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How Predictive Are the Iowa Caucuses?

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As the first state to select delegates in Election 2008, the Iowa caucuses are understandably considered very important in the presidential nomination process. The caucuses present an opportunity for national frontrunners to solidify their lead as well as underdogs in national polls to gain momentum heading into New Hampshire and the Super Tuesdays thereafter.

But how predictive have the Iowa caucuses been in determining the eventual presidential nominee? An examination of contested party caucuses—that is, election years in which a sitting president is not seeking re-election—reveals the winner of the caucuses go on to secure the nomination just shy of half the time. However, the caucuses have been increasingly predictive in recent years.

On the Democratic side, since 1972 the eventual nominee has won 3 of the 7 such caucuses: John Kerry (2004), Al Gore (2000), and Walter Mondale (1984). In 1972 George McGovern lost by 13 points to Edmund Muskie, in 1988 Michael Dukakis finished in third place (9 points behind Dick Gephardt), and in 1992 Bill Clinton finished in third place (73 points behind Iowa native Senator Tom Harkin). In 1976 Jimmy Carter (28 percent) was the leading candidate, though "Uncommitted" caucus-goers totaled 37 percent of the total vote.

On the Republican side, the eventual nominee has won 2 of the 4 caucuses since 1972 in which sitting presidents were not running: George W. Bush (2000) and Bob Dole (1996). In 1988 George H.W. Bush placed third (18 points behind Dole), and in 1980 Ronald Reagan finished in second place (2 points behind George H. W. Bush).

From Bob Dole (1996), to Al Gore (2000), to George W. Bush (2000), to John Kerry (2004), the current trend favors those candidates who seize first place in Iowa to eventually win the nomination. No doubt this trend is partially due to some correlation (e.g. those candidates who have been successful in raising money before the Iowa caucuses tend to do well there and in the primaries thereafter) as well as causation (the Iowa bounce has undeniably helped some candidates—such as Kerry in 2004, who had previously been trailing Howard Dean in New Hampshire).

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Political Crumbs

Strike Three for Miller-Meeks

Iowa Republicans had a banner day on November 4th, picking up both a U.S. Senate seat and one U.S. House seat, but Mariannette Miller-Meeks' defeat in her third attempt to oust Democrat Dave Loebsack in the 2nd CD means the GOP will not have a monopoly on the state's congressional delegation in the 114th Congress. The loss by Miller-Meeks (following up her defeats in 2008 and 2010) means major party nominees who lost their first two Iowa U.S. House races are now 0 for 10 the third time around in Iowa history. Miller-Meeks joins Democrat William Leffingwell (1858, 1868, 1870), Democrat Anthony Van Wagenen (1894, 1912 (special), 1912), Democrat James Murtagh (1906, 1914, 1916), Democrat Clair Williams (1944, 1946, 1952), Democrat Steven Carter (1948, 1950, 1956), Republican Don Mahon (1966, 1968, 1970), Republican Tom Riley (1968, 1974, 1976), Democrat Eric Tabor (1986, 1988, 1990), and Democrat Bill Gluba (1982, 1988, 2004) on the Hawkeye State's Three Strikes list.


Larry Pressler Wins the Silver

Larry Pressler may have fallen short in his long-shot, underfunded, and understaffed bid to return to the nation's upper legislative chamber, but he did end up notching the best showing for a non-major party South Dakota U.S. Senate candidate in more than 90 years. Pressler won 17.1 percent of the vote which is the best showing for an independent or third party U.S. Senate candidate in the state since 1920 when non-partisan candidate Tom Ayres won 24.1 percent in a race won by Republican Peter Norbeck. Overall, Pressler's 17.1 percent is good for the second best mark for a non-major party candidate across the 35 U.S. Senate contests in South Dakota history. Independent and third party candidates have appeared on the South Dakota U.S. Senate ballot just 25 times over the last century and only three have reached double digits: Pressler in 2014 and Ayres in 1920 and 1924 (12.1 percent). Pressler's defeat means he won't become the oldest candidate elected to the chamber in South Dakota history nor notch the record for the longest gap in service in the direct election era.


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