Wednesday, January 02, 2008

What do Iowa and New Hampshire mean?

edit on 1/5 to correct some incorrect info...thanks to TimWilsonAZ for the heads-up...

...Not as much as some might think...

Within the next week, Iowa and New Hampshire will choose the major party nominees for president.

OK, not really, but with the way the campaigns have focused so much energy on wooing caucus-goers and voters in those states, as well as the way the MSM has focused on every belch and blink, someone unfamiliar with the American political process might think that.

At the risk of uttering heresy, why are the candidates putting so much into the early states? They command attention far out of proportion to their actual impact on the nominations.

To whit -

- In the 9 Democratic campaigns since Iowa became the first presidential nominating event in 1972, the winner of the caucuses became the eventual nominee only 5 times (2 of those were incumbents) and actually went on to win the Presidency only once (Bill Clinton's re-election in 1996.)

- In the 8 Republican campaigns since 1976, only 5 of the caucus winners went on to receive the nomination, and only 3 of those won the Presidency (Reagan's re-election in 1984, baby Bush in 2000 and his reelection in 2004.

- New Hampshire hasn't been a much better predictor, with 6 out of 9 Democratic winners going on to win the nomination and only 2 to win the Presidency (Carter in 1976 and Clinton's re-election in 1996). On the Republican side, 6 out of 8 have gone on to win the nomination, 3 the Presidency (Reagan in 1980 and 2 re-elections.)

Even winning in both Iowa and New Hampshire hasn't meant much. Four times a Democrat has won in both states, and five times a Republican has won in both.

Of those 8 sweeps, only no non-incumbent has gone on to with the Presidency.

Some might count papa Bush in 1988 as a non-incumbent, but he was a sitting VP at the time. More importantly, many of the votes cast for him, both in the primaries and the general, were more for a third Reagan term than a first Bush term. He was a de facto incumbent.

And if Iowa and New Hampshire's low value as predictors weren't enough, consider their lack of practical value to a potential nominee.

On the Republican side, Iowa and New Hampshire award 40 and 24* delegates respectively (out of 2516*.

* = pre-penalty totals

On the Democratic side, Iowa and New Hampshire award 57 and 30 respectively, out of 4051*.

* = delegate numbers and totals subject to minor changes, but these numbers are close enough to suffice here.

In other words, Iowa's caucus and New Hampshire primary combined award less than 3% of their respective party's delegates, and Iowa isn't even 'winner-take-all.'

Hell, neither one even has as many delegates as Arizona.

From both campaigns and from the media, those two states garner attention far out of proportion to their actual value.

The New York Times has summed up the biggest fear of both the candidates and the MSM with this headline -
What if Iowa Settles Nothing for Democrats?
Perhaps a tie or near-tie would be nightmarish for the campaign and media pros, but it might be the best thing for the rest of the country because it would force the campaigns to treat the other states to a little more attention.

New Hampshire and Iowa do serve as a good way for the campaigns to get warmed up (despite the typical weather as NH and IA may be this time of year). They can test and refine their messages and organize their ground games within a couple of (relatively) focused environments.

It's also probably the last time that any of the serious candidates are forced to interact with real people; in the bigger states, and in the general, the only people that the candidates interact with are campaign officials, consultants and big money donors.

Having said all of this, on Thursday and Tuesday may the best Democrat (some guy from New Mexico :) ) and the Republican who is the least electable in a general election win and use their wins to catapult their ways to their respective parties' nominations.



TimWilsonAZ said...

Yo Craig! Good post, dude, nice analysis. One thing, though: McCain won the New Hampshire primary in 2000. ;)

See ya at the D17 meeting Tuesday.

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