Why Iowa Really Shouldn’t Matter

Jim Geraghty is on a roll this morning looking at the truth behind the Iowa caucus numbers and why they should be no more relevant than any other small state. I can understand the sentiment because I know many gun owners never felt like they had a say in the GOP nominating process in 2008 once some contenders dropped out after fairly early primary runs. With the ups and downs of various candidates in the last few weeks, it’s a shame Tim Pawlenty called it quits after a freakin’ straw poll.

Putting aside the quirkiness of Iowa, caucuses are an awful method for picking candidates for a variety of reasons — suddenly the secret ballot doesn’t matter anymore? — and high among them is low participation. The turnout at the 2008 Iowa GOP caucus: 119,000. Turnout at the 2000 caucus: 87,000. Turnout in 1996: About 96,000. Turnout in 1988: About 109,000.

Turnout has never surpassed 23 percent of all eligible Republicans, and even that low threshold was last met back in 1988. The GOP frontrunner is determined by a group roughly the size of the crowd at a University of Michigan football game. If the Iowa caucus turnout matches its 2008 level (though it could be higher), it will equal 16 percent of the average population of one congressional district.

At least in primaries, many more Republicans (and in open primaries, independents) get to weigh in. In 2008, 234,000 Republicans and independents voted in New Hampshire, and 445,000 Republicans and independents voted in South Carolina.

In his morning newsletter, he also notes that a certain segment of the few caucus-goers will make up their mind based on these last minute polls released showing candidates they like not doing so well or candidates they hate doing too well. This is particularly relevant as some may be responding to the perceived swell of Ron Paul support and flocking to Romney out of fear of a Paul win. That’s the same kind of motivation that drove some states to vote for Huckabee in 2008 – he was the only alternative to McCain at a certain point in the game. It didn’t mean those states actually like Huckabee, they just didn’t want to vote for McCain.

UPDATE: Someone questioned what an ideal map would look like for Geraghty, and he responds with a plan that sounds quite feasible. My only issue is that he left Oklahoma off the calendar.

10 thoughts on “Why Iowa Really Shouldn’t Matter”

  1. Let’s be honest. The Republicans are not fielding any outstanding or strong candidates this year.

    Nothing is impressive. I basically feel that I am watching a bunch of VP nominees, but no one for President.

    And to be frank, I’m not sure there would be any difference policy wise except for the judicial appointments.


    1. The most honest guy in Congress running isn’t impressive? The guy with the most consistent voting record? (The guy with the most consistent small-government voting record, at that.)

      The guy who wants to cut a trillion dollars of waste his very first year and balance the budget in three years? Pretty much the most pro-gun guy there is, who has said flat-out the ATF should be eliminated? The guy who predicted the economic collapse five years before it happened? If that’s not an impressive candidate, then voters sure are a fickle bunch.

  2. Do not forget that the Iowa caucus is an open vote. Anyone registered to vote in Iowa is eligible regardless of party affiliation.

    So you can expect a hefty delegation of Democrats to show up, out to play spoiler by voting for the candidate David Axelrod and Ethan Winner consider the easiest to defeat. In this case, either Ron Paul or Willard Romney.

    Both of whom have been taking plenty of Axelrod inspired flack.


    1. Paul is only considered a spoiler because both the Dem and Rep establishment know he would end crony capitalism and special interests for all of them. That, and because the Republican Party has been taken over by big-government neocons during the past decade. Newt thinks thumbprint databases for gun owners is a good idea!

      A recent Marist poll shows Ron Paul is the only candidate who can beat Obama.

  3. The Iowa caucus has been what it is long enough now that if the Stupid Party had any reservations they would have done something about it by now.

    Their problem now is that, like the Democrat party, they only likes them some democracy when it produces the desired results.

  4. Given the crowded GOP field, Iowa will matter, and so will NH and SC and on down the line…I think the party is looking at an endless slog like the Democrats went through in 2008. It may even end up being decided at the convention if somebody doesn’t break out from the pack soon.

  5. The author failed to make a case for the NEED for separate primary dates. This isn’t 1792, and there’s no need to be somewhere in person to get your message out. Have 4-5 MEANINGFUL debates. Have them available online. Then, have Primary Day. Everybody votes on the same day, and the winner proceeds to the next round in November.

    1. I completely disagree. First, Geraghty did make that argument in the linked piece. It’s one thing if you don’t agree with it, but don’t claim he didn’t say it. Secondly, do you talk to average voters? Seriously, how often have you had a conversation about voting interests with a soft party voter? Do you know what level local candidates define as “soft” voters in your area? The fact that you think the vast majority of voters pay attention to debates as a way to fully understand a candidate’s positions indicates to me that you haven’t had many of these conversations. Perhaps I’m wrong in that assumption, but if that’s the case, then you’re local party voters are far different than average voters elsewhere.

      Consider the record number of debates the GOP candidates have had this year compared to other recent elections. Here’s a summary of Cam Edwards’s thoughts on a major issue that involves the Executive branch: “So . . . seventy-some minutes into the sixteenth debate, a question on Fast and Furious comes up . . . to Rick Perry and Rick Santorum.” CNN blew off a gun question that was promised in an earlier debate. With your plan, we would never hear anything about the issue at all. Sure, candidates might say something on their own, but they wouldn’t have many public forums which would demand such an answer.

      The reasons that many people support having some sort of multi-primary system is to evaluate candidates on several fronts. Issues that people care about most passionately differ around the country. A candidate’s positions on land use regulations are a fundamental economic question in flyover country, whereas they are merely a lifestyle matter in suburban New York. It gives voters an opportunity to see whether a candidate can carry him/herself in various regions. It also allows candidates with little funding to compete in the process. The suggested system by Geraghty would allow a candidate with relatively little funding from the onset to build support and momentum that would garner attention and bring in more potential support. Having it all on one day ensures only the candidate who carries over the largest warchest from previous campaigns will win since they can buy up the ad time in the states that send the most delegates. Related to both of the previous points, it makes sure that flyover country isn’t ignored in the process. It’s already ignored in the general election by the candidates, and even the non-flyover states with little competition are ignored by both parties.

      Because delegate numbers are often tied to population, you’re advocating a system that encourages candidates to only court the largest states and ignore the rest of the voters. While I realize it would take more than this to win, consider the five largest states when it comes to demanding a candidate’s time if you want to go to a system that rewards hitting up only the largest states: Pennsylvania, Georgia, New York, Texas, and California. Only one of those states is ever considered competitive in the general election, and we’re (PA) really not since we still regularly vote for Democrats in the Oval Office. But, what you are saying is that you want the GOP voters in states that largely never turn out enough support for candidates in November to choose the nominee for the rest of the country.

  6. Part of the reason for low turn out is that the Caucus is also a business meeting for the party. You elect delegates to the county convention, some of whom will go on to the district and state conventions, etc. The vote on candidates is the last thing and you sit through a lot just to get there. From what I hear, the dems do it differently. I go to the caucus, I’ve been a county and district delegate, been on the platform committee at the district level. We’ve always gotten through the business, opened the floor for candidate support speeches and then done a paper ballot, or show of hands vote and that’s it. Hours of boredom for 3 minutes of glory.

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