Academic journal article Presidential Studies Quarterly

The 2012 Iowa Republican Caucus and Its Effects on the Presidential Nomination Contest

Academic journal article Presidential Studies Quarterly

The 2012 Iowa Republican Caucus and Its Effects on the Presidential Nomination Contest

Article excerpt

The Iowa caucuses became the leadoff presidential nominating event essentially by accident in 1972, and they have been institutionalized to the point where it is hard to imagine the nominating race starting anywhere else. Once again in 2012 the voting for president kicked off in Iowa. But unlike 2008, when the contests for both political parties were wide open, only the Republicans had a contested nomination. Democratic President

Barack Obama, who was running unopposed for a second term, won more than 98% of votes from those who attended the Democratic caucuses.' Although the outcome for the Democrats was clear, a great deal of uncertainty surrounded the Republican results, when on caucus night Mitt Romney was declared the winner by eight votes over Rick Santorum, only to have that overturned two weeks later when the party announced that Santorum had won the Iowa caucuses after all (Fahrenthold and Wilgoren 2012). Overall, around 121,000 Republicans were reported to have attended, equal to about 19% of registered Republicans in Iowa (Iowa GOP 2012). This turnout was up only slightly from four years prior.

It is not our purpose here to get into the weeds of what actually happened in the 2012 Iowa Republican Caucus. Suffice it to say that the challenges of counting the ballots--which are cast in over 1,700 precincts generally on paper and counted by local caucus leaders--provided new fodder for those who see Iowa's role as illegitimate. After all, given the intense media focus on Iowa and the stakes that are perceived to exist, the narrative about Iowa may well have been different had Santorum been declared the winner on caucus night instead of Romney. As we show elsewhere (Redlawsk, Tolbert, and Donovan 2011), media attention to the candidates shifts based in part on how well they do in the caucuses versus expectations set by the very same media. This shift then affects voters in states with later nominating events (primaries and caucuses). Thus, although winning Iowa may not be a direct path to the nomination, failing to meet or beat media expectations is potentially a path to failure (Donovan and Hunsaker 2009). In this article we update our (Redlawsk, Tolbert, and Donovan 2011) analysis of the impact of Iowa and New Hampshire on the rest of the nomination process, using new data from the 2012 nomination campaign. We find that these new data, if anything, strengthen the argument that Iowa matters. Whether this is a good thing or not, we leave to another time.

In this article we build on two aspects of our earlier work. First, we examine Iowa voters using data from a University of Iowa Hawkeye Poll which was conducted in late November and early December 2011. We use these data to compare people who said they would attend the Republican caucus in 2012 to Iowa Republicans who said they would not. Second, we model results in Iowa to predict the 2012 contest so we may assess who did better or worse than would be expected based on early media expectations about the candidates. We also update our analysis of the effect of changes in media attention to candidates after Iowa and New Hampshire, and test how this predicts the outcome of the lengthy nomination process. We find evidence that Iowa and New Hampshire continued to play influential roles after controlling for other factors, and even with the uncertainty that was rampant in the 2012 Republican nomination process. (1)

Iowa Caucus Goers, 2012

Among the many critiques of the Iowa caucuses has been the complaint that those who show up are not even representative of voters within Iowa, never mind the (straw person argument) that they do not represent the country as a whole. (2) The conventional wisdom about caucus goers was for many years best encompassed in this paragraph from Stone, Abramowitz, and Rapoport (1989):

   Caucus attenders and other nomination activists are not typical of
   the larger populations they may be presumed to "act for. … 
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