Oddly, I'm not talking about the business cycle here. Instead, I'm talking about the following phenomenon (provided courtesy of the "poll of polls" updated daily at Real Clear Politics):
That green line now reaching for the sky on the far right (all appropriate puns intended) is Newt Gingrich, currently enjoying a popularity boom in the polls tracking candidates for the Republican nomination. As you'll see to the left, the same thing has previously happened to Michelle Bachmann (black), Rick Perry (blue) and Herman Cain (red). Mitt Romney (purple), meanwhile, remains remarkably range-bound, never lower than 15%, never much higher than 25%, as various opponents shoot up and fade away.
Now I'm hardly the first person to notice this. But, lover of figures and charts that I am, Gingrich's path along the same boom as his predecessors made me wonder if there's any regularity to the pattern. Curious, I tracked the timing of the beginning of the surge, reaching peak, and start of drop-off of the last three candidates:
It was interesting to see that, while the three boomlets so far have taken different amounts of time to reach a peak, that amount of time from peak to beginning of steep drop was remarkably similar. It makes me wonder if there's some kind of structure to media saturation, boredom and vicious turn, such that the newscycle of three weeks is inherently how long you can stay on top once you get there. Even more fun, since we can spot on the polling graph the date of the beginning of Gingrich's surge, it's actually possible to predict the timing of his peak and fall based on the average of the last three:
So, if his cycle follows the average of the last three candidates, he'll reach his polling high on December 2nd, and begin a steep drop-off December 23rd. Which won't be a great Christmas present for him. Even worse giving the following dates:
1/10/12 New Hampshire
1/21/12 South Carolina
In other words, his peak of popularity will likely come (and start to end) too early to translate into success in the first primaries and caucuses. Which would leave the consistently medium Mitt Romney again on top just as the voting starts, giving him the nomination despite GOP voters' obvious equally consistent search for someone they're more excited about than him. A lot of people have thought all along that this is the most likely outcome, and I tend to agree. But I can imagine a few reasons Newt's experience might be different:
1. Everything tends to slow down over the holidays, and media cycles are probably no exception. Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's just might stretch out the cycle enough that Newt is still at or near the top when voting starts.
2. If you look at the above dates, one thing that can be clearly seen is that, in each case the next comer was already starting to climb a few days before the previous person started to plunge. In other words, the "anybody but Romney vote" has probably remained consistent, and just looks for someone new to transfer to. This might work for Newt because there's nobody else left. Bachmann, Perry and Cain have all had their day, Huntsman is too centrist for the field, Santorum has never gotten more than 2-3%, and Ron Paul is Ron Paul. Of course, someone new could get in, but this would be difficult at this
point given early primary filing dates being closed or soon closing. So, the opposition to Romney might have to stick with Gingrich now, for better or for worse.
3. A large part of what's happened with the last three anti-Romneys is that they were still relatively unknown to a general audience, and the inevitable airing of their dirty laundry (plus just letting people hear the ridiculous kinds of things they say) started to pull down their popularity shortly after its surge. Gingrich has plenty of negatives, but they're well known both in the party and among the public in general. If primary voters are liking him now, it's not like they're about to find out things they didn't know that will make them reconsider.
Mind you, these are just reasons he might not totally self-incinerate before the voting starts in January. All this might really mean is that Romney is left with a somewhat credible opponent at that point. With his funding, organization, and consistent hanging in there, he's still likely to be the nominee in fairly short order.
Which leaves us all with the shudder-inducing possibility that we could have a general-election that de facto begins by, say, April 1. Seven months of gaffes and spin and irresponsible rhetoric, saints preserve us all...