Friday, November 9, 2012

Presidential Probability - Winners and Losers

A few years ago, I created a spreadsheet that calculated one's probability for becoming president in the future based on other factors (like offices held and success or failure in previous races). With the 2012 election over we can now look at who won and who lost - assuming that all of these players want to be President - and by how much. They're ranked from biggest winner to biggest loser. [Obama isn't listed, because he is already President]

Joe Biden - Winner - Being re-elected to the Vice-Presidency, Biden's odds of becoming president actually went down from when he was elected four years ago (29.55% to 25%). This is because his path to the presidency has changed. People elected president usually ascend to the White House following the President's death. People re-elected VP have always been elected on their own (and the number would be a good bit higher but for Gore's narrow loss). Still, had he lost re-election he would have joined the likes of Walter Mondale and Dan Quayle as Vice-Presidents who sought re-election and lost. Then his odds drop to 0%, so that's a pretty big change in odds.

Obama's new cabinet members - Winners - There will be new cabinet members, and some of them will find themselves elevated to a 0.38% chance of becoming president (For Senators, this is no improvement).

Romney's would-have-been cabinet members - Losers - Some of them would have been given Cabinet positions and for many of them, that would have increased their odds of becoming president (if only marginally), just as Obama cabinet members will.

The Romney sons - Losers - All are male and all are 35 years old or older but Craig. The four older sons would have seen their chances for becoming President go up to 3.23% and Craig's would be at 2.27% until he became old enough (none share Mitt's first name, but that doesn't matter now). Now their chances are pretty much the same as anyone else's - pretty close to 0%.

Paul Ryan - Loser - Being nominated was a big win for Ryan. It elevated him from the minuscule level of a House member (0.83%) to the level of a major party Veep nominee (13.33%) but had he actually won the Vice-Presidency, his chances would have jumped again to 29.55% instead of dropping to 7.45%. This somewhat overstates his chances. Most of those failed VPs who became Presidents were in the days when the Electoral College vote was a little less rigid. Since 1840, being the losing VP and going on to be elected President has only been pulled off once - by FDR. That would give him about a 1.5% chance, still nearly double where he was before.

Mitt Romney - Loser - Had he been elected, obviously his chances of becoming President would have gone to 100% (or perhaps less barring a sudden death or Electoral College scandal), but since he lost, his chances drop to 8.89% (though, in reality probably even lower).

If there are faithless electors, then there will be more chances for winners and losers, but I doubt that getting a faithless elector vote for President actually gives you a 1 in 5 chance of becoming President. It's probably more a recognition of your credibility - it doesn't make you more likely.

Below is the full table of rolls and probabilities.

If you… % chance # of people who've done it # who eventually became president
Win the popular vote for President† 93.75% 32 30
Come in first in the Electoral College 97.37% 38 37
Are appointed Vice-President 50.00% 2 1
Are elected Vice-President 29.55% 44 13
Are re-elected Vice-President 25.00% 12 3
Receive Electoral College votes for Vice-President 12.90% 124 16
     - same as above less faithless electors 13.33% 120 16
     - same as top and lose†† 7.45% 94 7
     - same as above less faithless electors 7.87% 89 7
Come in 2nd in the Electoral College* 12.50% 48 6
    - same as above post 12th Amendment 8.89% 45 4
Are appointed Secretary of State** 9.23% 65 6
Come in 3rd or lower in Electoral College 4.44% 45 2
    - same as above less faithless electors 2.50% 40 1
         - only faithless electors 20.00% 5 1
         - same as above post 12th Amendment 0.00% 19 0
Are elected Speaker of the House 1.89% 53 1
Are the legitimate child of a President 1.31% 153 2
    - who lives to 35 2.35% 85 2
    - are a son 2.27% 88 2
        - who lives to 35 3.23% 62 2
        - who shares his father's first name 12.50% 16 2
Become a Senator** 0.85% 1877 16
Are appointed a Cabinet official (other than State)** 0.38% 524 2
Elected to House*** 0.18% 10251 18
Run for re-election as Vice-President and lose ‡ 0.00% 3 0
After record keeping began in 1824. Not all states are accounted for though. The Constitution specifies that the president and vice president be chosen through the votes cast by electors chosen by the states, rather than by a direct popular vote. At first, some electors were chosen by state legislatures, but by 1836 all states but South Carolina chose electors through a statewide popular vote. (S.C. followed suit in 1860.)
*John Qunicy Adams shows up twice because he came in 2nd then became president and then came in 2nd again
**Not counting those ineligible for Presidency
†† In place of nominated
James Sherman was running for re-election for Vice-President in 1912, but died days before the election. His ticket came in 3rd. He is not counted here since he was ineligible for re-election.
*** Best number I could find. It's difficult to find an accurate list of all former house members, and thus to eliminate ineligible house members

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Vietnam, Korea and the White House

For most of American history, wars have tended to produce Presidents. Washington, Jackson, Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Arthur and Eisenhower were all generals during war, and veterans of all of the "major" American Wars of the 18th, 19th and early 20th centure: the American Revolution, War of 1812, Mexican-American War, Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II have served in the White House. In fact, the majority of Presidents have been veterans (if you count Reagan, Carter and G.W. Bush).

But it appears that the Vietnam War will join the Korean War as the only major American Wars to not produce a president. The longest span between the end of a war and a veteran of it being nominated for president was the 51 years between the end of World War II and the nomination of Bob Dole. If that is the limit, then Korea's clock ran out in 2004. Vietnam's runs out in 2026. Which gives Vietnam Veterans 3 more chances, but it doesn't appear that there are any who will emerge.  After three straight failed nominees - Gore, Kerry and McCain - it's hard to imagine a Vietnam Vet who will run or be nominated. Many of the Vietnam Veterans who've served in congress have retired, and Bob Kerry lost his race to rejoin the Senate.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day

1. If Romney loses, and if you want to try and designate the moment he lost it, I think there are two candidates. One is when he penned the editorial "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt." True, he didn't choose the title, but he didn't protest it too much either. It is one of the few positions he took in the gulf between the 2008 campaign and the 2012 one and it turned out it was both wrong and politically damaging. He might have won Ohio without it. The other moment was when he overestimated the threat that Perry represented and tacked to the right of him. This caused him to go hard on the issue of the immigration. I think a Mitt Romney who supported the Dream Act would be the favorite today instead of the underdog. But that Romney was strangled to beat a candidate who could have just been ignored.

2. Romney has been out of elected office for 6 years. The last candidate from one of the two major parties to have been out of office that long was Dwight Eisenhower in 1952, because he never held elected office before being elected president (making him something of anomaly). If we don't include him for this reason, we have to go back to Wendell Wilkie in 1940 - who also never held elected office. Then there's Hoover in 1928. But if we want someone who once held elective office, but had been out for 6 years or more, you have to go back to John W. Davis in 1924. By the time he ran for president, he'd been out of the House for 11 years (though during that time he'd been Ambassodor to the UK and Solicitor General). Let's say we want to find someone who never held an appointed or elected office for at least 6 years. That eliminates Eisenhower and Hoover (though Wilkie still never served in the government).

So, what if we want someone who once served in elected office, but then didn't serve any government role for 6 years and was the nominee of one of the two major parties of the time. How far do we have to go back then? We have to go back to William Jennings Bryan who in 1908 had been out of the House for 13 years.