By James A. Kidney
Some miscellany on the current news ahead of the Iowa caucuses.
The bottom line, especially if you are tired of the nominating campaigns before the first votes are cast, is that there is a very good chance the whole thing will be decided in eight weeks or less. (You can find a more pessimistic view here.) Here are some fact-based observations below.
Why is Iowa Important to Republicans? It Shouldn’t Be
It is a quadrennial surprise that Republicans give so much attention to the Iowa caucus. The winner hardly ever becomes the party’s nominee. Recent winners are Rick Santorum (2012), Mike Huckabee (2008), George W. Bush (2000 – there was no 2004 caucus since Bush was unopposed), Bob Dole (1996 and 1988 – there was no 1992 caucus since George H.W. Bush ran unopposed) and 1980 (George H.W. Bush). So out of six GOP caucuses since 1980, Iowa voted for the winner only twice. That’s only .333 percent – a good baseball average, but not a great prediction average.
The caucus is a better predictor of the Democratic nominee. Obama won the 2008 caucus, amazing the political establishment that year and giving his candidacy instant credibility. Eventual nominees John Kerry and Al Gore won in 2004 and 2000, respectively. But Tom Harkin ran away with the 1992 caucus (Clinton was fourth) and Dick Gephardt in 1988 (Dukakis was third). Incumbent Jimmy Carter won in 1980, beating out Ted Kennedy by 28 percentage points. So the caucus predicted the nominee in four out of six races. That’s twice as steady as on the Republican side.
Candidates of both parties are inspired by Carter’s out-of-nowhere near-victory in 1976 (“uncommitted” beat him 37.2 to 27.6 per cent, but he doubled number three Birch Bayh’s vote).
These results demonstrate how Iowa is an infectious disease for Republicans, often voting for candidates with no national following, but doing better byt Democrats. The reason is easy to explain: Republicans in Iowa are rock-ribbed, with many of them also fundamentalist right wing. Santorum and Huckabee, and perhaps Ted Cruz in 2016, are quite appealing to this base. Jimmy Carter won much of the religious support in 1976, when the strongly religious and Republicans were not so closely identified with each other as they are today. Democrats in Iowa, though nearly all white, align more closely with Democrats across the country, especially those residing in the state’s larger cities and towns.
The clear differences in party constituencies make Iowa a perennial purple or swing state in November.