Monday, January 9, 2012

The Psychology of the 2012 Republican Nomination Coverage

Last night Nate Silver tweeted:
Starting to think that "25% is a ceiling for Romney" is the most overrated/incorrect meme of the cycle.
To which FHQ responded:
The 25% ceiling combined with the "proportional" rules changes has built a powerful myth in this race.
I'm sure that the 140 characters or less captured my thoughts parsimoniously enough, but let FHQ expand upon that statement because it has an overarching bearing on the psychology of the coverage of this race. Look, FHQ has railed against the myth of Republican proportionality since February of last year. That many have ignored the rules changes and more importantly their potential impact relative to the rules in past cycles has propped up this illusion that the Republican presidential nomination process just has to extend longer than in the past. It might but that notion is no more inevitable than a Mitt Romney nomination at this point. Well, in actuality, it is less likely as the two are mutually exclusive.

But there it is in the backs of the minds of a great many folks. That perception that the race is likely to continue -- and it stretches into the campaigns themselves. In combination with the all-too falsely concocted idea that Romney has a ceiling in this race, the proportionality/protracted campaign myth creates the perception that not only will the race go on, but that there is a significant faction of Republican primary voters opposed to Romney. Now, that perceived divisiveness on top of a lengthy nomination fight is the stuff that sells papers and magazines and gets people to click on any given link, but it doesn't really capture the true nature of the race currently. It just doesn't.

I don't know that it is the ceiling so much as the talking point surrounding the converse -- that 75% of the electorate is in opposition to Romney -- is the crux of the problem. Truth be told, up to 75% of the Republican primary may be in opposition, but the number is likely much lower. Many voters are still shopping around and as the field continues to winnow and when and if Romney continues to win contests, most are going to move over to the former Massachusetts governor. They just are. Most Republicans will line up behind the presumptive, near-inevitable, last one standing -- whatever you want to call it -- nominee.

To be sure, there are simultaneously stories out there discussing Romney's inevitability alongside those mentioning a protracted fight and that sets up the two sides of a media coverage spectrum. The needle is moving more and more toward inevitability now despite the myths that have propped up Romney's limited reach among Republicans and a rules-induced lengthy battle for the nomination.

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