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Reads & Reactions

In this edition: Iowa, New Hampshire, steak dinners and more.


Let’s journey back in time, all the way back to Iowa, when Newt Gingrich was waging an all-positive campaign and Rick Perry was actually campaigning.

On the day of the Iowa caucuses, The Daily Beast’s Andrew Romano wrote a post comparing the campaigns of Mitt Romney and Mr. Perry. It’s still worth a read. Mr. Romano, in an echo of this FiveThirtyEight post, highlighted a principle difference between the two campaigns: “Mitt is focused like a laser on the economy down the homestretch, while the Texas governor is all over the map.”

Also on the day of the Iowa caucuses, FiveThirtyEight projected Mr. Romney as the favorite in Iowa. Just before caucusing began, however, Nate wrote “Why I’d Bet on Santorum (and Against My Model).”

Well, Justin Wolfers, an Associate Professor of Business and Public Policy at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, happily took Nate up on the offer:

The New Yorker’s John Cassidy also took Rick Santorum in a bet with Mr. Wolfers. Of course, Mr. Wolfers, backing Mr. Romney, won both bets.

Actually, Mr. Wolfers’s triumph was much less muddled than Mr. Romney’s. Although declared the victor by eight votes in the early hours of Jan. 4, accounts of a vote-counting discrepancy surfaced soon afterward. The Republican Party of Iowa decided not to change the results, but in the end FiveThirtyEight’s conflicted position oddly mirrored the real-world confusion.

Our colleague David Carr, at The Times’ Media Decoder blog, observed that Mr. Romney’s win, however slim, “earned him a nice temporary title going into the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday night: Winner.” Indeed, Mr. Carr’s point — no matter how ambiguous the result, the titles bestowed by the press afterward are usually unambiguous — was highlighted after Mr. Romney’s romp in New Hampshire, where he was given a longer but more unique title: the first non-incumbent Republican to win both Iowa and New Hampshire.

Another unambiguous outcome of Iowa was the damage done to Mr. Perry’s viability by his 5th place finish, and it was unsurprising when Mr. Perry chose to return to Texas to reassess his candidacy. But when Mr. Perry chose to stay in the race, a simple question rolled off many politically attuned tongues: why?

FiveThirtyEight tried to answer that question, settling on an explanation one part personal (wanting to finish the campaign on an up-note) and three parts strategic (advisers, activists and party elders may have urged him to stay the course, a course they believed could end in the nomination). The Washington Examiner’s Michael Barone said neither part of FiveThirtyEight’s explanation “seems persuasive to me.” Mr. Barone, instead, suggests that Mr. Perry stayed in the race because of Tim Pawlenty.

Mr. Pawlenty, you will remember, left the Republican nomination fight in August, before surge after surge (after surge after surge) swept through the field. Many commentators have wondered since if Mr. Pawlenty might not have surged himself had he stayed in the race. And — this line of thought goes — because he had more establishment support and more traditional credentials, the Pawlenty surge might have been more durable.

So Mr. Barone suggested the specter of Mr. Pawlenty’s “missed opportunity” led Mr. Perry to conclude, “Let’s stay in. Our chances of winning may be as low as 2 percent. But if we get out, they are, like Tim Pawlenty’s, zero. What have we got to lose?”


A quick note: if you have suggestions for future Reads, please send them along via Twitter to @micahcohen, or let us know in a comment to any FiveThirtyEight post.

David Rothschild, at The Signal blog, analyzed how prediction markets performed during the Iowa caucuses. Alan Boyle, at MSNBC’s Cosmic Log blog, also checked in on how prediction markets have been faring.

Gallup’s Jeffrey M. Jones (here) and The Huffington Post’s Mark Blumenthal (here) both saw significance in Mitt Romney’s recent rise in national polls.

Ezra Klein, writing at Bloomberg, peeled away the obfuscations and contradictions that make up many of the employment claims made by campaigns.

Slate’s Sasha Issenberg profiled the Obama campaign’s resident data-driven forecaster.

Nathaniel Rakich, at the Baseballot blog, made a statistical argument for the Miami Marlins’ new ballpark boosting next season’s attendance (then played devil’s advocate to himself).

This study seems particularly relevant given the recent intraparty attacks on Mitt Romney. “Narrow Victories and Hard Games: Revisiting the Primary Divisiveness Hypothesis,” published in American Politics Research, tested how much negativity during the Hillary Clinton – President Obama primary hurt Mr. Obama in the general election.

The Hill’s Keith Laing finds a possible deficit remedy: the Transportation Security Administration collected $409,085.56 in spare change left by passengers at airport security checkpoints.

Micah Cohen is FiveThirtyEight’s former managing editor.