Polls or Pols? the Real Driving Force Behind Presidential Nominations

By Cohen, Marty; Karol, David et al. | Brookings Review, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

Polls or Pols? the Real Driving Force Behind Presidential Nominations


Cohen, Marty, Karol, David, Noel, Hans, Zaller, John, Brookings Review


Since the publication in 1971 of David Broder's influential book The Party's Over, pundits and scholars have written of the decline of political parties. Although observers now recognize a party "revival" of sorts in Congress, within the electorate, and in the recruitment and funding of congressional candidates, most regard presidential nominations as driven by momentum, money, and the luck of the state-by-state sequence of contests. Few analysts see signs of party influence. We hope to put another nail in the coffin of the party-decline thesis by arguing that party elites have regained a large measure of control in presidential nominations.

Polls vs. Pols

In his recent essay "Forecasting Presidential Nominations," William Mayer shows that polls taken before the start of presidential primary voting predict candidate primary vote shares extremely well from 1980 to 2000. We have collected data that show the same thing. Across all contested nominations since 1980, the final Gallup poll before the Iowa caucus explains around 90 percent of what happens in the state-by-state voting. (In technical terms, the correlation between pre-Iowa polls and delegates won in the primaries is r=.93.)

Taken at face value, this correlation seems to show that a candidate's pre primary public support reliably determines the outcomes of presidential primaries. But our observation of nominations has led us to believe that party insiders also play a big role. To test this possibility, we developed a measure of insider support for presidential candidates by tallying all publicly reported endorsements in a broad range of publications, including local and national newspapers, political magazines and newsletters, news wires, and Internet sources. The measure covers all candidates in contested nominations from 1980 to 2000 and is based on endorsements made before the Iowa caucus.

Some of the endorsements, which averaged roughly 300 to 400 per contest, were more important than others. In 2000, for example, Michael Jordan endorsed Bill Bradley and Bill Clinton endorsed Al Gore. To capture such differences, we sorted endorsers into categories--celebrity, state legislator, incumbent president--and asked knowledgeable coders to rate the significance of people in each category. We then weighted our endorsement measures according to these judgments so that each candidate's score could be interpreted as his or her percentage share of politically important endorsements. The correlation between the share of delegates won in the primaries and the weighted endorsements is .89, which is nearly as high as that between poll share and delegate share. Moreover, a multiple regression analysis shows that polls and endorsements are almost equally important predictors of primary outcomes: each 1 percent of pre-Iowa poll share adds 0.68 percent of delegate share; each 1 percent of pre-Iowa endorsements adds 0.60 percent of delegate share.

These results, however, are ambiguous. The party insiders who make endorsements do so against a backdrop of nearly continuous polls about voter preferences. What if these endorsers simply follow these polls? They would have several incentives to do so. They might want to choose a poll frontrunner to settle on a winner as quickly as possible to avoid intra-party bloodshed. They might simply want to pick a popular candidate. Some endorsers, wishing to ingratiate themselves with the likely winner, might jump on the poll leader's bandwagon. In any of these scenarios, public support, as measured in polls, would be the real cause of primary success, and endorsements would be secondary.

But an entirely different scenario is equally tenable. Political insiders know that pre-Iowa polls may reflect little more than name recognition--and perhaps confused recognition at that. In the current cycle, supporters of John Edwards joke nervously that their candidate's poll standing may be partly due to confusion with the popular psychic from the television show "Crossing Over.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Polls or Pols? the Real Driving Force Behind Presidential Nominations
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.