It’s been awhile since The Economist magazine and I shared a mind meld. The current edition of that venerable journal has an article similar to my recent column on the importance of a candidate’s personality and issue positions. “Why a left-wing nominee would hurt Democrats” marshals additional evidence that candidates viewed as personable and moderate enjoy campaign advantages.
The magazine analyzed data from the Cooperate Congressional Election Study and found that 2016 presidential voters saw Hillary Clinton as more extreme than Donald Trump. Clinton’s support for unrestricted access to abortion at any point in pregnancy, her belief that the Supreme Court should revisit the Heller decision guaranteeing an individual right to keep and bear arms, and her proposed $1.4 trillion in tax increases may have contributed to this perception.
The Economist also cites a fascinating 2018 paper by Stanford political scientists Andrew B. Hall and Daniel M. Thompson: “Who Punishes Extremist Nominees? Candidate Ideology and Turning Out the Base in U.S. Elections.” Their regression analyses of House elections between 2006 and 2014 show that turnout for a party suffers when its nominee is extreme. “While a party’s base voters may prefer a more extreme nominee,” they write, “the opposing party’s base voters dislike this extreme nominee more than the party’s base likes him or her.” Think of Republican Corey Stewart’s poor performance in his 2018 Senate challenge to Tim Kaine.
The idea that all a candidate has to do is mobilize his or her base is popular among partisan ideologues. What they miss is that the other base gets to vote too. And that base tends to be larger if it identifies its opponent as extreme. Elizabeth Warren, beware.