Nonsense at the top of a ladder

University of Wisconsin Professor Kenneth Mayer comments on the Barron’s story that I noted yesterday morning:

That Barron’s story is, as they say here [in Australia], nonsense at the top of a very tall ladder. Among the problems:

(1) warchest size is not an independent variable – rather, the size of (in particular) a challenger warchest is a proxy for how competitive a race is expected to be;
(2) you’d be an idiot to ignore the vast amounts of polling that give a much better indication of how a race will go;
(3) the incumbent reelection rate isn’t necessarily better, since incumbents don’t always run for reelection (open seats, of which there are usually 30-40, are much harder to call);
(4) incumbents almost always outspend challengers;
(5) the data they are using is from the September 30 FEC filings, so it can’t take into account the last 5 weeks of the campaign.

This story is a variant of the odd phenomenon, that the more incumbents spend, the worse they do, since incumbents tend to spend a lot when they are in trouble.
Like a John Edwards prediction, they’ll get credit for being contrarian geniuses in the (hugely unlikely) even that they’re right. If they’re wrong, everyone will forget about it.
Kenneth R. Mayer
Professor, Department of Political Science
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Madison, WI 53706
Until January 2007:
Fulbright ANU Distinguished Chair in Political Science
School of Social Sciences
Australian National University
Canberra ACT 0200


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