Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Iowa: Between Everything and Nothing

I feel as if I'm rerunning all my Iowa greatest hits today, but just a quick one: Iowa isn't everything, and isn't nothing.

So Brad Plumer notices that Iowa winners only get the nomination some of the time, which if you extend the logic winds up with Erik Loomis focusing on Pat Robertson and Pat Buchanan and calling the whole thing a "clown show" best ignored.

They're missing the point. One more time: Iowa is only part of the process, but it's an important part. It can kill off campaigns that appeared to be strong, such as John Glenn in 1984 and Phil Gramm in 1996. It can boost previously obscure people into real contention, such as Gary Hart in 1984 and John Edwards in 2004.

Iowa doesn't do that all by itself. It does it in conjunction with what party actors have done before, and what party actors and other states do later. Even when it wraps up the nomination -- as it did for George W. Bush in 2000 -- it doesn't do that by itself. But yes, where you finish in Iowa really can sometimes affect the results of the nomination, all else equal. Affect, not determine.


  1. Seems a little different by party. Obama, John Kerry, Jimmy Carter. Probably none would have won the nomination without their upset Iowa win. On the GOP side, only Dole and W won both Iowa and the nomination in open primaries and neither's win defied expectations or shifted momentum from what already existed. As the only real value of Iowa is momentum, it seems like ultimately the media is just buzzing frantically, waiting to report who will be the winner of a new burst of media attention. The logic feels a bit circular.

  2. Iowa Dem caucus != Iowa GOP caucus. The median Iowa voter is surely a good bit to the right of the median sea-to-shining-sea American voter, which would put the median Iowa Republican even farther right, but the median Iowa Democrat closer to the center than the median S2SS Democrat. That would explain why Democratic caucus results are frequently relevant but Republican caucus results hardly ever are.


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