Will The Ryan Choice Have an Impact?

August 28, 2012, 12:56 AM GMT+0

Ever since Mitt Romney announced that Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan will be his running mate in the fall campaign, the political world has debated whether the addition of Ryan to the Republican ticket will help or hurt Romney’s chances in the fall. Those arguing that Ryan will provide a boost for Romney contend that his strong standing among Tea Partiers and fiscal conservatives will allay concerns about Romney among these groups and increase enthusiasm among the Republican base. On the other hand, those arguing that Romney’s choice of Ryan will hurt his chances claim that Ryan’s well-known stances on entitlement reform, particularly Medicare, will alienate many potential swing voters in competitive states like Ohio and Florida.

Polling conducted by YouGov before and after the Ryan announcement can provide some insight concerning the question of whether the Ryan pick increased excitement about the election among conservatives. Since early July, YouGov has been asking respondents to its weekly polls how enthusiastic they are about voting in November. The table below shows results for voter enthusiasm among conservatives (the overwhelming majority of whom are supporting Romney in November) over the past four weeks. As can be seen, there is no significant difference in enthusiasm among conservatives between the weeks before the Ryan announcement (July 28-30 and August 4-6) and the weeks after the Ryan announcement (August 11-13 and August 18-20). In fact, a large majority of conservatives were already extremely or very enthusiastic about voting before the Ryan announcement, not because of their love of Mitt Romney but because of their strong desire to toss out Barack Obama. While Romney’s selection of Ryan may have reassured conservatives of Romney's ideological bonafides, it has not made them much more enthusiastic about voting for him, mostly because they were enthusiastic already.

Enthusiasm for Voting November among Self-Described Conservatives

Extremely enthusiastic Very enthusiastic Somewhat EnthusiasticNot too enthusiasticNot at all enthusiastic

July 28-30






August 4-6






August 11-13






August 18-20






What about the claim that Romney’s selection of Ryan may alienate swing voters? Because swing voters tend to be much less politically aware than strong partisans, many of them don’t have a clear idea of who Paul Ryan is or what he stands for yet. For example, in last week’s poll, 61% of registered voters who had not yet decided whom they will support in the presidential race had not heard of Paul Ryan’s controversial Medicare plan, as opposed to 23% of Obama supporters and 33% of Romney supporters. The fact that Ryan hasn’t yet been defined in the minds of swing voters means that it’s too early to assess the claim that his candidacy is a liability for the Romney campaign. It is certainly possible that the Obama campaign will scare swing voters away from Romney by tying him to his running mate’s ideas. On the other hand, it’s also possible that Ryan’s winning demeanor and talent for explaining conservative ideas will be of considerable benefit to Romney. But what’s even more likely than either of these scenarios is that undecided voters won’t factor the Ryan pick into their voting decisions very much. After all, unless they're complete disasters, vice-presidential nominees tend not to be the first thing on voters' minds.