Sunday, August 14, 2011

Is Iowa over?...  

And by extension, its boost to generous farm payments and ethanol subsidies?

While the folks in Iowa seriously believe they are designated by God or the Founding Fathers to choose the presidential candidates (I'm not making this  up - sincere Iowa citizens have told me both), their choices seem to be drifting toward irrelevance.

First, remember the last cycle and the big Huckabee win? That was a fast trip to nowhere. History doesn't show Iowa to be quite the bellwether or must-win it is reputed to be.

The Iowa caucuses hold a peculiar place on the path to the Republican nomination. But it’s fair to wonder if the state really is the bellwether Iowans proclaim it to be, at least as compared with New Hampshire, which holds the first primary. A look at the data shows just how different the preferences of the two states’ voters can be and how that will impact this election.Since 1976, there have been nine presidential elections. The candidate who won Iowa won the Republican nomination six times (67 percent). The candidate who won New Hampshire won seven times (78 percent). But we can clean that up by eliminating the four elections in which there was an incumbent Republican president, as there is none this election. Of the remaining five election years, the candidate who won Iowa won the GOP nomination twice (40 percent). New Hampshire predicted the eventual GOP nominee three of those five (60 percent). It’s not a terribly wide deviation, but it certainly doesn’t show Iowa to be essential.
And here’s where it gets interesting. In those five “open” election years, Iowa and New Hampshire never produced the same winner. That’s because it’s always been about more than just statistics and probabilities. As in past years, there is a significant difference between the types of candidates who are competing in Iowa this election and those who are competing in New Hampshire. In the Politico story I linked to in my last post, Giuliani says if he runs, his focus will be on his economic record, not foreign policy. He has also indicated he has no interest in defending the conservative position on same-sex marriage. Here there is consistency among the candidates. Mitt Romney is also skipping Iowa to focus on New Hampshire, and he too is concentrating on his economic record and eschewing culture war politics. Same goes for Jon Huntsman, who was a supporter of civil unions (and many think same-sex marriage as well) as governor of Utah, and he will be concentrating on job creation. [More]

Iowa has drifted so far right it doesn't mean much to Democrats at all, I suspect.  It is now thoroughly identified with Republican politics and campaigns.

Third, the less-than-representative process is now totally gamed by candidates. Ron Paul sets the standard. By exploiting the populist rules, he once again did very well, even though the odds of his winning the nomination are tiny.

Fourth, it would appear side-stepping Iowa is an increasingly popular strategy for Republican candidates. Romney has barely campaigned there, Palin and Perry are waiting it out, and sincere efforts are made by candidates to downplay its importance.

Finally, I think Iowa has over-exploited their position both politically and economically. Other states want a slice of the increasing huge election bonanza. [UT, AZ, WA, NY - to name a few]  And more than few of us are weary of the presumption of Iowans of some civic precedence.

I think this has some minor ramifications for possible farm policy outcomes, but frankly, the bigger question for us is do farm programs still matter?



Anonymous said...

Iowa's DC delegation consists of 4 Democrats & 3 Republicans. Obaman had 9% more votes than McCain. Hard to swallow that IA has drifted "so far right it doesn't mean much to Democrats at all."

John Phipps said...


Fair point. But I don't think the caucus system lends itself to candidates who are more centrist than fringe - the motivation just isn't as strong.

There is a reason Romney is avoiding it. Perhaps a more accurate statement would be "IA Republicans have drifted..."

Brian in Central IL said...

Fair points, but I wonder if the focus on Iowa going forward won't be the "win and in" mentality but rather a "win and compete". Look at Huckabee last election, his win in Iowa carried him a long way, so far that he came darn near getting the nomination. I think had McCain won Iowa it would have been a no big deal scenario. So for the smaller candidates Iowa represents their biggest chance to make a run.