Paul Ryan vs. The What-Might-Have-Beens

Well, that didn’t take long.  Already Republican politicos are “fretting over Paul Ryan,” reports Politico.  I don’t place much stock in that.  Just as I wouldn’t expect Ryan to help the ticket that much—vice-presidential nominees rarely do—I wouldn’t expect him to hurt the ticket either.  After all, the Obama campaign was already going to paint Romney as an extremist and go after Romney’s endorsement of the Ryan budget.  I’m not sure such an attack is that much more persuasive—if it was going to be persuasive at all—with Ryan on the ticket.  Moreover, while Ryan isn’t as popular as some previous vice-presidential nominees, his numbers may be improving.

But for the sake of history, let me compare Ryan’s popularity before Romney picked him to that of some other Republicans whose names were mentioned as possible running mates:

The chart is ordered by the percent favorable.  Ryan was in the middle of the pack: his favorables were somewhat higher than lesser-known candidates, but not as high as several other prominent Republicans, including Rubio and Christie.

Here is another way to show how Ryan stands out from the other candidates.  Calculate their “net favorability” by subtracting the percent unfavorable from the percent favorable.  Then compare that to the percent that can actually rate them (their “visibility”).

Among this list of potential running mates, Rice and Petraeus are relative superstars—widely known and viewed mostly favorably.  Another group—Ayotte, Portman, Thune, McDonnell, Haley—aren’t widely known.  What’s interesting is that potential nominees like Rubio, Christie, and Jindal are about as well-known as Ryan, but more popular.  Ryan is similar to Jeb Bush.  Both are people whose visibility hasn’t generated positive attitudes, on average.

To be clear, no running mate would have been an unequivocal success.  Even relatively popular people like Rice and Petraeus would have seen their popularity drop after being scrutinized by the press and attacked by Democrats.  But Ryan did begin his stint as running mate with lower popularity than some other candidates—a fact that may mean he ultimately brings fewer benefits to the ticket than some alternatives would have.

[Cross-posted at The Monkey Cage]

John Sides

John Sides is an associate professor of political science at George Washington University.