January 31, 2012 Why a divisive primary campaign wont hurt the winner
One argument I have started to see in the press is that the tough Romney/Gingrich fight will divide the party and make it impossible for the Republicans to win in November. I disagree, because I think that voters generally are fickle and have pretty short memories. Moreover, this year the polls have been quite volatile, indicating that Republicans aren’t that wedded to their choice.
Can I back these propositions up? Sort of. If primary fights reduced a nominee’s chances of winning, we would find that candidates in long primary battles tended to lose general elections, while candidates who wrapped up the nomination early tended to win.
The longest primary battle in recent elections was the Clinton vs. Obama fight, which lasted till May or June while John McCain wrapped up the GOP nomination on Super Tuesday. Of course, Obama won anyhow.
In 2000, George W. Bush wrapped up the nomination on Super Tuesday- but Al Gore did so even earlier, since Bill Bradley’s campaign disintegrated after Iowa and New Hampshire. Of course, Bush won (sort of).
Now, I don’t think I can prove that an easy victory in the primary season is worth zero votes to a candidate; for example, I cannot disprove the proposition that be true that if Obama had wrapped up the nomination on Super Tuesday he would have gotten one or two million more votes (I doubt it, but I can’t disprove it!) . At most, I can show that the candidates with the longer primary battles won as often as not.