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    Winnowing the GOP Field with Jane Austen

    Scott Walker has left the Republican presidential primaries: the first dropout who was once considered a major contender for the nomination. That, and the departure of Rick Perry, leaves us with only fourteen or fifteen candidates left. In fact, the real number is much smaller than that, because of an economic concept called the Pareto principle; there have never been sixteen choices, because the Pareto principle cuts the number down to a smaller number of practical options. But since I am a book nerd rather than a math nerd, I am going to illustrate this statistical idea with my old friend Jane Austen and her Pride and Prejudice.

    In Pride and Prejudice, Mr and Mrs Bennet have imprudently had a family of five daughters and no sons. Since there's no son, Mr Bennet's estate is going to distant relatives when he dies, leaving his widow and five daughters in poverty. The five girls' only hope is to marry well. But since there are five of them, there is the real danger that they will crowd each other out so that none of them gets married. Other characters ask why the Bennets have allowed all five daughters out "into society," meaning the marriage market, at once instead of letting one daughter out at a time, so that Daughter Number Two wouldn't start going to balls until Daughter Number One was married. The Bennets take a laissez-faire approach which hopes that all five girls can find husbands; the neighbors fear a Tragedy of the Commons in which the glut of Bennet sisters on the marriage market keeps any of them from being married.

    Neither scenario is correct. Three sisters get married, two do not, and the two who do not are never in even the remotest danger of a marriage proposal. The Bennett sisters offer three, rather than five, real choices for potential suitors. Two of the five sisters are eliminated from consideration by the Pareto principle, which says that any option which comes behind another in all criteria being considered is thereby eliminated from consideration: "Pareto dominated," as they like to say at 538. If I'm choosing a motel for the night, I might balance my choice between low cost on one hand and amenities like good cable or a free breakfast on the other. Maybe I'll go with Chain A, which costs more but provides HBO and a waffle buffet, or the much cheaper Chain B, with its basic cable and continental breakfast. But I am not even going to consider Chain C, which costs $20 more than Chain B but doesn't offer ESPN or breakfast. Why would I pay more not to get a Danish? Chain C is Pareto dominated, eliminated from the field of choices.

    Now, the eldest of the five Bennet sisters, Jane, is universally agreed to be the best-looking. She is also easily the nicest of the five. Daughter Number Two, Elizabeth, is the second-prettiest (as we know from the behavior of a failed suitor who only considers looks), but not especially nice; she can have a sharp tongue. On the other hand, Elizabeth is by far the smartest. Meanwhile youngest sister, Lydia, is far and away the easiest of the five. (I tried to find another term like "affable" or "agreeable," but none of these are quite accurate. Lydia is distinguished from her four sisters because she's the one most likely to have sex before marriage.) And of course the sisters are all equal on some criteria, such as wealth and family background. A man who needs a rich dowry, or who can't bear the thought of Mrs Bennet as a mother-in-law, is going to rule all five sisters out of consideration.

    An especially shallow suitor (and the novel does have one), would just rank all five sisters by physical attractiveness: Jane first, Elizabeth second, and Mary last. By that standard, Elizabeth would be Jane's closest rival. But most people looking for a spouse are at least a little smarter than that, and choose along more than one axis, so that Jane and Elizabeth are never actually in competition with each other for serious suitors. If you're looking for pretty and nice, Jane is the clear winner, and someone looking for someone like Jane is not going to consider Elizabeth at all. Elizabeth is less physically attractive AND more likely to take your inventory with other people there listening.

    On the other hand, there are suitors who value intelligence, and who might prefer Elizabeth to her prettier sister, especially if they put less of a premium on beauty alone. Elizabeth is more than pretty enough to marry, and much, much smarter than most other young marriageable ladies in the novel, so she attracts her own suitors. But there's virtually no overlap between men who pursue Elizabeth and men who pursue Jane. If you're interested in beauty and sweetness, Jane Pareto dominates Elizabeth. But Elizabeth isn't universally dominated because she has something that her sister doesn't. If you're interested in beauty and brains, Jane isn't really in the running because, while she is not stupid, neither is she unusually bright. Jane and Elizabeth each have their own distinct group of suitors and occupy different parts of the decision space.

    Likewise, a caddish suitor looking for someone to sleep with rather than to marry is going to be much more interested in Lydia. Jane and Elizabeth may be prettier and, in the abstract, sexier. But they don't crowd Lydia entirely out of the decision space because she offers something they don't. If you're looking for premarital sex, the fact that Jane is hotter doesn't make her a better choice. The sexier sister who won't sleep with you is not a better choice than the still-perfectly-sexy sister who will. So Lydia, Jane, and Elizabeth present three distinct alternatives, appealing to three different kinds of men.

    But the other two sisters, Mary and Kitty, are eliminated from consideration because neither offers a genuine alternative to the other three sisters. Instead, they both come off as inferior imitations of one of those three. Mary, who is clearly the homeliest, has staked all her chips on showing off her brains. Her problem is that Elizabeth is still much, much smarter. Mary's attempts to seem smart are painfully laborious, all too clearly the product of ponderous study, while Elizabeth is quick as lightning. And, worse yet, Elizabeth is also much prettier than Mary. Poor Mary can't win, and doesn't. No suitor is going to pursue Mary while Elizabeth is available.

    Likewise, Kitty is a paler imitation of Lydia, almost surely the second-easiest. (She clearly knows about some of Lydia's illicit romance and keeps that secret, whereas the other three sisters would almost certainly narc on Lydia immediately.) But second-easiest, in this case, means not as easy. Anybody interested in Kitty is going to be more interested in Lydia. So, like Mary, Kitty is Pareto dominated. She is one of the eliminated choices and has to live vicariously through Lydia's imprudent adventures.

    Now, our crowd of Republican candidates likewise represents a number of significant alternatives, each with its own sector of the decision space, and a number of also-rans who are basically ruled out. The candidates are competing on different strengths, most obviously on their conservatism and their electability, but there are other characteristics that resonate with Republican primary voters; the exact list is up for debate. Performance of authority seems to be salient, so that Fiorina doing her best alpha-dog act at the second debate helped her enormously. And, alas, there is clearly a subset of GOP voters that is looking for the best racist dog-whistler.

    Trump doesn't compete on electability at all. But he performs authority well, he traffics in various fringe beliefs that are current among some of the party base, and  he doesn't so much do the racist dog whistle as he calls his racist dogs at the top of his voice. If you were planning to run as a maverick outsider and pick up support with some subtle racial signaling, Trump has you beat on every level. He is more of an outsider than any first-term Senator or far-from-DC governor can claim to be. He is also more maverick-y than anyone else, being not merely a maverick but a bull in a china shop, untethered by any restraint or sense of prudence. You can't be more outrageous than Trump. And if you were hoping to pick up a few white-pride voters, Trump had you beat out of the gate when called Mexicans rapists in his announcement speech. Other "outsider" candidates looking for that particular slice of white support are Pareto dominated by Trump.

    There are other examples. Huckabee and Santorum are both running as not-very-electable champions of Christian conservatives. But Huckabee is both more appealing to Christian conservatives and more electable than Santorum is (meaning not so very electable, but not as hopeless as Santorum). This leaves Santorum no air to breathe at all. If Bobby Jindal was hoping to be the non-white hardcore conservative candidate, Ben Carson (even more hardcore and less white) has him beat. If Jindal was hoping to be the Chance to Reach New Voters, Rubio has him beat (because the Latino vote is much bigger than the South Asian vote).

    Where we are really not seeing much competition is in the Electability sweepstakes, with the candidates whose basic appeal is that they can win in the general election. Right now the primary voters don't seem interested in electability at all; the most recent polls show Trump, Carson, and Fiorina, three candidates who haven't won a single election between them, with more than half the combined support of GOP voters. As I've argued before, the most surprising thing is not how well Trump is doing but how poorly Jeb Bush, the presumptive electable alternative, is doing. And no one has yet emerged as the main electable candidate, the way Mitt Romney emerged last time around. The 2012 Republican primaries featured one main Electable Option, Romney, and a bunch of competitors for the role of Uncompromising Conservative. This time we have a clear Uncompromising Outsider, pretty much safe from challenge on his native turf, and no solid Electable Mainstream Option. In 2012, no Republican could hold onto the Lydia Bennet role for more than a week or two. This time, no Republican has seized the Elizabeth Bennet role for even a week.

    The Democratic primary, on the other hand, already has a pretty clear and recognizable shape. There's a party-establishment favorite, Clinton, whose main appeal is her electability, and a dark-horse challenger, Sanders, whose main appeal is his ideological closeness to the base. Then you have a couple of also-rans like Martin O'Malley or Jim Webb,  Pareto dominated by Clinton because they are at once less liberal and less electable than she is. And you have the non-candidate, Biden, sitting out because he would be dominated by Hillary if he got in now (he's slightly less electable and equally mainstream), but that would flip around if Hillary were suddenly undone by a major scandal. (If Hillary turned out to be, say, selling weapons to Iran and using the money to fund the Nicaraguan contras, to choose a purely hypothetical example, she would suddenly be less electable than Biden.)

    Where I would expect to see movement in the Republican campaign is on the mainstream, electable side. Trump cannot be beaten at Trump's game. Candidates like Cruz or Rand Paul are going nowhere this year. Neither is Carson, really, even if he's outpolling some more likely contenders right now. But someone could conceivably take over the mainstream/establishment/viable-in-a-general-election role that Jeb Bush hasn't managed to keep or win. Yes, some of the other mainstream/moderate candidates are hopeless. No primary voter would vote for George Pataki, who is both to the left of Jeb Bush and less viable in the general election than Jeb Bush, when they could simply vote for Jeb Bush. The same basically goes for Lindsay Graham. But while Jeb himself can't manage to break ten percent in the polls, one of the other candidates in his general category could overtake him. People like Rubio and Kasich, or even Christie despite his serious problems, would be smart to stick around.  They aren't really competing against all 13 of the other candidates. They aren't even competing against Trump. Not yet. They're competing against Jeb Bush for the position of Reasonable Party Dad that he mysteriously can't nail down. Then whoever manages to establish himself in that role can go toe-to-toe with Trump under the "Yes, but I can beat Hillary" banner.

    And if none of the "electable" establishment candidates emerges as a major contender, then we will be on new and unexpected ground.


    So the GOP primary voters only want to get laid and the Dems are getting tired of their marriages.
    Run Rabbit Run in blank verse.

    Great analysis, by the way.

    LOL....Doc great as always. 


    Or, the Dems have found at least one very solid marriage prospect, but need to have one more electoral fling before they settle down. That happens in a lot of primary cycles, sometimes to both parties. But this year the GOP voters seem to be obsessed with a bad boyfriend and none of the real marriage prospects can get any attention at all.

    But thanks for the kind words.

    Does the theory say anything about conflicts among the criteria themselves? Perhaps e.g. it would not be easy to dominate both Jane and Lydia, because a woman like Elizabeth, perceived as smarter than the latter, would inevitably (even today in some circles, alas) be perceived as "less nice" than the former. Similarly, uncompromising conservatism or liberalism is precisely the sort of thing that makes a candidate seem less electable.

    Well, yes; choice theory takes for granted that there are tradeoffs and compromise choices. Sometimes, the second-smartest and second-prettiest sounds like the perfect choice, but Austen doesn't structure the choices that way. And of course, the people doing the choosing look to maximize certain values while setting others at a minimum threshold. Some men want the smartest of the pretty-enough women, and some want the prettiest of the smart-enough women. Some primary voters want the most conservative candidate who's electable (i.e. electable enough), and some want the most electable candidate who's conservative enough.

    Elizabeth is not the nicest and can't be, because at the end of the day, she is also the toughest. (Although she's about as nice as it is possible to be while being as hard as she is.) Jane is not tough at all. Being the nicest keeps her from ever being especially tough.

    Elizabeth's eventual husband, Mr Darcy, is also clearly choosing for toughness as well as intelligence, because he needs his wife to have both. (He also needs his wife to have good taste, which Elizabeth has ... she doesn't have wealth or connections, but she offers a basket of soft skills which make her very qualified to be the co-head of Darcy's household.)

    Darcy needs a wife who cannot be pushed around by others. At one point late in the novel Darcy's rich, horrible aunt attempts to bully Elizabeth, and gets a very polite, British, icy stare-down for her troubles. And Elizabeth is as nice delivering that stare-down as it is possible to be. But Elizabeth's skill at repulsing the bully displays one of her necessary qualifications for being Mrs Darcy. (And, on the psychological/sentimental side, Darcy seems to appreciate the value of a future wife who will call him on his own failings.) If Darcy had a sweet pushover of a wife, that would create a path for his pushier relatives and acquaintances to take advantage of his enormous wealth.

    Jane is paired with the equally nice and accommodating people-pleaser Mr Bingley, who could arguably use a tougher partner to help stiffen his own backbone now and then, but who probably couldn't cope with a more assertive partner inside his marriage. Sweetness and toughness are presented as different values serving different needs.


    Congratulations to Doc Cleveland for making the NYT Upshot's Best of the Web!


    I think that this bears out the Pareto principle's emphasis on differentiating yourself from other choices. I am reasonably confident that I wrote the only Jane Austen/GOP primary/Pareto principle blog this week.

    On what basis do you characterize O'Malley as less liberal than Clinton?  His position and/or record are to the left of hers on several significant issues, such as minimum wage, fracking, trade agreements, and marriage equality.  If Sanders had decided not to run, many of those now backing Sanders would instead be rallying to O'Malley as the progressive alternative to Clinton.

    The general point is that, in romance as in politics, choices are seldom as clear as the different rates at competing hotels.  For example, who's the most electable Democrat?  You can argue that the dreaded word "socialist" would sink Sanders.  You can point to Clinton's favorable-unfavorable rating, badly underwater (unlike the other candidates').  You can tout O'Malley's credential as a governor (four of the last six Presidents), or conclude that attack ads about the Baltimore riots would doom him.  I don't think you can say with confidence that any of them is Pareto-dominant on this criterion.

    On the Republican side, Trump has appealed to many conservatives, but he's also gone sharply left by criticizing CEO pay and praising Canada's health care system.  As a result, there's still room for Cruz to outcompete him for the conservative ideologue vote.  I do agree with you, however, that the most interesting GOP contest is for "the mainstream/establishment/viable-in-a-general-election role that Jeb Bush hasn't managed to keep or win."

    Admittedly, I haven't read Jane Austen, so my whole analysis may be suspect.

    Hi, Jim.Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    I would say that in politics, as in romance, people sometimes allow themselves to get caught up in a lot of tiny, distracting details instead of focusing on the smaller number of big issues that end up being decisive. Dating, like campaigning, makes you pay attention to the tiny details, but in the end it's not the tiny details that make the difference.

    And of course not having read Pride and Prejudice does not affect the validity of your argument. But not remembering the 2008 primaries does.

    In 2008, HRC argued that she was to Obama's left using much the same laundry-list of arguments that you are now using to position O'Malley to Clinton's left. In fact, she tried to make an issue of trade agreements, just as you do. I distinctly recall a debate where she kept going at him about the fact that his health care plan involved an individual mandate.

    But all of that was for nothing. Even though Clinton was factually correct some of the time, she was still perceived as to Obama's right, because of her vote on the Iraq War. That was the salient issue of that election. (In the 1992 general election it was the economy, stupid. In the 2008 Democratic primary it was the war, dummy.) The voters did not care about the other issues, or reasoned, quite defensibly, that Obama and Clinton's positions were too close to make a decisive difference; their health care proposals were only different in details, and both worlds away from McCain's not-expanding-healthcare plan.

    Most voters don't actually gauge a candidate's positions with an exhaustive checklist.  So the fact that Trump doesn't line up neatly with every conservative position doesn't keep him from doing extremely well with those voters. Clearly, Trump is winning on the smaller list of issues that a bunch of those base voters care about: he has staked out the strongest anti-immigration position, he is for an aggressive trade policy, and he would clearly stand for maximizing executive authority, because he would be for maximizing his own authority rather than dealing with Congress. Apparently, those are the key issues for a significant plurality of the Republican electorate.

    I would also suggest that some of the other traditional "conservative" positions resonate with some voters as proxy for something else, so that some of the lower taxes/smaller government voters don't actually care about the capital gains tax they will never pay but take the question of social spending as a proxy for racial issues (see: Mitt Romney and the 47% of "takers"). More interestingly, some of the Republican primary voters may actually prefer positions that other conservative candidates have not taken. There may be a lot of conservative protectionist voters out there who've only had conservative free-trade candidates to choose among. A strong nativist element in the voting base isn't necessarily a good fit for a free-trade platform.

    Now, you can talk yourself into believing that Ted Cruz can take away voters from Trump because he checks off more Tea Party boxes, but you really have talked yourself into that. IN fact, Trump (and Carson), have set Cruz's ceiling of support already. Cruz's appeal is that he's against the entirely liberal status quo, and especially against Obama. He can't match Trump on that issue. Trump is actually a birther. He's the only candidate who's publicly gone on record saying that Barack Obama is not from this country. That is very, very salient for a big batch of Republican voters, and that Cruz is a more orthodox Tea Partier (what an oxymoron!) won't be enough. If you don't believe me, fine. Time will tell.

    Similarly, you can go through a list of positions where O'Malley is to Clinton's left, but most of those are not salient. This Democratic primary will not be about trade agreements or fracking. And you really give the game away by throwing same-sex marriage into your list, since that argument is now, thanks to Obergefell, totally settled on the Democratic side. The two to four salient issues of the 2016 Democratic race haven't come into full focus yet, but it's already clear that the Black Lives Matter movement will be important, and unfortunately we should expect more ugly news incidents to keep it on the front burner. O'Malley cannot possibly get to Clinton's left on that issue. His record as Governor of Maryland will be held against him. So this year, this election cycle, he is stuck on Clinton's right on one of the issues that matter. He might have been able to run on Clinton's left in 2000 or 2004 or 2008, and he might hypothetically be able to run on her left in 2020 or 2024. But this year, on the issues the primary voters care about, he is on her right and that is that. That is the big picture.

    As far as arguing that Sanders or O'Malley might somehow be more electable than Clinton, you are outsmarting yourself. It's clear that Clinton has much more of what we talk about as "electability" - party support, campaign experience, name recognition, fundraising ability, and a knack for appealing to swing voters - than anyone else in the Democratic party. You can construct elaborate hypotheticals where she is worse than Sanders or O'Malley, but you don't have to worry about those circumstances occurring outside your thought experiment. You can construct a hypothetical where Herman Cain or Ron Paul was a better general-election candidate than Mitt Romney, but you'd just be fooling yourself, fixating on the fine details instead of looking at the big picture.

    I think people continue to underestimate Teď Cruz, at our peril. He's probably the best educated in the field and best looking qualifications, helped Bush steal the presidency in 2000, has a firm role in the family values / Tea Party insurgency, and has that loony futile suicidal charge of the light brigade that inspires the GOP so much like shutting down government. For the second and last time he has Boehner's scalp. Non-incumbent elections usually have an early leader that fades fast - Ross Perot and his black dobermanns comes to mind. In the end, the GOP will choose someone who's not a full goose loony and has some semblance of qualifications. Trump is limited, Fiorina is toast - awful background with Anti-Carly playbook already uses once, the Lord spits out the lukewarm like Jeb. Carson? This year's GOP stable boy. Cruz has the advantage that he can turn more Hispanics into raving wingnuts. Arguably Marco Rubio is equal to Cruz, but Cruz is for all purposes pure Texas-bred Mexican despite the Cuban ethnic bits, and the new demographics is Mexican-salvadoran, not Cuban. There is another act in this play - my guess is that Shakespeare fits better than Jane Austen - this is not a parlor game - it involves castle intrigue and the mobilizing of forces, and ultimately I'd expect great treachery. Cruz is your man for that - he was once Boehner's attorney you know. And now Boehner sleeps with the fishes. Cruz is both old school and new, Bush vanguard and Tea Partier. Whether he attains worst performance of Richard III status remains to be seen. As well as whether he can take off with actual voters country-wide - but usually the GOP falls in line, and remember, even decrepit McCain and dingbat Palin got 47%

    We've talked about this before, and I think you're over-estimating Cruz's establishment appeal.

    Having had a fancy education, having connections with previous Bush campaigns, and having been Boehner's lawyer are the kinds of things that only matter if you're trying to get the party establishment on your side, which Cruz is not even trying to do. He's not running as the electable guy, or even as the compromise electable-enough/insurgent-enough candidate. (Walker was supposed to be that compromise candidate, by the way, but he's gone.)

    Cruz's hope this year was to be the Hardcore Opposition Guy. That is his role in the Republican Party: the insurgent ideologue who challenges the party leadership. He is running as the Keeper of the Pure Conservative Flame. But the outsider/challenger role is taken this year, so that Cruz is really stuck in the mud, unless Trump collapses and the primaries revert to the 2012 Freak-of-the-Week pattern, with rotating outsiders taking short turns as "front-runner."

    Yes, Cruz would be something of a Paul Ryan character but without the Mitt Romney reassuring capitalist beside him. Trump of course *will* collapse, and Fiorina is a fatally flawed candidate who already got thrashed by Barbara Boxer in a year the GOP won everything, and despite Cruz being freaky enough, he's arguably the least freak show of the remainder.

    You ignore the all-things-to-all-people aspect - his background with the Bushes et al still gives him cachet with the old money & old votes even as he plays renegade driving legislation & the speaker & government into the wall for fun, which pleases the new crowd. And he's Mexican/Texan enough to tap into the southwest vote while whackadoo evangelical for the southeast.

    And I think it's important to realize he's more clever than he looks. He did seem to play a key role in rolling over the election staff in Florida. His win-loss record with the Supreme Court is impressive (& conservatives will love that when it comes to say Roe v Wade), and he's managed the insurgent bit in Congress. 

    With the way post-Citizens United PACs work & the current schedule, he still has plenty of time to break out as the new darling with loads of cash. That's my prognosis, we'll see.

    No, pp, I'm not ignoring the all-things-to-all-people argument. I just don't believe it. Cruz doesnt have much cachet with the GOP establishment. In fact, the Republican establishment really. really hates Cruz, and he is openly running against that establishment.

    This happened yesterday: Cruz tried another grandstanding symbolic vote on the Senate floor and the other Senators basically told him to shove it. They routinely allow each other to hold bs symbolic votes, even if that vote is going down in flames five minutes later. But they're through with Cruz's BS. He no longer gets the routine legislative courtesies that Senators always give each other because he's becoming a party pariah.

    And then Cruz ranted on the Senate floor about how corrupt the GOP establishment was, until he got cut off and told to give up the mike. It was that bad.

    Cruz isn't running as the establishment outsider, or the outside establishment candidate. He has always very clearly been running as an insurgent outsider. His problem is that he can't be more of an outsider than Trump, Carson, or Fiorina, who are completely outside the organized party and their own minds. The real opportunity is on the side that Cruz has steered away from and openly disqualified himself for. Bad luck for Cruz, but I'm not sorry.


    He also has the not-to-be-underestimated "ick" factor. People know it when they see it, even rabid Republicans, and the more coverage his candidacy provides the more obvious it is. While he may be the only candidate with that particular gut recognizable quality, it's not one particularly appealing to suitors.

    Cruz is making his break for the lead, like one of those long races where the runners stay bunched up way too long. Can Cruz survive this much publicity, or will it make him wither? And if not him, then who? Will they then triple down on the Donald? The fatigue grows even as the polls say he strengthens. Rubio pales by contrast, and the rest of the pack is simply gasping for breath, and over a month to go for first contest. Oh well, tonight the duel before cameras and the 2 leaders get to show their mutual contempt along mutual admiration. 2 peas in a pod.

    Good post! I respect the writing-only approach, although infographics illustrating the Pareto principle and the different characteristics you were judging the Bennet daughters/Republican candidates would have been nice too. 

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