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Sarah Palin Can Win In 2012 As Long As No One Asks Her Hard Questions

After last weekend’s appearance at the Tea Party Convention more than one person came to the conclusion that a 2012 run for Sarah Palin was less the punchline (enter the hand) for a joke than an increasing reality.

Leaving aside Palin’s incredible mastery at the art of the soundbite, and her undeniably popular appeal, and the celebrity aura she manages to generate while expounding on the general betterness of “real” Americans, is it possible for Sarah Palin to actually win an election in 2012? Numbers genius Nate Silver crunches…well…numbers and comes up with some extremely wonky but very interesting scenarios, which he explains in detail here. The general conclusion, and there are a lot of variables, is that Palin has a solid chance at getting the GOP nomination as long as no one asks too many detailed questions about anything (something which no one appears to be doing at the moment). Some interesting notes on the factors weighing into how Silver weighted the variables:

  • Palin spent a great deal of time campaigning in exurban and fairly rural areas in 2008, and I suspect that it’s here — not necessarily among soccer moms in the collar suburbs — where her most enthusiastic voters lie.
  • No college voters: Early polls of the 2012 Republican field, such as from Marist and Rasmussen, show Palin overperforming among this group (or, if you prefer, underperforming among college graduates), which certainly squares with my intuition about where her appeal lies.
  • White Evangelicals: Although Palin also polls well among this group, a lot of this may be because a lot of white evangelicals are also rural and lack a college degree — that is, although Palin runs well among evangelicals, it may not be because they’re evangelicals. Nor, although Palin has increasingly invoked religious rhetoric in her speeches, does she have the scholarly religious credibility of someone like a Mike Huckabee or a Pat Robertson. It’s conceivable that Palin could get outflanked by a Huckabee or lose votes to a Santorum among voters who are evangelicals first and working-class whites second.
  • Although this is a bit speculative, we look at the percentage of McCain voters in each state who said their votes were determined because of energy or terrorism policy, which appear as though they’ll be Palin’s core issues. These issues — particularly terrorism — lend themselves relatively well to the meta-narratives that Palin prefers and require less policy nuance than something like the economy or health care.

    And some primary scenarios:

    Although Iowa is not a perfect match for her — not quite as many no-college voters as she’d like — it holds a caucus rather than a primary, which tends to bring out a more conservative electorate. The most obvious concern for Palin in Iowa, if he runs, is Mike Huckabee, who won there in 2008. She could also conceivably lose a war of attrition if a candidate like Santorum eats away some of her evangelical vote, or if her organization and infrastructure is not up to par. The inclusion of a regional candidate like John Thune or Mike Pence could cut either way for Palin; they are not yet terribly well defined and it’s unclear whether they’ll run to the right-center.

    And the perfect plan:

    Win Iowa. Win South Carolina. Clean up in orange states. You probably have enough momentum to survive the consolidation of the GOP field which is liable to occur at this point.

    Get ready to hear one or all of these theories expounded on by the various sides, depending — politicos love their numbers! Also, there is a lot more where this came from.

    A First Look at Palin’s Primary Math
    [Nate Silver]

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