That Washington

How Much Does Iowa Matter?

By Erica C. Barnett January 3, 2012

In keeping with our brief foray into national politics (hyper-local appearances aside, we actually do care about this business in Iowa where serious contenders like Rick Santorum are saying things about federal social programs such as I don't want to “make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money”), I decided to take a look back at previous Iowa GOP caucuses to get a sense of how much the low-turnout event, ultimately mattered, in terms of both the Republican nominee and the winner of the presidential election.

First of all, in terms of choosing GOP nominees, Iowa's record is only so-so: In the six contested Iowa caucuses since 1976 (Ronald Reagan was unopposed in 1984 and George W. Bush was unopposed in 2004), Iowa voters chose the ultimate GOP nominee just half the time, picking Gerald Ford in 1976, Bob Dole in 1996, and George W. Bush in 2000.

Breaking down the numbers by how many times Iowa Republicans have chosen the candidate who ultimately became President, the caucuses' track record looks even worse: Just one time out of six (Bush in 2000) has Iowa's pick ended up being elected---a track record of less than 17 percent.

Iowa's record of choosing a candidate other than the ultimate nominee in instances when that nominee lost (perhaps a sign of Iowans' political wisdom?), isn't any better. Just once in 36 years have Iowa Republicans been "correct" in rejecting a GOP nominee who ultimately lost the election: In 2008, when John McCain got trounced by Barack Obama Iowan Republicans had the apparent prescience to go with Mike Huckabee.

But we'll be watching anyway---if only to see if Michelle Bachmann gets the "miracle" she's predicting.
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