Reflections on the Iowa Caucus

As they were related to me from Concord & Garfield Townships of Hancock County:
Gingrich: 25%
Santorum: 22%
Paul & Romney: 18% (tie)
Perry & Bachman: 8-10% (tie)

For the entire state:
Romney: 25%
Santorum: 25%
Paul: 21%
Gingrich: 13%

If Gingrich is taken out of the front runner position, the results look much closer to the state’s overall results. I wonder how much of Gingrich’s positioning is the result of a dinner & speech event he held at Mason City, IA (20 min. away) several weeks ago. Clearly, the two townships represented at this caucus were just slightly out of step with the rest of the state. It will interesting to see how Iowa, and Hancock county more specifically, matches up to New Hampshire and national primary votes for the GOP candidate.

In ’08, Romney captured 25% of the state’s caucus vote, with Paul getting on 10% (the only two candidates in the ’08 and ’12 caucuses cauci?). At the state level, Romney stayed roughly the same while Paul rose appreciably in the vote.

Several complaints have been raised against the Iowa caucus process. Richard Cohen (What’s “Rotten” in Iowa) complained that, due to extreme conservative positions, winning in Iowa is “an impossible task for a moderate.” (For the many who consider Romney a moderate, this is an interesting statement. Maybe winning Iowa is an impossibility, but what about tying?) Cohen points out the unimaginable scenario that only one of the GOP candidates does not view abortion as murder, and complains about the “narrowness of the Iowa GOP.”

However, progressive and liberal voters should not be overly hysterical over caucus results. The Iowa caucus is significantly better at selecting the future DFL nominee than the GOP nominee. If you look at the eight caucuses that occurred between 1980 and 2008 (since we don’t know the national results for ’12), Iowa Republicans selected the individual who would become that national nominee 5 times, whereas the DFL in Iowa correctly selected the nominee 7 times. That may not seem that dramatic, until we realize that of the 5 that Iowa Republicans got “right,” three of those were re-elections where the incumbent went unopposed (W. Bush – ’04; H.W. Bush – ’92; Reagan – ’84). That means the Iowa GOP voted with the rest of the nation only two times in those 28 years when there was more than one candidate.

Conversely, the DFL of Iowa have been in lock-step with the nation. With only two incumbents – Obama – ’12 and Clinton – ’96 (and even then, Nader and “Uncommitted” votes stole a fraction of the vote) – Iowa Democrats have selected the future nominee every time except twice (Tom Harkin’s ’92, and ’88). What is more, when you think of the surge that the previously “uknown quantity” Obama received at the IA caucus in ’08, it highlights just how powerful the Hawkeye state can be.

So if history gives us any indication, the Iowa caucus is less “reliable” for selecting a national nominee for the GOP when compared to the DFL. Coming back to the present then, that means that IA frontrunners Romney and Santorum shouldn’t rest too comfortably. Progressives sound foolish lamenting the IA caucus, complaining when GOP’ers sound too conservative for their taste. And the Hawkeye state should continue holding its caucuses. Word to the wise, IA Republicans: figure out what the rest of the nation sees, or learn to hold greater influence over the subsequent primaries.

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