Beware the Sabato slant

Probably we've all seen Larry Sabato on TV during election season. The UVA political scientist is usually portrayed as an unbiased analyst, concerned mainly with the facts, especially statistics, and with political predictions. Well, in this world there is no such thing as "unbiased". In Larry's case, his writings reveal him to be a liberal through and through. The excerpts below from a recent essay of his illustrate this. (The entire text of his essay is linked here.)

Now Larry Sabato is a halfway reasonable guy, as liberals go. It isn't so much his political orientation that I object to, except in the sense that he's old enough to know better. What I object to mainly is the pretense that he's unbiased. That's also what I loathe and despise about most of the media, that they lie not only in the pictures they paint of the world, but even in what they themselves are all about.

Regarding the substance of Sabato's comments:

It is laughable to describe today's GOP as being "fiercely right-wing" and "harsh" in its conservativism. In fact, in the past dozen or so years the party has degenerated into confusion, so that today it doesn't know what it stands for. Conservatives, feeling betrayed, are among the harshest critics of this GOP, and many have advocated forming a third party. For a respected polical analyst to state the opposite of the clear facts is jaw-dropping.

Sabato says it is surprising that a conservative politician would advocate civil unions (as opposed to the oxymoronic "gay marriage") for homosexuals. Apparently whenever a conservative doesn't fit his mental model of "harsh", it is surprising to him.

My advice to liberals: When your preconceived model conflicts with the observed data, stop trying to change the data. It's your fundamental model that's wrong, so you should change it to match the data. However, if liberals did this, they would cease to be liberals.

Also, the stance he describes is not "moderate". As used today, a "moderate" is someone who doesn't know what he believes, and whose highest value is just to cave in to the lunatics and all get along.

Regarding the last point below, I asked David Yepsin whether the conventional wisdom was correct about Romney's Mormonism hurting him in Iowa. Yepsin replied that it both helped and hurt Romney among Iowa Republicans, and as far as he could tell the net effect was a wash. At least in Iowa, Yepsin clearly knows more about this than Sabato does. Sabato was just speculating from a liberal perspective, as if his mental model of the world were as good as actually knowing the facts.

Presidency 2012: The Invisible Primary BeginsA Commentary By Larry J. Sabato Friday, May 08, 2009

We at the Crystal Ball must beg your forgiveness. With fewer than 1,300 days left until the next general election for President, we have failed to offer a single analysis of this historic upcoming battle. With humility, and hoping for mercy, we submit this first update on 2012.


Two moderate-conservative Republicans who are fresh faces could give the GOP more of a fighting chance in 2012. Two-term Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota has found a way to win in a Democratic state without abandoning most traditional conservative positions. He is also in his 40s, with a blue collar background, possessing a pleasant demeanor and a sense of humor. (Having been on John McCain's short list for running-mate, he joked to this analyst after Palin was selected that he was "just one chromosome away from the vice presidency.") Whether Pawlenty intends to run for President is uncertain, and he has to decide about offering for a third term as Governor in 2010--always a risk in a Blue state. Will Republicans even accept a less harsh version of conservatism that isn't located in the Sunbelt?

An intriguing dark horse candidate is two-term Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman. A proponent of gay civil unions and some other surprisingly moderate stances despite hailing from one of the nation's three or four most conservative states, Huntsman is openly testing the waters, and arguing that Republicans are headed for a long spell in the wilderness without a major ideological facelift. Wealthy and smooth in his public appearances, Huntsman makes a vital point, but undoubtedly he will strain the patience and tolerance of a fiercely right-wing party. His tiny base--Utah has but five electoral votes--doesn't help, and his Mormonism possibly will be a detrimental factor with many fundamentalist Christians, just as for Romney. (snip)

Larry J. Sabato is the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.