03 January 2012

The Iowa Caucuses - a preview and an overview

- The Iowa Caucuses - 

a preview and an overview

Well, the big day for the GOP kick-off for the race to the White House in 2012 begins today with the Iowa caucuses. Iowa and New Hampshire - for good or for bad - have established themselves as the "first in the nation" races to determine the nominee of the two major political parties in the USA: The Democratic Party and The Republican Party.

What is a caucus?

A caucus is an electoral event that starts at the precinct-level in Iowa. Iowa has 1,774 precincts and in each precinct there will be two caucus meetings: one for the Republicans and one for the Democrats.

In 2012, the Precinct Caucuses start at at 6:30pm CST for the Democrats and 7pm CST for the Republicans and technically they go for about 1.5 hours, but Iowa caucuses have been known to go even until midnight. The citizens within that precinct meet, discuss the issues and then they will elect delegates to go their County Convention, meaning, the county in which the precinct is geographically located. Iowa has 99 counties, so there will be 99 county conventions.

At those county conventions, delegates will then be selected for the Congressional District Conventions (Iowa now has 4 CDS, it had 5 in the last decade) and ultimately the State Convention. This makes for a 4-step delegate selection process and it also means that a lot can change between the initial caucuses in January and the State Convention in June. The dates between the two parties are very well coordinated, but not perfectly. Here are the dates:

Iowa Electoral EventDemocratic Party (DEM)Republican Party (GOP)
Precinct Caucuses01/03/2012 (Tue)01/03/2012 (Tue)
County Conventions01/10/2012 (Sat)01/10/2012 (Sat)
Congressional District Conventions04/28/2012 (Sat)04/21/2012 (Sat)
State Convention06/16/2012 (Sat)06/16/2012 (Sat)
Number of Delegates / % of total65 delegates (1.17% of 5,555)28 delegates (1.22% of 2,286)
LINKS (Green Papers)IOWANat'l delegate allocationIOWA, Nat'l delegate allocation

Therefore, almost 5 1/2 months will go by between the precinct caucuses that have received so much media attention - and the actual, final delegate allocation from Iowa.

The caucuses for both parties are CLOSED, which means that you have to be registered with that party to go caucus; however, on the Republican side, individuals can register to vote as a Republican at the caucus itself, today, January 3, 2012. This is a technique that has often been used by the opposition party in Iowa, it is nothing new. But it also allows for mischief from the other party. Democrats who want to sway the caucus votes can appear and beef up support for a candidate other than the one they least to run against President Obama in the fall. This is exactly what Rush Limbaugh propagated and encouraged against the Democrats in states like Pennsylvania, Indiana and Ohio in 2008, in his "Operation Chaos".

The Green Papers has put out an EXCELLENT short description of the caucuses themselves:

"Estimates will, of course, be made by media outlets- as well as by the campaigns of the presidential contenders themselves- as to how many of IOWA's National Convention delegates each presidential contender is likely to be ultimately be receiving as a result of the these caucuses but, of course, since no National Convention delegates are actually being chosen by these caucuses, all such estimates of National Convention delegate 'strength' per candidate (in 2012 of course, this is much more an issue on the Republican side, with the Democrats having an incumbent President seeking re-nomination) will almost certainly, come the later Congressional District and State Conventions, be rather different! "

This is also how Iowa gets around the New Hampshire rule:

"Iowa may begin their delegate selection primaries, caucuses, and conventions on Wednesday 1 February 2012. [The Rules of the Republican Party - Rule 15(b)(1)].

Since Iowa neither elects nor binds delegates until 16 June 2012, the 3 January 2012 caucuses do not violate the party's timing rules."

When did the Iowa caucuses get started?

The Iowa caucuses really got national "wind at their back " in 1972, when the George McGovern (D) camp made the caucuses a big event and used it to outmanuever Edmund Muskie (a centrist Democrat) in order to allow the extreme left of the Democratic Party control through the primaries and at the convention. Since then, Iowa has become a regular feeding-frenzy for the media every four years and it should be noted that Iowa profits economically from all of this. It is like a "once-every-four-year" business that comes to the state and dumps tons of money in it.

But how do Presidential contenders actually do in Iowa? Here is a chart:

DEM winner
DEM nominee
GOP winner
GOP nominee
uncommitted - 36%
Muskie - 36%
McGovern - 23%
Hubert Humprey - 2%
Eugene McCarthy - 1%
Shirley Chisolm - 1%
Henry Jackson - 1%
uncommitted - 37%
Jimmy Carter - 28%
Birch Bayh - 13%
Fred Harris - 10%
Morris Udall - 6%
Sargeant Shriver - 3%
Henry Jackson -1%
Jimmy Carter
Gerald Ford
Ronald Reagan
Gerald Ford
Jimmy Carter - 59%
Ted Kennedy - 31%
Jimmy Carter
George Bush, Sr. - 32%
Ronald Reagan - 30%
Howard Baker - 15%
John Connally - 9%
Phil Crane - 7%
John Anderson - 4%
Bob Dole - 2%
Ronald Reagan
Walter Mondale - 49%
Gary Hart - 17%
George McGovern - 10%
Alan Cranston - 7%
John Glenn - 4%
Reubin Askew - 3%
Jesse Jackson - 2%
Walter Mondale
Ronald Reagan - unopposed
Ronald Reagan
Dick Gephardt - 31%
Paul Simon - 27%
Michael Dukakis - 22%
Bruce Babbitt - 6%
Michael Dukakis
Robert Dole - 37%
Pat Roberts - 25%
George Bush, Sr. - 19%
Jack Kemp - 11%
Pierre DuPont - 7%
George Bush, Sr.
Tom Harkin - 76%
uncommitted - 12%
Paul Tsongas - 4%
Bill Clinton - 3%
Bob Kerry - 2%
Jerry Brown - 2%
Bill Clinton
George Bush, Sr. - unopposed
George Bush, Sr.
Bill Clinton - unopposed
Bill Clinton
Robert Dole - 26%
Pat Buchanan - 23%
Alexander Lamar - 14%
Steve Forbes - 10%
Richard Lugar - 4%
Morry Taylor - 1%
Bob Dole
Al Gore - 63%
Bill Bradley - 37%
Al Gore
George Bush, Jr. - 41%
Steve Forbes - 31%
Alan Keyes - 14%
Gary Bauer - 9%
John McCain - 5%
Orrin Hatch - 1%
George Bush, Jr.
John Kerry - 38%
John Edwards - 32%
Howard Dean - 18%
Dick Gephardt - 11%
Dennis Kucinich - 1%
John Kerry
George Bush, Jr. - unopposed
George Bush, Jr.
Barack Obama - 38%
John Edwards - 30%
Hilary Clinton - 29%
Bill Richardson - 2%
Joe Biden - 1%
Barack Obama
Mike Huckabee - 34%
Mitt Romney - 25%
Fred Thompson - 13%
John McCain -13%
Ron Paul - 10%
Rudy Guiliani - 4%
Duncan Hunter - 1%
John McCain

On the Democratic side, if you don't include the "uncommitted" pluralities, then in 7 of 10 cycles, the winner of the caucus was also the nominee. In only 3 cases did someone else win IA: 

Muskie won in 1972 (McGovern lost the general in the fall)
Dick Gebhardt won in 1988 (Dukakis lost in the fall)
Tom Harkin won in 1992 (Bill Clinton won in the fall). 

In only 3 of 10 cycles was it an outright majority win among more than one candidate: Carter in 1980, Harkin in 1992 and Gore in 2000. Until today, only one Democrat has run in Iowa unopposed: Bill Clinton in 1996. After today, that statistic will change, for President Obama is running unopposed in Iowa and is guaranteed a win, so the statistic "7 of 10" will change to "8 of 11" after today.

On the Republican side, there has not yet been an uncommitted plurality in IA. in 6 of 9 cycles, the winner of the caucuss was also the nominee. In only 3 cases did someone else win IA: 

Bush won in 1980 (Reagan won in the fall)
Dole in 1988 (Bush won in the fall)
Huckabee in 2008 (McCain lost in the fall). 

The 1976 statistic is hard to pin down: no actual votes were tallied for the GOP in 1976, but at the convention, Ford narrowly won IA over Reagan. The Republicans have not yet seen an outright majority win among more than one candidate.

As of 2012, the Democratic Party will now have seen 5 cycles in a row where the winner of the caucus was also the nominee.

From 1992 to 2008, the Republican Party had 4 cycles in a row where the winner of the caucus was also the nominee. Had McCain won IA in 2008, then the statistics for the two parties would be identical.

There is only one cycle where for BOTH PARTIES AT THE SAME TIME, the winner of the caucus was NOT the nominee: 1988.

With the exception of 1980, every incumbent president has run unopposed in Iowa (Reagan 1984, Bush 1992, Clinton 1996, Bush 2004 and now, Obama 2012). Again, Ford 1976 is hard to gauge.

It is also clear that in an incumbent election, the opposing side has had a larger field. The Republicans had seven candidates who got votes in 2008. We are thinking of 7 candidates again for 2012, but 11 are officially "on the ballot":

Michele Bachmann
Herman Cain
Newt Gingrich
Jon Huntsman
Ron Paul
Rick Perry
Buddy Roemer
Mitt Romney
Rick Santorum
No Preference

This means that theoretically, Iowans could revive Herman Cain, though this is unlikely. What will be interesting to see will be the "No Preference" and "No vote" categories.

Mitt Romney got 25% in Iowa in 2008 - certainly he will hope to improve his percentage in 2012. Ron Paul got 10% in 2008 and current polling shows him doubling his performance from 4 years ago. Those are the two candidates we can compare to 2008. Actually, the end polling for 2012 looks a lot like the results of 1996:

And just to note how accurate these averages are, take a look at the the end-polling averages for 2008 and then compare them to the results from the above table:

The end polling 008 showed it at 29.7% to 26.7%, Huckabee vs. Romney - a 3 point spread, and the end results were 34.4% to 25.2%, Huckabee vs. Romney - a 9.2 point spread. The pollster who came closest to the actual results, Selzer (Des Moines Register), had Huckabee at +6 in the end run. That same pollster now shows Romney ahead by 2, but the race is far, far, far more volatile in 2012 than it was in 2008. However, if Selzer is indeed the Gold Standard, then Romney has the best cards in his hand today.

Here are the GOP Primary results from Iowa, 2008:

Iowa 2008
Caucus Result
Mike Huckabee
Huckabee +10,892 (+9.18%)
Mitt Romney

Fred Thompson

John McCain

Ron Paul

Rudy Giuliani

Duncan Hunter

Tom Tancredo




We may see some enormous surprises tonight. And some very heated debating.

Now, recording caucus votes is always tricky business and it is impossible to compare vote counts between the two parties: the GOP releases a popular vote total, the Democratic Party releases the number of delegates that will be sent on to the county conventions.

Reflections and Scenarios:

In 2008, a day after the caucuses, I wrote a caucus "wrap-up" and a harsh critique over the caucus method itself:

"Can IA provide momentum? Yes and no. Reagan, Bush 41 and Clinton (92) all lost IA and went on to win their respective nominations. What DOES often happen is that the poll numbers after IA and NH begin to shift and that point in time we will know if IA really did anything on the national scene.

Don't forget, IA is just one very small piece of a very large delegate pie for the respective parties....

...And now, some deserved criticism of IA and it's arcane rules for caucusing:

It's hardly democratic to shut out certain groups from getting to cast their vote.

1.) Military personnel overseas are automatically excluded. Good enough to die for your country, but not good enough to get to vote in the caucuses.

2.) Extremely old and ill are shut out as you have to remain for the duration of the caucus, and not every elderly person can do this, as opposed to going to a polling place,  filling out your ballot and leaving.

3.) People who work second shift are automatically excluded, people like police-and-fire-men, hospital workers, etc.

There is no party affiliation rule, meaning that independents can show up wherever they want.

On the democratic side, there is the 15% rule, which means that in many cases, there will automatically be a second vote. Whoever came up with the magic number of 15%, please stand up and give us your reasons. Had this rule applied to the republican side, then McCain, Thompson and Paul would all have been shut out after the first vote."

You can also program the page to give you the GOP caucus results by winner, by candidate's place or by margin. Here a screenpic of the site:

Some scenarios worth considering:

1.) SCENARIO 1: What happens if Romney wins big? Well, then he cements his already big lead in NH and is then well positioned to at least compete well in SC or win the Palmetto State outright. If he wins all three (he is clearly favored in NV), then he will be the nominee, this is quite clear, for there is electoral precedent in the GOP for this.

2.) SCENARIO 2: Actually, a bad case scenario for Romney is a lean win of 1-2% over Paul or Santorum as the end polling is showing. If he comes in under 25%, his opposition will tout that he did WORSE in IA than four years before, if he can't improve in Iowa, how can he beat an incumbent President, yadayadayada...

3.) SCENARIO 3: If Santorum pulls ahead, then it makes things murky, but Santorum has absolutely no base of operations in NH; he will get creamed there. In this case, Iowa 2012 is likely to be like 2008 and 1988, where the winner of the GOP caucuses was not the eventual nominee. There is also the possibility - an outside possibility, admittedly - that the religious conservatives who have been supporting Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry will coalesce around Santorum and make him the new Anti-Romney, if even for a day. At the rate that the Bachmann campaign is imploding, it would not surprise me that she will be making an "important announcement" on Facebook in the next days. When you are broke, you can only sustain a campaign so long. I will not be surprised to see some protests votes cast today for Mike Huckabee as well.

4.) SCENARIO 4: If Paul wins, then it is different. A striking Paul win could very likely set the stage for an independent run based on a draft-effort started by the Ron Paul supporters. I see this as a very real possibility. Think about it: the man has given up his congressional seat and has nothing to lose by "Going for the Gold in the fall", especially if Paul senses that the race is for the GOP to lose, anyway. His campaign has much more money than in 2008, it is better organized, it is larger and his followership is very voiciferous about it's libertarian-like ideology. There is precedent in this: in 1980, as it was looking very much like Jimmy Carter would be re-elected, John Anderson (R) went for an independent run after such a poor showing in IA. Scott Rasmussen has already tried very much to twist this as a -Ron Paul supporters would kill the Obama campaign- thing, but in reality, there are few Democrats or Obama-leaning independents who are libertarians, so the point is pretty silly.

5.) SCENARIO 5: The most distant possibility, I think, is if Newt Gingrich makes a surprise comeback and turns the race into a real four-way with Romney, Santorum and Paul. This would of course defy the laws of polling physics, but weirder things have happened in life, so we should not dismiss this outright. This would resuscitate the Gingrich campaign, which is now approaching life-support status.

6.) SCENARIO 6: If Iowans are still very undecided and "No Preference" and "other" get a lot of votes, then this could very well spur a figure like Don Trump to make good on his veiled threat to jump into the race as an independent candidate. It has been 36 years since "uncommitted" (read that as "No Preference") had a plurality at the Iowa caucuses and it has not yet happened on the GOP side of the spectrum.

On the Democratic side, with the winner already crystal clear, it is incumbent upon incumbent Obama to use the caucuses to mobilize his base. It should be noted that the most organized campaign in IA is the Obama campaign: it has ten times more offices and volunteers than any of the Republicans. Should the Democrats flock to the Democratic caucuses and not try to play mischief at the GOP caucuses (yes, Rush Limbaugh, payback is hell, buddy), then I bet that the Democratic Party of Iowa will indeed announce the popular vote results if Obama gets more votes than one or more of the GOP candidate in their caucuses: this would be an effective campaigning technique, for in Iowa, the voter registration has held steady at a light Democratic lead with lots and lots and lots of independent voters. Anything that the Democratic party can do to give the President an aura of "inevitability", it will do. This is common in electioneering and is a technique used by both sides.

On Wednesday, I will be posting a post-mortem on the IOWA caucuses.

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