Conservapedia:2012 Presidential Election

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In-depth analysis

Conservapedia's article on the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election was created early - June 15th, 2009, to be precise - but remained a stub until notable pundit Andy Schlafly took control and turned it into his own outlook on the race, dealing mostly with his predictions regarding the eventual Republican nominee. Over time, he would proceed to compose a massive list of more than thirty real, probable and completely imaginary candidates for the Republican nomination, ranked by his assessment of their winning chances. In its first version, this ranking was a simple list without any apparent ordering that mentioned each candidate's pros and cons, as well as a (non-quantitative) comparison of the frequency of their appearances on Fox News.[1]

About two weeks later, Andy started to refer to his list as an actual "ranking", mentioned an ordering system apparently based on the candidates' announcements about their intentions to run,[2] and began to move them up and down.[3] To this date, he has never stated on which criteria he bases his ranking, but given Andy's past endeavours, it's probably safe to say that they are completely arbitrary. While a few other editors have since dabbled with the list, the ranking still mostly reflects Andy's opinions. The following is an analysis of this ranking that tries to make sense of the shifts within it and compares it to other estimates of the candidates' chances.

Conservapedia's ranking in context[edit]

The table below contains Conservapedia's top 15 Republican candidates for President, as of May 18th, 2011. Next to the candidates' names are the current odds (in percentage points) of their actually winning the nomination, as seen on the prediction market Intrade, also as of 18:00 CET, May 18th, 2011. While Conservapedia's full list contains a total of 35 candidates, it is not reproduced here in full because all but one of the other twenty are seen as having only marginal chances at winning or lack an Intrade contract altogether.

CP Rank Candidate Intrade odds
1 Romney 25.0
2 Gingrich 3.9
3 Bachmann 5.6
4 Bush, Jeb 0.1
5 Palin 6.5
6 Rubio 0.2
7 Paul, Rand 0.1
8 Paul, Ron 2.8
9 Daniels 10.6
10 Pawlenty 18.3
11 Christie 3.0
12 Cain 7.2
13 Perry 1.5
14 Huckabee 0.1
15 Trump 0.1

From this list, it's apparent that Andy's assessments are quite a bit out of tune with those of the market participants. The latter of course don't have to be correct, but they've got several advantages - there's a large number of people making predictions, new information will be priced in and thus reflected in the likelihood very quickly, and the traders are putting their own money on the line, lose when their predictions are incorrect or gain when they're better than the average. The most obvious difference comes from Andy's optimistic assessment of the chances of several candidates who have simply declined to run for President in 2012 - some of them consistently (Bush,[4] Rubio,[5] Rand Paul[6]), some of them after toying with the idea or even taking initial steps towards a candidacy (Huckabee, Trump). Unless he's expecting all of them to have a sudden change of heart and get into the fray after all, it's simply impossible for them to have a higher chance of becoming the nominee than even the most obscure candidate who is actually running, like Herman Cain[7] or the last-ranked candidate on Andy's list, Fred Karger.[8] On the other extreme, there's the aforementioned exception in the likely candidacy of John Huntsman, who's now the third-ranked candidate on Intrade with a 12.5% chance, yet only makes it to number 29 at Conservapedia. In this case, as well as in those of the apparently underrated Mitch Daniels and Tim Pawlenty, Andy seems to assign more weight to perceived ideological impurities rather than fundamentals like polling numbers, donations and campaign infrastructure.

While Andy's reasons for shifting candidates around are often the same developments to which the Intrade markets react, the adjustments he makes are often inconsistent. For example, candidates' announcements that they will not seek the nomination have so far led to immediate collapses in the value of their Intrade contracts, usually right down to the minimum value or a just a notch above. Andy, on the other hand, has sometimes relegated these ex-candidates to the bottom of the field - like Haley Barbour from #9 to #32[9] or John Thune from #16 to #34;[10] yet sometimes he's also been much more lenient, as with Donald Trump (#3 to #15)[11] or Mike Huckabee (#8 to #14).[12] The mass resignation of Newt Gingrich's senior staff that left his campaign all but dead merely prompted Andy to downgrade his chances "a notch" from #2 to #3.[13] In these cases, personal admiration seems to again win out over objective analysis.

Stalking horses[edit]

Another idiosyncratic feature of Andy's rankings is his obsession with so-called "stalking horses": candidates who allegedly do not truly seek the nomination on their own behalf, but only act as surrogates for others and try to siphon votes away from their opponents. As of May 2011, he's identified two "teams": Team Mitt (Romney), employing Rick Santorum, Chris Christie and Tim Pawlenty; and Team Newt (Gingrich), including Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee.

Needless to say, this is one of Andy's original insights, which means there are no sources to back this theory up, and it's so logically incoherent that nobody else would've suggested anything along these lines. While the two alleged team leaders are indeed running for President, several of their "stalking horses" never got out of the gate - Christie and Huckabee have already declined to run, and Sarah Palin hasn't taken any measures towards it so far. Apart from that, the teams feature candidates that are somewhat similar and would therefore mostly compete with each other for votes instead of acting as spoilers for third parties. Romney and Pawlenty are both running as center-right candidates, trying to base their campaigns on electability arguments and advancing economic rather than social issues, and Christie would seem to fit the same mold. On the other hand, Gingrich, Palin and Huckabee all mostly appeal to right-wing social conservatives and Tea Party supporters.[14][15]

It's also unclear what the "team leaders" would be able to offer their secret supporters in return, as you'd also expect them to select a running mate who's somewhat different and could thus appeal to other voter groups. There has obviously never been any evidence of such complicated maneuvering occuring in a Presidential election, and the amount of planning that would have to go into it would be immense as well. All of this suggests that like so many other things, these alliances only exist in Andy's mind.