Silly Political Analysis of the Day

Matthew Dowd asks: What happens in an election when two candidates who are each unelectable run against each other in the fall?

Matthew Dowd asks:  Romney and Obama: What If Two Unelectable Candidates Square Off in 2012?

What happens in an election when two candidates who are each unelectable run against each other in the fall?  We are about to test that proposition.

He bases this proposition on the following numbers:

Romney is now down to his lowest favorability rating ever among the key voting group of independents. In the latest ABC News polling, 51 percent of independents rate Romney unfavorably and only 23 percent favorably – a whopping net negative rating of 28 percentage points.  A candidate in this territory can’t win in a normal general election.


President Obama also faces bleak prospects. His approval rating (which history shows is a pretty good indicator of the vote he would draw on Election Day) is 42% among independent voters. That is a number that wouldn’t win a president re-election in any regular time. Add to that low consumer confidence numbers, high unemployment, and the large percentage of people who say the country’s headed in the wrong direction, and you wouldn’t put much money on the incumbent.

Ok, I understand the numbers in question and and why they are problematic for their respective candidates.  However, there is a difference between “problematic” and “unelectable.”  First, no major party nominee is truly “unelectable” and certainly, by definition, an incumbent president has already been elected once, making the “unelectable” claim nonsensical by definition.   Really, the issue is competiveness, which is always a mix of what strengths and weaknesses a given candidate brings to the race and the quality of the opponent,

Now, I understand the basic notion that Dowd is getting at here:  both candidates would enter the election with important weaknesses (not exactly a forceful insight).  However, surely all this means is that we should expect a competitive campaign if Romney is nominated, yes?  Or, as a general proposition does this not simply point out that when two candidates appear to be relatively evenly matched (whether it be weak v. weak or strong v. strong) that this should contribute to the likelihood of a close race.  On balance, fairly uninteresting stuff.

Dowd concludes with:

In a race between two theoretically unelectable candidates, anything is possible. Could a third party candidate emerge? Yes. Could Romney unify the Republicans? Very possible. Could Obama get a lift from an improving economy? Sure.

We won’t know any of those answers for quite a while, but it is sure going to be fun to watch this contest unfold.

Well, as far as conclusions go, this is basically “we have to see how things unfold.”

Really, Dowd’s whole premise is flawed:  if two candidates who might be deemed “unelectable” if they faced a strong opponent both become rather clearly electable when they face one another.  Beyond that, I find the notion that any major party candidate (let alone, as noted above, an incumbent president) is “unelectable” to be silly on its face.  Examples of truly “unelectable” candidates would include:  Ralph Nader, David Duke, Mike Gravel, Pat Paulsen, and Gary Johnson (and for varying reasons).

I will say that I think that the GOP’s best chance is to nominate Romney because Gingrich would be an even weaker candidate.  I also think that Obama does have the edge in a weak v. weak contest because he is the sitting president. Both, however, are electable candidates.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, US Politics, , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Brummagem Joe says:

    Steven it was totally fatuous, but sometimes scribblers are desperate for inspiration.

  2. Kylopod says:

    Bush’s approval rating among independents was approximately the same at this point in 2004 as with Obama now. Of course, Bush did go on to lose the independent vote, but don’t let the pundits hear that: it runs contrary to their belief that indies always determine the election winner.

  3. @Brummagem Joe: Indeed. It reads like something written on deadline yet in the absence of anything to say.

  4. David says:

    What happens? One gets elected.

  5. A Better question what happens when Sen. Amy Klobuchar the United States most Pro-Abortion U.S. Senator who has a 70% electability in the Minnesota General Election with over $6 million dollars to spend in the General Election is running against a Completely Pro-Life unelectable Jack “Doc” Shepard in the Minnesota August 17, DFL U.S. Senate Primary. Minnesota Primary Elections have a history of on average only 15% of Minnesota Voter Turnout in Minnesota Primary Elections who vote 100% in Minnesota General Elections. That’s over 900,000 Pro-Life Minnesotan in 2010 Minnesota primary did not vote, and in 2006 Amy Klobuchar won her DFL Primary with only 240,000 votes. Will the 1/3 of the over 900,000 Pro-Life Conservative Minnesota Republicans Voters turnout and crossover to vote for Jack “Doc” Shepard <an unelectable candidate with only $10,000 of self funding to eliminate Sen. Klobuchar before she can get to the General Election so their Republican endorsed U.S. Senate candidate can easily get elected. Because with Sen. Klobuchar's name not on the General Election Ballot because more then 250,000 Pro-Life Conservative Minnesotans voted in a Minnesota Primary for the first time only to use their vote for Jack "Doc" Shepard to remove Sen. Klobuchar from the Minnesota Senate Race so their Pro-Life candidate can easily get elected against all odds to become the next junior U.S. Senator from Minnesota. The election of a Republican U.S. Senator from Minnesota and the removal of a Democratic Senator also would 100% give control of the 2013 U.S. Senate to the GOP pro-Life Conservative Americans. Is this possible that this unelectable Jack "Doc" Shepard can beat electable Sen. Klobuchar by the Minnesota pro-Life Voters who support "Doc" Shepard efforts to remove Sen. Klobuchar- would be the upset of the election year. Yes or No? Is it possible 100% yes! Will it happen only God knows. Is Abortion the greatest sin in God's eyes YES! Could this Pro-Life Miracle happen? YES

  6. Steve Verdon says:


    Precisely my thought…one of these unelectable candidates will get elected…so much for unelectable.


    Maybe he’s next column should consist of “Herp de drep de derp.” It would be an improvement.

  7. merl says:

    Well as long as it is fun for our worthless press corps, I guess it’s worth it.