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Sarah Palin in Charts

I'm surprised to see that there's still some effort to rationalize Sarah Palin's resignation as some sort of pre-2012 masterstroke. As Bill Kristol wrote on the Weekly Standard's web site, "if Palin wants to run in 2012, why not do exactly what she announced today? It's an enormous gamble - but it could be a shrewd one."

I don't really understand why people take Palin serious as a presidential candidate. She was, after all, an unmitigated, even unique, catastrophe as a vice-presidential candidate. This is not normal, incidentally. For all the energy expended on vice-presidential picks, the overwhelming bulk of the data we have suggests that they just don't matter. They're interesting, but fundamentally unimportant.

But my friend Emily Thorson -- whose day job is as a political science graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania -- conducted some research suggesting that Sarah Palin was the exception to this usually ironclad rule. As with most good things in life, there are charts. Three of them, to be exact.


The first graph is simple enough: It's the poll standing of the two candidates. The dark vertical lines show moments when Sen. John McCain's numbers dropped precipitously.

Graph number two shows assessments of the economy. The voters were pessimistic and became more so as the campaign wore on. But the line doesn't correspond to McCain's falls.

The third graph shows the average favorability toward the presidential and vice-presidential candidates. Obama and Biden, you'll notice, seem virtually independent of each other. But McCain's drops are almost entirely predicted by Palin's much longer falls. It seems that every time Palin lost respect among voters, a certain portion of those voters turned against McCain, too.

Thorson, along with her co-author Richard Johnston, profess themselves baffled. There's no precedent for this. They conclude:

Judgment on her was incontestably important. The correspondence between dynamics in her ratings and dynamics in McCain vote intentions is astonishingly exact. Her marginal impact in vote-intention estimation models dwarfs that for any Vice-Presidential we are aware of, certainly for her predecessors in 2000 and 2004. And the range traversed by her favorability ratings is truly impressive. But why? We are unaware of any theory that opens the door to serious impact from the bottom half of the ticket.

I'd sort of like to see a graph of John McCain's approval ratings last week and next week. It wouldn't be at all shocking if Palin's decision to walk out in the middle of her gubernatorial term reminded voters of their anger at McCain for impulsively placing her so near to the presidency.

But either way, whatever Kristol thinks is going on here, there's really not a lot of evidence backing up the idea that she was a viable presidential prospect before this decision, much less after it.

By Ezra Klein  |  July 3, 2009; 8:31 PM ET
Categories:  Charts and Graphs  
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Give it a rest, dude. You won.

Posted by: TomLindmark | July 3, 2009 9:21 PM | Report abuse

Here is how the numbers appear to me.

Biden is incredibly correlated with Obama, minus a 2 week stretch from around Oct. 2 to Oct. 15th IE, the week before and after that second vertical line on Oct. 9. (hard to read dates on this graph, so these are best guesses).

Oct. 8th was the VP debate. It appears to me that Biden's numbers just shadowed Obama's until a week before the debate.

Both VP's see their numbers climb in the lead up to the debate (no doubt they both were getting a lot of press and had their PR people in full swing). For the week after the debate, Palin absolutely plummets and Biden sort of plateaus.

But after a week the VP debate effect seems to wear off and both VP's #'s just shadow the presidential candidates again.

Posted by: nylund | July 3, 2009 9:35 PM | Report abuse

That huge drop in the economy chart is the AIG/Lehman collapse. McCain's numbers seem to just slip prior to that, but I'm sure we all recall the fallout he got for giving his "The economy is strong" statement just before the collapse. The weak of that financial sh!tstorm was really bad for McCain, who came off very out of touch.

The second vertical line is the VP debates as noted in the previous comments.

Posted by: nylund | July 3, 2009 9:44 PM | Report abuse

Here is a study I would like to see done (hell I could probably do it myself if I had the time) how many editorial pages endorsed President Obama and included an ancedote about the selectio of Sarah Palin by John McCain as a mitigating factor in their decision. Back during the campaign season I was struck by how seemingly every outlet that endorsed President Obama made sure to mention Sarah Palin as being part of the reason. Now thats not to say that every or even most people use those endorsements to make up their minds about who to vote for, but you have to think that they at least made some kind of impression.

Posted by: sgwhiteinfla | July 3, 2009 10:34 PM | Report abuse

total unknown + difficulty with the language + polarizing conservative + political incompetence + hidden pregnancy + underage daughter knocked up out of wedlock + 2 high-speed interview car wrecks. How could this NOT add up to a referendum on John McCain? By contrast, Admiral James Stockdale (RIP) looks like a genius.

Posted by: andrewlong | July 3, 2009 11:18 PM | Report abuse

sarah palin scared the wits out of me.
the more i saw of her, the harder i worked for barack obama.
and i still dont know how anyone could call mccain a patriot, when he jeopardized the country/the world, putting her on the ticket.

good-bye, sarah palin. enjoy summertime in wasilla,
and maybe you would like to take mark sanford with you.

Posted by: jkaren | July 3, 2009 11:53 PM | Report abuse

With all the coverage of Palin's gaffes and lifestyle as well as the scorn she inspires in so many, I think it is very important to continue to remind people that were it not for the economic collapse, she might very well have helped McCain win and be the VP. The election campaign was in danger of being taken over by lifestyle, a weird sexual politics, and issues of cultural identity rather than policy..

It took the worst economic collapse since the 1930's to bring Americans out of the ongoing obsession with identity, personality and sexuality to focus on the qualifications for the job. This is grim commentary on American political culture and our media.

Posted by: michaelterra | July 4, 2009 1:09 AM | Report abuse

Kristol has some loopy ideas under the best of circumstances, but his views on Palin are strange even for him. I can't help thinking that he is irrationally smitten and has fantasies of hiking the Appalachian Trail with her.

Posted by: jl2109 | July 4, 2009 1:58 PM | Report abuse

"I can't help thinking that he is irrationally smitten "

Well, Kristol thinks he "discovered" Palin on the Weekly Standard cruise up in Alaska. The sunk costs fallacy is mitigated by the fact that Kristol seems to suffer no personal losses for being abjectly wrong, so he can continue to bet on the three legged moose to win the Kentucky Derby.

Posted by: pseudonymousinnc | July 4, 2009 3:28 PM | Report abuse

A litle something to help you go to sleep:
In 2012:
The unemployment rate holds steady at 12%;
Iran has just tested a nuclear weapon;
Three major banks have collapsed in the last six months;
40% of all houses are underwater from mortgages;
GDP has been in and out of negative territory for the last two years;
California and four other states have defaulted on their bonds;
And the Republican ticket is...Palin/Hucabee.
Finita la musica.

Posted by: glewiss | July 5, 2009 1:22 PM | Report abuse


Yes, if everything is that bad in 2012, any Republican ticket will have a shot.

But the likelihood of the economy still being in terrible shape over three years from now? A housing market that still hasn't bottomed out by then (many people think it's close to a bottom now, much less three years from now)?

I think that's a long shot. And if it comes to pass, Republican competitiveness will have little to do with who is on the ticket.

Posted by: dasimon | July 5, 2009 8:32 PM | Report abuse


(we democrats think she's great and would like to see her run for president)

Posted by: jefft1225 | July 6, 2009 8:29 AM | Report abuse

Obama has bet the farm on the economy. If it goes South, so does he.

Posted by: ElViajero1 | July 6, 2009 1:36 PM | Report abuse

ElViajero1 -

I struggle to see how he had a choice. There is no way anyone could have known how bad this was when decisions were made to run for president.

Ezra -

"I don't really understand why people take Palin serious as a presidential candidate."

That is pathetic grammar. You've made my first visit to a pretty bad one.

Posted by: PhilRMonic | July 6, 2009 7:32 PM | Report abuse

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