The post is co-written with Anthony Daniels (Wayne State University).
I am working on a paper with a peer (Anthony Daniels) which suggests that Mitt Romney should combat this negative attention so that his previous remarks are specifically irreverent with like party members and independents.
Our model suggests Romney should do something, the problem is Romney may have a loosing hand. This may be the type of story that goes beyond simple agency. Even so, from a game theory perspective, he has to do something to mitigate damage among moderates and to stop the negative media coverage from snowballing. The only way for him to do this would be a Sister Souljah moment of standing up to the right, or perhaps an honest apology. Can Romney lead if GOP voters are not interested in following him back toward the middle?
Our data suggests that Obama brought the race discussion back toward the middle (after losing polling points after the Wright controversy threatened his image as a uniter). Obama managed to bring back his polling numbers without losing his base, while also satisfying independents and moderates. He had some tough words for both sides, and he chided Wright. On the other hand, Romney seems to be able to only double-down, you know “no apologies!”
Can Romney initiate an Obama type race speech, but now on taxes and entitlements? Maybe some type of debate surprise is in order (almost always more risk than reward.) Does he give a speech on entitlements where he tries to heal the class divisions of Americans? Gives more specifics? If he could only come out and say that the Grover no-tax pledge and entitlements must both give!
Considering the 2010 election: How do you neutralize this among moderates, independents, and weak Republicans without offending the Tea Party voters?
Our data shows that Obama’s race speech was indeed successful in turning the negative media frame into a positive media frame, and that only Republicans thought the Wright controversy was important when going into the election. On the other hand, we find that John Kerry’s relative inaction regarding the Swift Boat campaign hurt his electoral chances of winning because some independents and same party voters did think that the Swift Boat campaign was important in their vote choice. Clearly, the examples we use in our paper are external factors that a candidate may choose to combat via agency, while Romney must combat his own comments–but our answer is the same. Mitt Romney better do something to make this irrelevant for Republicans and Independents, otherwise this controversy will impact the vote choice.
Here is our abstract for the Midwest Political Science Association conference:
This study examines the media coverage surrounding the Jeremiah Wright controversy during the 2008 primary race between Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama. We adopt a game theory framework to assess the role of political actors in responding to and shaping negative media frames. Previous research on media effects finds two competing descriptions: minimal and selective effects. We find support for both, media effects are subtle but can impact campaigns. We adopt the subtle effects assumption that media coverage can have a meaningful influence on political campaigns primarily though shaping the narrative of public discourse. Consistent with theory, we find the impact to be limited, subtle, and the likely product of cumulative exposure. Daily events, the public’s response, and the actions of political actors all combine to shape a media narrative. Employing a multi-methodological approach, we find that political actors can shape the media narrative and that frames impact the public. However, these effects are mitigated by partisanship and other heuristics. Our analysis suggests that political actors should combat negative media frames in order to make the controversy unimportant in the eyes of same party members and independents; otherwise, the candidate’s electoral chances of winning will diminish.
We caution that context and fundamentals matter. Gaffes may not have any significant effect on actual vote choice. But if Romney allows this gaffe to become a negative media frame (Romney is out of touch with reality and lower-income people) in the mindset of same-party members and Independents (i.e., those he seeks in the video), then our model predicts that Romney’s chances of winning election will diminish.
The smart play would be to admit that he was wrong about the millions of non income tax paying citizens who will vote for him, and, initiating a real conversation about the Grover no-tax pledge and entitlements for the median voter to accept or reject.
In evidence, see this graph of public opinion in light of Obama’s race speech:
Our rational choice framework, in light of Romney’s opportunities:
Pos. is positive. Neg. is negative.