Here’s the Nonsense: Who wins the Iowa Caucuses is critically important because this tells us who will be the presidential nominee.
Here’s the Horse Sense: Who wins the Iowa Caucuses is interesting for discussion and to see what a very small portion of the country have decided as the candidate they’d like to support. But the result is no guarantee of what the future holds. In fact, the winner has only become the nominee about half of the time.
Yes, the conventional wisdom is that the candidate that can win Iowa and then New Hampshire will probably be the nominee. But the fact is that “probably” is a very big word, especially these days. Things have changed and the conventional wisdom of the establishment may not be as accurate as it once was.
In 1972 the Democrats made Iowa their first contest in the nation and the Republicans made it their first in 1976. As of that time it has been claimed as significant because it is the first. But the fact is that for the Democrats, five of the nine winners of the Iowa Caucuses since 1972 have become their nominee. And for the Republicans three of the seven winners of the Iowa Caucuses since 1976 have become their nominee. That’s a 56% rate of success for Democrats and 43% success rate for Republicans. So if it really means anything this year, the chances are that the winner of the Republican Iowa Caucuses actually has a greater chance of losing the battle for the nomination than winning. However, let’s be realistic here and remember that comparing the results of 7 or 9 past contests is a very small sampling. Certainly no actuary would feel confident with such little history being used as a basis for a prediction. I’m not a betting man, but if I were I certainly wouldn’t take those odds on anything. Seems like those who trust in the “conventional wisdom” would be pretty unsuccessful gamblers.
But even if we think that those past results mean much of anything, the problem is that they are from the past. The past is not the same as the present. This time winners of primary contests will not receive delegates the same way they used to. No longer will the winner of a primary receive all the delegates for that state. The delegates will be split up among those in the contest so that someone who doesn’t come in first may get some of them and that could keep their candidacy alive for some time throughout the primary races.
The good news about this is that it does give a chance for voters in states with later primaries to feel that their vote actually has more of a part in the final decision of who the nominee will be. And while many, if not most, of the establishment and the pundits have been screaming that we have to drop everything immediately and choose a candidate so we can move forward towards the general election, it is really a rather short-sighted view. The longer the primary contest carries on the better the final choice can be. The process of decision should not be something quick or rashly made. Contrary to what others think, time is the friend of the GOP voters if they would use it wisely. Better to take time to choose the best candidate of those we have available than to rush into something and get stuck with a failing candidate as the GOP did with John McCain and Bob Dole.
So for the Iowa Caucuses, stay up late if you’re so inclined and watch to see who has about a 43% chance of getting the nomination because that’s about all this race is going to tell you.