Sunday, September 05, 2010

Nate Silver Shows Why Lisa Murkowski Lost On His FiveThirtyEight New York Times Blog; Too Liberal In A Conservative State

Found the following graphic posted on the Salt Lake Tribune's Out Of Context blog. It originates from FiveThirtyEight, a blog by Nate Silver recently absorbed by the New York Times. The purpose is to show which Republican senators match the partisan makeup of the states they represent. Utah Senator Bob Bennett and Alaska's Very Own Lisa Murkowski are in blue because they lost their reelection bids. Note that both senators are both below the line, slipping into a more "liberal" territory than is expected someone supported by the more conservative electorate in both states, although Silver acknowledges that Alaska is somewhat idiosyncratically so. Viewed in another way, this graphic shows that Bennett and Murkowski are in the same partisan ballpark as most Republicans in the Senate, though they come from states more conservative than most.

The graphic above plots the ideological positions of Republican senators. Along the horizontal axis is the partisan orientation of the state, ranging from more liberal (left) to more conservative (right), according to the Cook Partisan Voting Index. On the vertical axis is a statistical representation of the senators’ voting records, according to their DW-NOMINATE scores. These scores run from -1 (very liberal) to +1 (very conservative); the more conservative senators are plotted toward the top of the chart. Finally, the dashed line represents how conservative we would expect a Republican senator to be, based on the partisan composition of her state. The further below the dashed line that the senator appears, the more liberal he or she is, relative to the state. Those far below the line, from a Republican point of view, are arguably not pulling their weight, and are frequently labelled as "RINOs".

And this was the primary contention of Joe Miller and his supporters during the primary election campaign; namely, that Murkowski was a RINO. Bennett's defeat in Utah was almost anticlimatic; solid conservative opposition to him arose nine months in advance and polls showed him clearly in trouble long before the Utah State Republican Convention in May 2010 where he got knocked out in the second round of delegate voting. In contrast, Murkowski was almost blindsided; she had no serious opposition until Joe Miller jumped in late in April 2010; by the time she reacted and adjusted some of her political positions, Miller had built up too much of a head of steam, and propelled past her on August 24th.

The lesson learned: In this era of strong conservative backlash fueled by Tea Party activism, any Republican Senator who is considered too liberal in a conservative state could be in jeopardy. Orrin Hatch is starting to sweat bullets in Utah. If we were to plot Joe Miller on the above chart, he would likely fall significantly on the other side of the line, closer to Jim DeMint or Tom Coburn.

But because we are an "idiosyncratic" state here in Alaska, that could potentially backfire on Miller. Nate Silver is one of the few who takes Scott McAdams' challenge seriously; he notes that McAdams is already within single digits of Miller. Miller can and probably will defeat McAdams, but he must take him seriously.

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