On Saturday, Mitt Romney answered the most-asked question in American politics. Who will be the presumptive nominee’s running mate? The barely-unexpected answer: Paul Ryan. Seven-term member of Congress from Wisconsin’s 1st District, Chairman of the House Budget Committee, forty-two year old boy wonder of the Republican Party. So, with this being my first(!) post, I’ve decided to analyze some key points about Mr. Ryan and his political benefits/liabilities.
As soon as Mr. Romney said the name, every Democratic advisor, strategist, and proxy dashed to the social media realm and began the expected attack. The target? Paul Ryan’s budget plan, especially those parts that involve Social Security and Medicare. I’m not interested in discussing the nitty-gritty of the policies themselves, but I will discuss the politics: the Democrats’ Social Security/Medicare attacks will be largely unsuccessful. Here’s why. According to the Pew Research Center:
“[Silent generation voters] prefer the Republican Party on most issues, with Social Security a notable exception. Silents are about evenly divided over whether the Democrats or the Republicans can better handle Social Security. If debate over Social Security and Medicare comes to the forefront, it raises potentially cross pressures for Silent generation voters, who rank Social Security among the top issues affecting their 2012 vote.” (To see the complete article, visit: http://www.people-press.org/2011/11/03/the-generation-gap-and-the-2012-election-3/)
In spite of Mr. Ryan’s controversial changes to Medicare and Social Security, it is still difficult to imagine seniors migrating in vast numbers to President Obama’s camp, especially when one considers his Affordable Care Act(loathed among older voters) and what is perceived by many as excessive, wasteful spending. Therefore, the worst possible outcome for the Romney-Ryan ticket among seniors is that turnout will be low. This, however, is unlikely.
Another factor in Paul Ryan’s favor is that he is well-liked among the Republican base, yet still largely unknown among independent voters, the kingmakers in 2012. Even though Congress has a pathetic 11% approval rating in many studies, some polls among independents show that around 40% of unaffiliated voters have no opinion of Paul Ryan! When one remembers the Democrats’ constant demonization of Ryan’s budget plan, to have a 40% “no opinion” rating is a rare feat. This clearly indicates that attacks on Ryan and his policies have not resonated effectively with independent voters. Ryan seems to be the right formula of one who appeals to the GOP base, but is still competitive with independents. Conservatives like him because he is their official spokesman for fiscal responsibility issues. Unaffiliated voters don’t vomit at the mere mention of him. And, frankly, moderate Republicans are just relieved that he isn’t Sarah Palin.
However, Paul Ryan, as the presumptive VP nominee, does not have the innate power to tip the electoral scales in Romney’s favor. Remember: this is Realpolitik! Commentators on the conservative side of the spectrum will be tempted to gush over Ryan’s chances to take Wisconsin from President Obama and hand it to Mr. Romney. Indeed, wishful thinking. According to research by Nate Silver of the New York Times, the Vice Presidential candidate has averaged a net gain of a meager two percentage points in his home state for the ticket. (To read more about Vice Presidential candidates and their home states: http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/04/23/the-overrated-vice-presidential-home-state-effect/.) Two percent! According to the lated CBS/NYT/Quinnipiac Poll, President Obama sports 51% in Wisconsin, compared to Gov. Romney’s 45%. If we do our math, we will find that Ryan’s chances of delivering Wisconsin are unlikely.
The media spin is that the selection of Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s VP nominee was unusually bold of the Presidential candidate. Actually, it’s classic, calculated Romney. The auto bailout snafu(Ryan voted to bail out the auto industry, while Romney opposed the plan in this op-ed: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/19/opinion/romney.html) is a small price to pay, especially with Ryan’s bright prospects among independents. If Mr. Romney is willing the necessary ad money to ensure that he, and not Barack Obama, provides the working definition of Paul Ryan, then his decision will look smarter and smarter. Smart enough to pay off well in November?