November 4, 2010

MORE COST THAN OPPORTUNITY:

Did the Tea Party Help or Hurt the Republicans? (JUSTIN WOLFERS, 11/03/10, NY Times)

Perhaps the single deepest idea in economics is the opportunity cost principle. And so it is worth asking: What is the opportunity cost of an active Tea Party movement? To figure this out, you need to ask: “Or what?”

When you ask this question, you realize that figuring out the influence of the Tea Party requires comparing last night’s results to the alternative. What election outcomes would have occurred had Tea Party activists not started getting organized a bit more than a year ago? We don’t observe this counterfactual, but we can make some informed guesses.

My guess is that if there were no Tea Party, then the Republicans would likely have fielded more credible candidates who would have won both the Delaware and Nevada Senate races. Likewise, a weak Tea Party candidate may also cost the Republicans the Colorado Senate seat.

There were successes for the Tea Party. But these aren’t successes relative to the “or what?” question. It’s likely that just about any Republican could have won in those races where the Tea Party lights shone brightest — Rand Paul’s election to the Kentucky Senate seat, Marco Rubio defeat of Florida Governor Charlie Christ in their Senate race, or Mike Lee’s win in Utah.

And in Alaska, voters appear likely to have done an end-run around the fervent Tea Partiers, electing the newly-independent Lisa Murkowski. If there were no Tea Party, she would surely be a less disaffected member of the Republican caucus.


There's also the unfortunate trickle down effect. With even regular Republicans embarrassed by these candidates and the media giving them more coverage than any other races in the country, independents and disaffected Democrats will have been less eager to associate themselves with and support the GOP.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at November 4, 2010 5:55 AM
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