Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Where were the Iowans?

Luckily, no one is making an issue of the eight-vote (unrecounted) margin by which Mitt Romney outpolled Rick Santorum in the Iowa caucuses Tuesday night. That would just be too stupid. I stayed up late watching the results trickle in only because I am an addict, because MinnPost pays me the big bucks to watch TV far into the night, and because I was in a pool with some friends to predict the result and I was the only one who picked Santorum to finish first.

But to tack back to my unhinged diatribe of Tuesday morning about the Iowa-first nonsense, here’s one more fact. Just 122,255 Iowans voted in the repub caucuses. I mentioned in my Tuesday rant that this was a ridiculously tiny portion of U.S. eligible voters, but as the HuffPost emphasizes, it’s also only 5.4 percent of eligible Iowa voters. (Of course, the number would be higher if there had been a contested nomination on the Dem side, but it would still be a number that it would be a blow against one of the many silly defenses of the Iowa-first tradition, namely that Iowans take their assignment so seriously. Not so much.

Anyway, to repeat, this is not the main argument against the Iowa-New Hampshire duopoly on going first. The main argument is simply that no state should get whatever political/economic/prestige/attention/self-esteem benefits come with the honor of going first. That honor should rotate.

One last thought that makes my head hurt. People who write about this issue usually note that Iowa and New Hampshire have both guaranteed that they will always go first, no matter how early they have to go to be first, because each of those states has passed a law asserting that if any state tries to get ahead of them, they will move up their date to retain their firstness.

Surely, Shirley, I’m not the first one to think of this, but what would happen if two more states (or more!) passed identical laws so that as soon as Iowa’s we-move-ours-up-to-stay-first law kicked in and issued a new, even earlier date, the other state’s we-move-ours-up-to-stay-first would kick in and…and…the time-space-Iowa continuum would be imperiled.

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 01/05/2012 - 01:38 pm.

    It makes my head hurt, too, so, to sooth myself, I read Jim Kunstler’s prediction(s) for 2012 ( He’s not an optimist, and somewhere down the road, on the off chance that he might eventually be correct, or nearly so, the insignificance of the Iowa caucuses may well become evident.

  2. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 01/05/2012 - 02:33 pm.

    A couple of comments:

    From the Huffington Post:


    …entrance polling puts the number of independents who voted in the GOP caucuses at about 23% of the turnout or approximately 28,000 voters. Ron Paul polled 44% of that independent vote, as compared with Mitt Romney’s 18% and Rick Santorum’s 13%….

    (end quote)

    If you subtract the effect of the the independents from the caucus results, it would be roughly:


    It is clear that it is NOT a 3 way race among Republicans. It really points out Romney’s weakness and Paul’s lack of depth of following in the party despite two election cycles of campaigning (same as Romney). It is unlikely that Paul could crash the national convention in the same way he crashed the Iowa caucus.

    Perhaps it is the recycled nature of the campaigns as well as a general awareness of the weakness of the field that has suppressed the turnout. It is my sense that Republicans are uneasy.

  3. Submitted by Kevin Slator on 01/05/2012 - 04:00 pm.

    The most interesting thing to me (other than Santorum’s come-from-nowhere results) is how there was only a small increase in caucus-goers over 2008. We constantly hear how outraged Republicans are about Barack Obama and how they’ve been licking their chops to get to 2012.

    This was the GOP’s first chance to send a message to Obama. But according to the NY Times, 118,696 people turned out for the Iowa caucuses in 2008 — just 3% less than in 2012. (Oddly, the 2008 results still only reflect 98% of precincts.) Weather wasn’t a factor in 2012.

    Not exactly sending a powerful message to an incumbent president.

  4. Submitted by Pat Berg on 01/06/2012 - 07:47 am.

    Eric said “no one is making an issue of the eight-vote (unrecounted) margin by which Mitt Romney outpolled Rick Santorum in the Iowa caucuses Tuesday night” and I guess I’ve been wondering why not. I keep thinking that such a small difference must lie well within the margin of error for these numbers and wondering why no one mentions that in their reporting.

    And then – sure enough – here comes “breaking news” out of Iowa that there was a 20-count error in the reported tally on caucus night:

    Which is why, after all, we HAVE statistical analyses of measurement processes (which is what counts of votes are).

    Romney and Santorum were tied for the caucus win Tuesday night – statistically speaking. But I guess that’s not nearly as dramatic as breathlessly declaring “Romney won by a razor-thin margin of only EIGHT VOTES!”.

    And these days, drama wins the day.


  5. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 01/06/2012 - 08:34 am.

    If NH and Iowa have each passed a “me first” law, why isn’t NH moving its primary back into December? Or will that happen next year?

  6. Submitted by Pat Berg on 01/06/2012 - 10:39 am.

    Well, at least Nate Silver is talking about it:

  7. Submitted by Rich Crose on 01/06/2012 - 12:11 pm.

    Why can’t the system be moved to the 21st century.

    A network can sign up a party for a ridiculous amount of money to sponsor to debates. The format will be an “American Idol” type debate with celebrity pundits as guest hosts –text your votes after the show. One loser will be voted off the show each week and given a lucrative contract on the lecture circuit as a consolation prize. The winner will emerge in the Spring after ratings week with the party’s nomination and a campaign contribution of one million dollars.

  8. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 01/08/2012 - 10:23 am.

    Now you know why they say…

    Iowa picks corn.
    New Hampshire picks presidents.

  9. Submitted by Roger Forsberg on 01/08/2012 - 10:26 pm.

    #2, Neal Rovick’s research has done all of us a favor, and has provided evidence for what most thoughtful observers have known for more than a few weeks: Ron Paul’s appeal to standard, garden variety Republicans is very slim (I’ve seen numbers that indicate his support is between 7% & 10%). His appeal is greatest to those who typically don’t identify themselves as “Republicans” or “Democrats”

    Indeed, his appeal to the American Establishment Voter (by which I mean those who typically vote Democrat or Republican) is very low. Consider his political positions & what are we to make of these: a non-aggressive foreign policy? Reducing the military in its size & expense? Repealing substantially the punitive nature of federal drug laws? Non-interference in allowing individuals over the age of 18 to marry whom they please? A practical, non-retributive & non-destructive federal immigration policy? Minimal interference by the government in the personal lives of citizens? Sound federal fiscal policy??

    These are not positions which conventionally-thinking voters embrace now — or will soon embrace. They simply require too much change.

Leave a Reply