A Changing Wind
Democracy or Bust

Winkler Headshot_sketchIf you were to ask the average American what the most important state is in the presidential election, they might answer with a large state like Texas or California. If you were to ask a political wonk what the most important state is, they might answer with Iowa. But this election, this assumption may be challenged.

The Iowa caucuses serve as an early indication of which candidates will make the cut for their party nomination and which candidates will become the next Newt Gingrich – entertaining, but never stood a chance. Since 1972, the Iowa caucus has been used to weed out weak candidates and give strong ones a running start going into the primaries.

This political cycle, candidates appear to be taking a different approach. Instead of bending over backwards to impress Iowans from all 99 counties, there are many who are reallocating their resources in Iowa to better be utilized somewhere else.

Furthermore, if you actually look at the correlation between the winner of the Iowa Caucus and the eventual winner of the party nomination, there is no reason to believe that it is as strong of a relationship as it is made out to be. For example, for Democrats, the Iowa Caucus picked the winner of the party nomination six times out of nine elections. This is a probability of 66.6%.

For Republicans, the probability of the Iowa Caucus picking the winner of the party nomination is even smaller. Out of seven elections, the Iowa Caucus only accurately predicted three of them, amounting to a relatively small 43% probability.

But as every statistician knows all too well, correlation does not equal causation. Furthermore, presidential campaigns are too rare, providing too small of a sample size to take much away from correlation. But if the link between winning the caucus and winning the party nomination is not so certain, then how could one state hold so much influence in the first place? Well, it won’t this election cycle — at least not as much as it has in the past.

The Iowa Straw Poll is becoming even less important. The straw poll is put on by the Republican Party as a fundraising event and has also served to weed out the bottom of the bucket of Republican candidates before the primaries even begin. This year, the straw poll will probably receive little attention, due to the fact that the first Republican debate will be held two days prior to it. This nationally broadcasted debate will have more of an effect on a candidate’s decision whether to continue in the race than a single state poll,.

Furthermore, many of the main Republican candidates (and soon-to-be candidates, like Jeb Bush) have already expressed their intention to skip the straw poll. Their campaigns are beginning to wonder whether the time and money are really worth the few national delegates that Iowa could give them.

Unfortunately, it’s too soon to tell though whether Iowa is actually beginning to lose its political importance in the presidential election.


Sydney Winkler is a rising senior in the College. Democracy or Bust appears every other Saturday.

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