Does It Feel Like the Candidate Surges Are Getting Shorter? They Are.

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 1 2012 1:10 PM

Does It Feel Like the Candidate Surges Are Getting Shorter? They Are.

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa -- Back in 2000, Mickey Kaus borrowed an idea from a friend and developed the "Feiler Faster Thesis." The Internet had sped up the news cycle. "Political trends that used to last for weeks," he wrote, "now last for hours."

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

That's truer than it ever was. As Rick Santorum campaigns in northwestern Iowa, he is trying to make sure that a surge beginning, perhaps, five days ago, is enough to win the caucuses for him on Tuesday. Will it last? Well, the surges have been lasting for shorter and shorter amounts of time all year, diminishing as voters tune in and pollsters crank out more numbers.

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How to track the surges? Let's use, as our basis, the RealClearPolitics poll average. It's not a perfect measurement. More and more polls were taken as the year went on, so the stretch is bound to be longer in the summer. Still: Start with the RCP average.

Stage One: Michele Bachmann. She leapt in front of the Iowa pack on July 13, and stayed there. On August 13, she won the Ames Straw Poll just as Rick Perry jumped into the race. On August 25, she lost her lead and fell into a frontrunning tie. Surge duration: 44 days.

Stage Two: After two weeks of tied results in Iowa, Perry grabbed a lead. On September 9, he finally got out ahead of his rivals. And then he had to debate, blowing his lead with some alienating mistakes. The fall accelerated on September 23, after he moaned that his critics on immigration policy "have no heart." On October 10, he lost the Iowa lead. Surge duration: 32 days.

Stage Three: Herman Cain. He started booming right after winning the "Presidency 5" straw poll in Florida, and finally led in Iowa on October 16. Politico broke the first story about Cain's sexual harrassment settlements on October 31, and Cain slowly declined, after the GOP base stopped blaming the media and started blame him for the story. The surge ended on November 17. Surge duration: 33 days.

Stage Four: Newt Gingrich By November 20, he had picked up most of Cain's support. By December 17, he'd been destroyed by negative ads. Surge duration: 27 days.

Stage Five: Ron Paul. He benefitted immediately from Gingrich's decline. It's wasn't so much because Gingrich's voters went to him; he just had the best organization picking up angry voters and evangelicals. By December 19 he had a lead. By December 28, polls were showing him stuck and falling, with Rick Santorum headed up. Surge duration: 10 days.

If Santorum wins this, he will have had a surge of a week, or less, and it may never be "proven" by pre-caucus polling.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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