to haunt them in the general election.
On the other hand, the people who are most opposed to what Gingrich said about the Palestinian conflict, Israeli-Palestinian conflict and also food stamps are probably people who are not inclined to vote for him anyway. But there might – but there are likely to be some moderate voters out there that might be offended by that.
QUESTION: Mitt Romney – he’s obviously Mormon and a very active Mormon. Do you think this could be a factor at all in this campaign?
MR. SHAPIRO: Yeah. I mean, the best evidence shows that at least a small proportion of the American public and a noticeable segment of conservative fundamentalists or evangelical Republicans are not happy about a Mormon candidate. I think in the end what the Republican Party will try to do is simply emphasize the strong contrast between Romney and Obama and hope that that will outweigh any concerns about his Mormonism.
I would like to think that things that could be pointed to are his other characteristics and the fact that voters in different states have elected Mormon candidates. We’ve had them in office for years, in Congress and in the Senate, it’s just we haven’t had one yet in the White House. Of course, the same was said about a Catholic in 1960.
MODERATOR: We’ll take our question from Washington.
QUESTION: Hello. Thank you. (Inaudible) from NHK Japan Broadcasting Corporation. I have a question about Romney. After two continuous victory in Iowa and New Hampshire, how close is Romney to the nomination? And what kind of scenario can you think of if the other candidates will defeat Romney?
MR. SHAPIRO: I missed the first part of what you said about Romney. Could you just restate that, please?
QUESTION: Yes, yes. After two continuous victory of Romney in Iowa and New Hampshire, how close is he to the nomination at this point?
MR. SHAPIRO: Well, he’s – I think he’s close enough at this point, if he wins – if he were to win decisively in South Carolina and Florida, it would make it – it would really make it very difficult for the Republican Party not to nominate him and there would be increasing pressure on getting candidates to withdraw. I think those victories would send signals to voters that basically say that he’s the clear consensus candidate, and what the party needs to do is rally around him as their standard bearer in the general election.
With regard to the other candidates, I mean, if Gingrich does well in South Carolina and Florida and you have a two candidate race plus Ron Paul, it’s going to be increasingly hard for the party to have a – their candidate decided well before the National Convention. This could – that could – if Gingrich were to win clearly in South Carolina and Florida, I would say at that point there’s a very good possibility that there won’t be any candidate by the time of the National Convention because Paul will stay in there and siphon off votes and no candidate will have a majority of delegates. They would have to jockey and politic before the convention, as occurred a little bit in 2008 for the Democrats, or it could conceivably go to the floor.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Sorry. Janine Harper, Fuji Television. As we get further into the South, I just wanted to know what do you anticipate as far as the role of race. Do you think it’s going to become increasingly more important and will there be, I guess, a lot more ugly campaigning around race?
MR. SHAPIRO: Well, that’s a very good question. Within the Republican Party contest, it’s not particularly important. Although what’s said about race or what’s insinuated about race can have consequences for the general election campaign because the Democrats and Obama will take every opportunity to point out those kinds of positions taken by the Republican candidates. Now – and for purposes of not getting African Americans to vote for them but getting African Americans out to vote. And also the other key electoral group are Latinos and other immigrant groups. And to the extent the Republicans are taking positions on racial issues that really raise questions for other minority populations, that’s something the Democrats are going to try to capitalize on. But in terms of the effects on the primary races themselves, I think not very much.
QUESTION: Hi. I’m Takeshi Yamashina, working for Mainichi Newspapers, Japanese paper. In terms of the Catholic conservatives – Catholic conservative groups, the groups of the Catholics – sorry – Christian conservatives. They announced they support – would support Santorum, candidate Santorum. This announcement or decision would make some effort or working well in future or not? How do you think about it?
MR. SHAPIRO: Well, I think their effort was an attempt to produce a strong opponent to Romney to prevent him from getting the nomination. But the latest reports I’ve seen on that is there’s been some dissent from that, people gravitating away from Santorum and back toward Gingrich. I think regardless of what happens in the primary, that segment of the Republican electorate is going to be an important base for the Republicans to mobilize. And that’s where the question about Romney’s Mormonism come in. That’s what the questions about Romney’s flip-flopping, wishy-washiness on certain social issues come in. That’s going to be a part of the Republican base that the party is going to have to work on.
MODERATOR: This will be our last question.
QUESTION: Eduardo Suarez from El Mundo. I would like know, according to the data that you have, is it going to be – in the general election, is it going to be more important to seduce the
Independents or is it going to be more important to get out the vote of the un-conditionals of every party?
MR. SHAPIRO: Well, it looks as though the strategies of the partyies is first and foremost to mobilize their base, because these Independents and moderates that you’re talking about tend to be people who are less likely to vote. But inevitably, if not nationally, in individual states they’re going to have to target those – maybe the best way to refer to them is undecided voters. And the undecided voters they want to target are not necessarily new voters, but voters who vote occasionally. And they’re going to try to, basically, take positions on issues and do things in their campaign to get those voters out.
But I think it’s pretty clearly the case that – now that that parties have adopted a strategy of focusing first on their base and mainly because the degree of ideological conflict between the parties is so great that base becomes – has been increasingly, has become important. But at the end, in certain locations, it’s those swing voters that are going to make a difference. So they’ve got to do both, and it looks like, given the changes in campaign rules, there’s going to be a lot of money out there to help them.
MODERATOR: Dr. Shapiro, thank you so much for being here today.
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