Iowa’s week in the limelight is slowly fading to black as presidential candidates set their sights on the next stops on the caucus/primary trail.
Despite Iowa being relegated to the presidential campaigning back burner for another four years, the state’s caucus maintains a staying power we feel is unwarranted. Mitt Romney beat out the rest of the presidential field January 3 by a razor thin margin, and now many are saying he will be the Republican nominee since he eked out a victory in a state of cornfields.
Let’s not be so sure.
We have to remember that the Iowa Caucus is a bizarre event that is about as accurate a predictor as a game of heads or tails. The Caucus does a better job at snuffing out candidacies than making accurate predictions about who is going to win the party nomination.
The Iowa Caucus didn’t gain notoriety until 1972 after a series of articles about the way non-primary states such as Iowa choose their candidates.
Leading up to the Democratic primary of 1972, Maine’s Sen. Edmund Muskie was leading. Muskie received the highest percentage of the vote in Iowa in 1972, but challenger, Sen. George McGovern, came in a strong second. Taking second place gave McGovern increased media attention, and he was ultimately nominated by his party that year.
Then in 1976, the Iowa Republican Party moved their caucus to the same date in January, creating what is now a media juggernaut in the cornfields every presidential election year.
So the media pays close attention to the Iowa Caucus, because candidates now pay close attention to it. And the candidates pay close attention to it, because, while it offers only sporadically correct insight into what the future holds, it has the potential to give candidates the same momentum McGovern received.
But in our opinion, the Caucus is overhyped. Iowans are not an accurate representation of the national demographic, and frankly, the caucus voting body involved is incredibly small, with just 120,000 voters casting ballots on the Republican side this year.
What this means is that if a presidential candidate uses the Iowa Caucus as an indicator of their chances for ultimate success and drops out of the race, only a tiny fraction of the population has decided if the rest of the nation gets the opportunity to vote for that candidate.
This fact becomes more disturbing after reading The Gazette, a newspaper out of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. According to that publication, pre-caucus polls show that nearly half of Iowans go into the caucus undecided, to be swayed by the campaigners that are allowed at caucus sites.
In a recent article, The Gazette’s editorial board says that while Iowans value the opportunity to be the first in the nation to “winnow the field,” the board feels the caucus is held too early to be accurate. They say many Iowans are tapped out after a long holiday season and are, by and large, unfocused on the presidential race.
What’s more, it has been reported that the Iowa Caucuses and their snowballing importance have been blamed for the excessive corn ethanol subsidies that benefit that state.
But our critique of Iowa isn’t really Iowa’s fault. We would likely feel the same way about any one state that went first. If would be difficult for any of the 50 to offer an accurate cross-section of the nation’s demographic. And the same issues would likely arise in regard to caucus voting-body size and unfair subsidies that benefit that particular state.
We like the suggestion of the nation’s former Democrat VP, Walter Mondale. His idea would split the nation into regions for voting a primary at two-week intervals. That would increase voting-body size, help make the demographic more representative, and discourage unfair subsidies and kowtowing to a particular state’s interests.
For the time being, it seems we’re stuck with this ridiculous Iowa tradition, but we’re keeping in mind that while traditions can be made, they can be broken as well.