Mitt Romney's VP Decision, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, and the LSU Survey
We recently finished a national survey of 1,009 registered voters. Among the questions were items designed to tap voter preferences for the type of candidate (minority, woman, moderate or religious conservative, Mitt Romney should pick as VP. It seems fairly clear from the data, the Romney would be best served by picking a moderate vice president. There are several reasons to treat the findings with caution.
First, we are referring to types of candidates (minority, woman, moderate, or religious conservative) and not to specific individuals. There is a parallel to this type of question and questions asking about generic Republicans or Democrats where respondents can read a preferred candidate (or stereotype) into the question.
Second, ideological terms can themselves be problematic. In highly partisan and polarized era, what exactly is a moderate? Or people responding to an understanding based on issues and ideology? Probably not.
Third, majorities across each type of candidate said the vice presidential pick would not matter. When it comes to actually voting, the top of the ticket will drive decisions. The worst case scenario is a Sarah Palin who by going rogue undermines the campaign's messaging and serves as an unwanted distraction.
Finally, there are other reasons to select a vice president. Candidates often face the difficult strategic choice of playing to the base to create enthusiasm and excitement versus appealing the middle for independent and potential crossover voters. Moreover, as a Mormon, Mitt Romney may feel the need to nominate a religious conservative. And state electoral considerations always loom over vice presidential selections.
Within this context, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal remains an intriguing option for the following reasons.
- He is incredibly disciplined and on-message. For state residents (and definitely for the state's residents), the fact that he is constantly on message and highly managed can be frustrating, but it would be a strength in a presidential campaign.
- Religious conservatives would be happy with the pick. Governor Jindal is a Rick Santorum Catholic who talks religion in the rhythm and syntax of an evangelical.
- While he is very conservative, he is also a policy wonk. I personally think he is at his best when he is the smartest person in the room and at his worst when he tries to be folksy (as in his Kenneth the Page response the President Obama's state of the union). Talking policy in a smart and thoughtful way moderates ideology.
His most important limitation is that almost every thing he does as governor appears to be directed toward national audiences. That might be an understatement. In isolation, the focus on national politics might not be a problem but it comes packaged with concerns about whether the state of Louisiana will better off or worse off after he leaves the Governor's Mansion. While he has been auditioning for the vice presidential slot, the state has been grappling with an unexpected $859 million in Medicaid cuts.
Even so (and a further testament to his discipline), he has remained true to his core priorities - no new taxes and aggressive economic development. For that reason, he remains an intriguing choice and, on balance, his positives for a national ticket outweigh his negatives.