Does Iowa Matter?

Ever since 1846 when Iowa became a state, it believed and relied on a caucus system rather than a convention system. When election rules changed in the 1960s requiring a certain number of days between caucuses and conventions, Iowa had to move its caucus ahead to comply with the rules. Being first causes a tremendous amount of media attention, tourism, and great significance. New Hampshire is similar in that it has state law that requires that its primary must be the first in the nation, and has been since 1920. So does being first matter? Well here is the data:

1980: Nominee: Ronald Reagan |  George H. W. Bush (32%), Ronald Reagan (30%), Howard Baker (15%), John Connally (9%), Phil Crane (7%), John B. Anderson (4%), and Bob Dole (2%)

1988: Nominee: George H. W. Bush | Bob Dole (37%), Pat Robertson (25%), George H. W. Bush (19%), Jack Kemp (11%), and Pierre DuPont (7%)

1996: Nominee: Bob Dole | Bob Dole (37%), Pat Robertson (25%), George H. W. Bush (19%), Jack Kemp (11%), and Pierre DuPont (7%)

2000: Nominee: George W. Bush | George W. Bush (41%), Steve Forbes (30%), Alan Keyes (14%), Gary Bauer (9%), John McCain (5%), and Orrin Hatch (1%)

2008: Nominee: John McCain | Mike Huckabee (34%), Mitt Romney (25%), Fred Thompson (13%), John McCain (13%), Ron Paul (10%), Rudy Giuliani (4%), and Duncan Hunter (1%)


Here is a summary of significance in the Republican [R] and Democrat [D] Iowa caucuses since 1972:

  • Nominee received over 19% support– 80% of the time [R]. 88% of the time [D]
  • Came in 1st or close 2nd – 60% of the time [R], 77% of the time [D]
  • Did not have significant support – 20% of the time [R], 11% of the time [D]


Based on the numbers, Iowa does matter. There are however some things that may defy these numbers this year. In 2008 when Huckabee won Iowa, but eventually dropped out, he did this because of the lack of funding. This is similar to what may be happening to Gingrich. He is leading the polls, but is also $4 Million in debt. Another item that needs to be taken into consideration is the numerous changes in leaders. Cain, Perry, Bachmann, Gingrich, and now Paul have all been leaders. Does this show uncertainty? Bachmann is also making a late push to visit all 99 counties before the caucus, which may cause another shift. Does Iowa matter? Should Iowa matter? We will see.

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  • kessledi  On January 2, 2012 at 4:50 am

    Iowa’s track record of choosing the candidate that eventually gets the nomination is surprisingly off, especially when compared to New Hampshire. Despite this, however, it keeps significant media and campaign attention by the candidates. I wonder if a Paul win, which I think would be dismissed by many observers of the race as a fluke, could lower Iowa’s standing as a accurate and viable predictor of the presidential primary races. As you say though, we will see.

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