Opinion state of the race

The Ryan bump

On Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan

On August 11, Mitt Romney announced Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his running mate. The choice of Ryan seems to have outperformed expectations.

Since August 11, Mitt Romney’s poll position has improved. The RealClearPolitics average of polls on August 11 had him trailing by 4.6 points. Today, he trails by a 1.1 points and continues to trend upwards.

Mr. Romney’s position in predictive models has similarly improved. Nate Silver’s model at The New York Times has seen Mr. Romney’s chances increase by 2.3 percent, from 28.4 percent to 30.7 percent, with other models showing similar gains.

And finally, his position in prediction markets has risen since they announcement. On Intrade, shares of Romney to be President rose four points, from 38.5 percent to 43.7 percent.

Ryan has been regarded by many as one of Romney’s bolder vice presidential options. During the Obama administration, Mr. Ryan has emerged as one of the party’s intellectual leaders and policy architects, particularly on fiscal issues. He was the principal author of the Republican party’s 2012 and 2013 budget proposals. His vigorous advocacy of reform and articulate defense of fiscal conservatism are an asset both for winning independents as well as securing the moderate Romney’s right flank. However, his willingness to put forward budget specifics, as well as his 14-year voting record in the U.S. House should give Democrats a large cache of votes and positions to use as ammunition against Mr. Romney.

The clear intention of Mr. Ryan’s selection is to focus the 2012 campaign on the economy. The extent to which this has succeeded is unclear — most campaign discussion was focused on the economy before Ryan was selected, and would likely have remained on the economy even if Mr. Romney had selected someone regarded as “safer” such as Tim Pawlenty or Robert Portman.

The Romney camp hopes that the selection of Ryan will turn the 2012 campaign into a big ideas campaign of the sort that brought Ronald Reagan to power. The Obama camp hopes that the partnership will be more akin to when moderate Bob Dole picked the conservative firebrand Jack Kemp to run against an incumbent Bill Clinton. Either way, the selection of Ryan breaks the mold of usual vice presidential selections, which are done to balance a ticket geographically or politically, and make moves on swing states and demographics. Paul Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin is unlikely to turn red this election, Ryan has no substantial foreign policy experience to balance out Romney’s policy background, and unlike, say, Marco Rubio, it is not apparent that there is any particular demographic that regards Mr. Ryan as a champion.

Vice presidents, in the net of things, usually have a limited impact on the election as a whole. Most voters regard the top of the ticket as the overwhelmingly important half. And so, all things considered, Mr. Ryan will probably prove no exception to history. But as it stands, the choice of Paul Ryan for vice president thus far appears to be a high-risk, high-reward campaign strategy that has thus far yielded a modest improvement in Mitt Romney’s electoral position.