Some thoughts on Iowa as we wait for the results

For as long as I can remember, a great deal of emphasis has been placed on the importance of presidential candidates winning the Iowa caucus. I can understand at least some of the reason for this. The caucus is the first “real” challenge of the election season. It lets presidential candidates judge the strengths and weaknesses of their campaigns. However, looking back over the last couple of decades, it is easy to see that the caucus isn’t as precise in predicting who will get their party’s nomination as some folks might like us to believe.

1972 marked the moment when the caucus became the first shot, so to speak, of the presidential campaign. Since then, it has been accurate approximately 43% of the time in predicting the Democratic Party’s nominee and 50% for the Republican Party’s nominee. So let’s look at some of those results before we start reading too much into what the final results will be later today when the polls close.

For the Democrats:

  • 1972 — Uncommitted won with 36% of the vote (tied with Edmund Muskie) George McGovern, who became the party’s nominee won 23% of the vote.
  • 1976 — Uncommitted won 37% and Jimmy Carter, the eventual nominee, won 28%.
  • 1980 — Carter won and won the nomination.
  • 1984 — Walter Mondale won and won the nomination
  • 1988 — Dick Gephardt won with 31% and Michael Dukakis, the eventual nominee, won 22%.
  • 1992 — Tom Harkin won with 76% and Bill Clinton, the eventual nominee, won 3%.
  • 1996 — Bill Clinton won and won the nomination.
  • 2000 — Al Gore won and won the nomination.
  • 2004 — John Kerry won and won the nomination.
  • 2008 — Barack Obama won and won the nomination.
  • 2012 — Barack Obama won and won the nomination.

So, judging by the last five elections, if you are a Democrat, the caucus will be a pretty good indication of how you will do. But what about the Republicans?

  • 1972 — no report
  • 1976 — Jerry Ford won and won the nomination
  • 1980 — George H. W Bush won 32 % and Ronald Reagan, who eventually won the nomination, won 30%.
  • 1984 — Ronald Reagan won and won the nomination.
  • 1988 — Bob Dole won with 37% and George H. W. Bush, who eventually won the nomination, won 19%
  • 1992 — George H. W. Bush won (unopposed).
  • 1996 — Bob Dole won and won the nomination.
  • 2000 — George W. Bush won and won the nomination.
  • 2004 — George W. Bush won (unopposed).
  • 2008 — Mike Huckabee won 34% and John McCain, who eventually won the nomination, won 13%.
  • 2012 — Rick Santorum tied Mitt Romney, who eventually won the nomination, with 25% of the vote.

It is clear that the Republicans haven’t been quite as successful as the Democrats in selecting the eventual candidate over the last five elections. It is by a small margin but it is there. Looking further back, on both sides, it is clear that this is just the first volley in the battle that will come.

What will happen is those who are far back in the pack will more than likely drop out, if not immediately after the caucus than shortly thereafter. Their impact will be felt when they throw their support behind one of the remaining candidates. Tonight’s results are not the final deciding factor for who will meet in the general election come November.

For voters, this is your chance to look again at the candidates and decide just how involved in the process you want to be. In other words, make an informed decision. Educate yourselves on what the candidates stand for, what their voting record is — either in politics or in business. Look at who is supporting them, not just other politicians who are giving them endorsements but also those people, PACs and businesses giving them money and what newspapers and other media outlets are endorsing them. All of that should factor into your decision of which candidate to vote for.

So here’s waiting to see what Iowa decides and how it impacts the rest of the election season.


  1. Great job and a great post. One reason that Iowa, of late, has been less accurate for the GOP is that the Iowa caucus attendees have been strongly Evangelical over the decades. If the candidate can tap into that movement they can win. It is rare that the winner does not win that segment of the caucus attendees. If you look at Santorum and Huckabee, that is why they won, but outside of that Evangelical base, they lacked support. Bush beat McCain in 2000 and McCain lost to Huckabee in 2008 and McCain never had Evangelical support.

    The key tonight is going to be turnout. If there is a flood of new caucus attendees then Trump may win…because he may bring in non-Evangelicals. A lower turnout, meaning more dedicated attendees, might signal a Cruz victory. Caucus goers break late to their final decision (and while the Democrats have a wild night, the GOP is really more like an election) so Rubio’s late momentum may mean he rockets to a win or second place finish.

  2. Well the votes have been counted and as most of you know Clinton and sanders tied, which gave both a chance to claim victory. the Repubs came in Cruz, Trump, Rubio. For once Trump gave a gracious, but the next day he reverted to type claiming that “Cruz stole the election.” It continues on.

    1. Amazing, isn’t it, how the media was so busy praising Trump immediately after the Iowa results were announced. He was so gracious, etc., etc. But they aren’t really saying anything about how he has returned to form or criticizing him for it. Nooo, Cruz is the bad guy here, at least according to them (and I’m not a big Cruz fan)

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