Analyzing the Iowa Caucus Results
Levy, Assistant Professor of Political Science
Predicting and analyzing the results of a political caucus
and explaining why things happened and what they actually mean is either the
easiest thing in the world to do or the most difficult. It’s easy in the sense that it’s obvious
that “numbers” are facts but it is the meaning behind the numbers and what
implications they have which makes the Iowa caucus difficult to explain,
interpret, and make predictions from.
Here’s the easy part.
Bush and Gore won while Bauer, Bradley, and Hatch lost. George Bush captured about 41% of the caucus
vote to 30% for Steve Forbes.
Conservative commentator and social conservative Alan Keyes picked up
the support of 14%, conservative activist and head of the Family Research
Council Gary Bauer garnered 9%. while John McCain, George W. Bush’s main
contender in New Hampshire picked up 5% even though he didn’t campaign in the
state. Orrin Hatch, who nobody can really explain why he ran for president,
captured 1% and is duly dropped out of the race. On the Democratic side, Al Gore beat his only challenger Bill
Bradley 2:1. But, those are the facts
and those are easy. Understanding what
those facts mean for the primary process and for November is a more difficult
For that, I focus in this outline on three things. First, I discuss who participates in a
caucus so that we can better understand why these events occurred. Second, I will focus on the
Republicans. Third, I will look at the
For those of you who may have tuned
to C-Span or CNN and watched an actual caucus you may know a little bit about
what exactly a caucus is. It’s boring
and few people attend. Voter turnout
overall for the caucus was 8.3% which is low, but still remarkable to say that
8% of Iowans came out for about 2 hours on a cold Monday evening in January to
talk politics. Of the people
participating, roughly 42% participated in the Democratic caucuses while 58%
Republican caucuses. This is not that
surprising given that the Republicans had more campaigns rounding up people to
come to the caucuses. If you watched,
you will know that people spent a couple of hours discussing resolutions,
selecting officers, signing petitions, supporting candidates, etc. Given the fact that very few Americans have
a real fond interest in politics, it’s not surprising that so few people show
So, because turnout is so low, crazy things can happen. For example, televangelist Pat Robertson
came in second in 1988 while former Republican turned Reform Party candidate
Pat Buchanan came close to Bob Dole in 1996.
So, exactly who comes to these events? Those who attend are very committed
individuals and party activists. Even
so, about 40% of Republican caucus goers and 46% of Democratic caucus goers had
never attended a caucus.
won but didn’t do as well as he would have hoped.
were two big winners as far as I am concerned.
Keyes. Keyes showed that a
passionate, Conservative voice could draw well in a caucus and that the
Republican Party must still pay attention to its social conservative
McCain. I know that there are
going to be people who disagree with my analysis but, Steve Forbes
doesn’t have a chance of being elected president (and neither does any of
the other Republican candidates other than Bush and McCain). Forbes’ showing does one main thing:
puts a chink in Bush’s invincibility:
money matters but there seem to be lingering doubts, even among
Republicans, about Bush. Couple
Bradley’s poor showing in Iowa along with New Hampshire’s primary rules
and it’s possible that some of Bradley’s centrist supporters could peel
away and give McCain a boost in New Hampshire
do we learn about how people cast their vote. Looking at the entrance polls, there were some interesting
demographics in the Republican Caucus.
Matters. Among those under 45,
Bush was only a few points ahead of Forbes and Keyes draws nearly 20%;
among those over 65, Bush had a huge lead upwards of 30%
religious right is still strong.
Bush had a six point lead over Forbes and a 10% lead over Keyes
with those identifying themselves as Christian Right. However, the three social conservative
Republicans (Bauer, Keyes, and Forbes) got 66% of the religious right
vote. This is important because of the lingering doubts about Bush, his
need to reassure this group that ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ is not just
codeword for compromise on important social issues, and also maintain a
moderate line for the general election.
If you are a Republican, you are rooting for Donald Trump to be on
the Reform Party ticket because Buchanan could present a minor problem
for the Republicans come the general election if there is a Conservative
alternative to Bush. Of course,
this would only be important and potentially harmful to Bush if the race
in November is close.
were two other interesting notes from the entrance polls. First, for those who said the most
important quality for a candidate was one who stands up for his beliefs,
Forbes captured 60% to Bush’s 21%.
However, for those who thought that whether the candidate could
win in November was most important, Bush was ahead by 30%.
Line: Bush’s invincibility has been hurt a bit and this week. A win in New Hampshire would be a
welcome tonic and help consolidate his lead. McCain is in a must win situation where he has to beat Bush
and, honestly, I think he needs to do so by more than 5%-10% to stand any
real chance. However, if asked to
handicap the race, Bush’s record setting fundraising means that the only
thing he has to fear is that his opponents will damage him when he faces
off with Al Gore in the general election in November. Bush probably needs to mend fences with
the Conservatives without looking like he’s pandering or swaying too much
from the center. All in all, it
would be nearly impossible to imagine a scenario where Bush can be
beaten. If Bush could be beaten,
it wouldn’t be John McCain who could do it.
was a miserable performance for Bill Bradley in Iowa. Two months ago it looked like Bradley
was coming on and probably would get 40%+ in Iowa. However, Gore started launching attacks
and Bradley refused to rebut the attacks.
Bradley eschewed negative campaigning and said that he wanted to
wage a positive campaign. That was
probably the stupidest move of the campaign, no matter how noble that
might be. Negative campaigning is
like Jerry Springer. Everybody says they’re stupid and they don’t pay attention
to it, but when push comes to shove, people watch it and it’s an effective
tool in instilling doubts in people.
heart issue probably shouldn’t be a problem but it creates noise around
the candidate, forcing him to answer on this question when he would like
to be talking about something else.
So, while it probably wasn’t a driving force in Bradley’s stalling
campaign, it certainly didn’t help his campaign and required the campaign
to spend considerable time reassuring the voters he was healthy enough to
why did Gore do so well?
party organization turned over to him their resources. Gore had the support of the labor
unions, the governor of Iowa, and the Democratic Senator of Iowa which
helped facilitate voter turnout.
doesn’t seem to be able to go above the mark of a protest candidate like
Pat Buchanan in 1992 and 1996.
entrance polls: among
those who don’t like Clinton personally, Bradley ran neck and neck with Gore;
Gore had a 57% lead for those who personally liked Clinton, which encompasses
50% of caucus participants
among those who disapproved of Clinton’s job performance: Bradley was ahead by 37% but this was only
13% of caucus-goers
Gore was ahead of Bradley by 20%-30% on every issue and every
candidate quality characteristic except for new ideas. Among the 7% who cited new ideas as the most
important candidate quality, 78% voted Bradley.
like Clinton by and large and this is an asset to Gore in the Democratic
is a substantial percentage of those who have Clinton-fatigue in the
Democratic party and that seems to be the core supporters of Bill Bradley
is in some trouble for the general election since there are going to be
more Americans than Democrats who personally dislike Clinton, disapprove
of his job performance, and who have a general Clinton-fatigue