Nate Silver is a national treasure. He somehow manages to keep his head when all around him are losing theirs:
But is Mr. Perry electable? One alternative is to look at Mr. Perry’s performance among voters who do know him — the good folks down in Texas. Mr. Perry has never lost an election, a rarity even for candidates who go on to become president. Some victories early in his career are impressive: for instance, defeating the incumbent Democratic agriculture commissioner, Jim Hightower, in 1990, a point in time at when Texas still often voted Democratic at the state level. (Mr. Perry was himself a Democrat until 1989.) Nowadays, however, Republicans in Texas essentially never lose a statewide race, so the fact of Mr. Perry’s re-election alone does not tell us all that much. Instead, we need some kind of a control group.
One choice is simply to look at how other Republicans running for statewide office in Texas fared in the years that Mr. Perry was running. In 2002, for example, when Mr. Perry was elected to his first full term after succeeding George W. Bush, his margin of victory was 18 percentage points. That holds up pretty well against other Republican candidates for statewide office that year (excluding those who did not draw a Democratic challenger), who won by an average of 15 percentage points.
Mr. Perry’s performance in 2006 was much more tenuous: he was re-elected with just 39 percent of the vote in a complicated, four-way race. Even if we ignore that and instead look at Mr. Perry’s nine-point margin of victory over his nearest rival, Chris Bell, a Democrat, it compares unfavroably to other Republicans on the ballot that year, who won by an average of 15 points. (2006 was a very Democratic year nationally, but not so much in Texas.)
Last year, Mr. Perry was re-elected to another term, defeating Bill White, a Democrat and the former mayor of Houston. But his 13-point margin of victory is underwhelming for such a Republican state in such a Republican year. Other Republicans on the Texas ballot last year won by an average of 27 percentage points instead.
Over all, Mr. Perry has won his three elected terms with an average victory margin of 13 percentage points. That’s certainly not a disaster, but it lags the 19-point margin for other Texas Republicans running in those years. In the most recent two elections, Mr. Perry was losing quite a few voters who were voting for Republican for almost every other office. I know, it’s not the most overwhelming evidence: every election and every state is different. A more empirically grounded line of research, which we’ll address in a separate piece, is how much a candidate’s ideology affects the presidential race over all.
Next we’ll find out the Texas Miracle isn’t really a miracle, and has more to do with federal stimulus dollars than Perry’s celebrated swagger or small-government commonsense conservatism.
I think we’re making progress, though. We didn’t find out that Bush’s Texas Education Miracle was just so much nonsense and spin until well after he was elected.