Tag Archives: Iowa caucus

Does Iowa Even Matter? The Latest Polls Results

Will the results of the January 3 Iowa caucus even matter to the outcome of the 2012 Republican presidential nomination? My colleague Bert Johnson and I have discussed this matter here.  Bert’s basic point is that the Iowa caucus helps voters solve what he calls a coordination problem, in which those who share a similar ideology and policy preference must decide which candidate to coalesce behind.  In so doing, they give that candidate “momentum” going into later contests.  Bert’s claim is consistent with conventional wisdom among political scientists which argues that Iowa’s significance lays not so much in who wins the caucus as it does in who loses. Simply put, those who fail to meet expectations drop out of the race, thus helping solve the coordination problem.

While I don’t disagree with the basic logic that says early nomination contests help winnow the field, the historical record indicates that Iowa has not played much if any role in that winnowing process. In looking at previous Iowa caucus results dating back to the start of the modern primary-centered nominating process in 1972 there has been only one year by my admittedly back-of-the-envelope calculation where the results in Iowa have served to directly winnow the field in significant numbers. As the table below indicates, that would be the Democratic contest in 2008, which eliminated three candidates of the six Democrats actively campaigning there: senators Joe Biden and Chris Dodd, and Governor Bill Richardson. (Note: I only included candidates who received 1% or more support in the Iowa caucuses.)

Year #Democratic Candidates # Who Withdraw After Iowa # Republican        Candidates # Who Withdraw After Iowa
1972 6 0 No Republican contest -
1976 6 0 2 0
1980 2 0 7 0
1984 7 0 1(Reagan Unopposed) -
1988 4 0 6 1
1992 5 0 1 (G. H. W. Bush Not Challenged in Iowa) 0
1996 1 ( B. Clinton Unopposed) - 8 0
2000 2 0 6 1
2004 5 1 1 (G. W. Bush Unopposed) -
2008 6 3 7 0

In most years, however, the Iowa results do not seem to precipitate a significant number of withdrawals. Indeed, in 15 contested caucuses since 1972 involving 80 candidate-races, only six candidates dropped out as a result of doing poorly in Iowa.

Now, this may underestimate Iowa’s actual impact on the nominating process. To begin, I don’t count those candidates, like Tim Pawlenty this year, who drop out before the caucuses are held because they perceive a lack of support in Iowa.  Moreover, candidates who exceed expectations in Iowa may receive a boost in support down the road, and those who fail to clear the expectation bar may see their subsequent support decline.  But strictly speaking, the vote in the Iowa caucuses rarely culls the candidate herd in large numbers by itself. Indeed, in most years it has no impact on the size of the field whatsoever.

So, what does this suggest come January 3?  Two more Iowa polls came in during the last two days.  This Rasmussen poll has Romney leading the field with 25%, followed by Paul at 20% and Gingrich at 17%.  A second poll commissioned by Iowa St. has Paul as the first choice of 27.5% of those surveyed, followed by Gingrich at 25.3% and then Romney at 17.5%.   Of greater relevance to this post, however, both polls showed Bachmann and Santorum trailing the field among active candidates.  (Perry is 4rth in both.)  These results are consistent with the latest RealClear Politics composite poll, which shows only Bachmann, at 8.3%, and Santorum, at 7% as polling in single digits in Iowa. (Santorum is black and Bachmann brown in the graph below. Huntsman, in pink-purple at the bottom, is not actively campaigning in Iowa.)

Assuming they finish as the bottom two in Iowa, will either Bachmann or Santorum drop out?  With the New Hampshire primary one week later, on January 10, my guess is both may stay in to see whether social conservatives will decided to coalesce behind one or the other of them, thus giving that candidate a boost heading into South Carolina. Unfortunately, New Hampshire is not a particularly hospitable climate for their brand of political conservatism, which means one or both might decide to continue even if they do poorly in New Hampshire.  All this assumes, of course, that they have enough money to do so.

Make no mistake about it. The Iowa caucus will be a huge media event. It is less likely, however, that it will be a significant political event that helps to winnow the field.  Indeed, if history is a reliable guide, at least six and possibly all seven Republican candidates now in the race are likely to be still in the contest after Iowa.  Is Iowa relevant? Yes. Decisive?  Probably not.

Tebow-mania Strikes Iowa (But Wouldn’t Rick Perry Rather Be Tom Brady?)

A couple of days ago I posted an analysis of the last Iowa polling results that showed the race there tightening.  In the process of analyzing the crosstabs of one of these latest polls (something I know you’ve come to expect here) I uncovered an interesting result:  PPP had included a question gauging candidate support by whether one favored Tim Tebow or not.  This struck me as both an odd question to ask, but also a gauge of just how big a news  story, and a potentially polarizing figure Tebow had become.  For those of you not yet acquainted with Tebow-mania, he’s  the quarterback who has led the Denver Broncos to a series of rather improbable victories during the last six games, despite the fact that the football moves through the air like a drunken cormorant when Tebow throws it.  He has led his team to victory, moreover – and perhaps not coincidentally? – while being rather open about his strong Christian beliefs and lifestyle, going so far as to acknowledge that he’s “saving himself” for marriage.  Between the miraculous victories and openly religious beliefs, Tebow has become something of a controversial figure, which I guess explains why PPP decided to include him in a political survey.  Somewhat tongue in cheek (who, moi?) I noted that the survey indicated that among those who disliked Tebow, Ron Paul was favored by 38%, easily leading all other candidates.  No one else even broke double figures.  However, among those who looked favorably upon Tebow, Newt Gingrich topped the polls with 29%.  I suppose the explanation is that Tebow’s detractors are more likely to be the libertarians and moderate Democrats who are uncomfortable with overt displays of religiosity, and of mixing God and state…er….football.  Tebow supporters, in contrast, are more likely be social conservatives who, so far, prefer Gingrich.

Whatever the explanation, the post did attract more than a bit of attention in the blogosphere , but I’m not going pretend to take credit (or blame!) for what happened at last night’s debate.  In all likelihood, Perry’s campaign staff saw the same favorability numbers toward Tebow among Iowans that I did and decided to wrap themselves in Tebo-mania. Here’s the relevant survey question from the PPP poll:

Q30 Do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Tim Tebow?

If favorable, press 1.

If unfavorable, press 2.

If you’re not sure, press 3.

(Asked only of 171 respondents)

Favorable……………………………………………….. 48%

Unfavorable ……………………………………………. 13%

Not Sure…………………………………………………. 40%

You saw what happened next.  When Rick Perry was asked in last night’s debate  if, given his uneven debating performances to date, he could do well in this format one-on-one with President Obama, Perry decided to try to create his own come-from-behind victory, proclaiming that, “I hope I am the Tim Tebow of the Iowa  caucuses”.  Let’s roll the video:

Hey, no one thought Tebow could start in the NFL either. Truth be told, while many pundits wrote Perry off after his initial disastrous debate performances, he has bounced back both on stage – last night’s debate performance was his second strong one in a row – and in the polls.  As this RealClear composite polling graph shows, Perry (in blue) is beginning a (so far) modest climb in the Iowa polls.

 I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: given his record and funding, Perry is not out of this race by any means.  Even a fourth place finish in Iowa may position him to “solve” the coordination problem raised by my colleague Bert Johnson regarding which candidate the social conservatives will eventually settle upon.  If Perry is that man, he potentially becomes the leading anti-Whoever is Leading candidate.   Know this – he is ramping up his media presence in Iowa, and except for a three-day holiday break , he has promised to plant himself in Iowa from now through caucus day.  And when it comes to winning a caucus, it’s better to finish strong than to start strong.

And what of Tebow? He has a more difficult task ahead than winning the Iowa caucus: he needs to beat Tom Brady –arguably the greatest quarterback since Joe Montana – and the Patriots this Sunday.   That will take a true miracle.

Which leads to the question: why wouldn’t someone want to be the next Tom Brady of the Iowa caucuses?

Oh, that’s Ms. Tom Brady getting…er….sacked.

DC Deadlock, the Perils of Paul in Iowa, and Tonight’s Debate

So little time, so much to blog about.  Today’s topics: deadlock in DC, the Perils of Paul in Iowa, and tonight’s debate.

To begin, as I predicted in this earlier post, the Obama administration has backed away from its veto threat in response to changes Congress made to the detainee provisions in the 2012 military authorization bill. Given the already tepid nature of that threat in the administration’s Statement of Policy (SAP), I didn’t think it would take much to persuade Obama to take the veto threat off the table.  As you might imagine, party purists on the Left are again voicing their displeasure with the President’s willingness to compromise, and human rights and civil libertarian groups continue to argue the bill cedes too much power to the military.  But although the concessions the congressional conference committee made in response to the administration’s objections may not have appeased the Left, they were evidently enough to provide political cover to Obama, and he is going to sign this bill.  This is another illustration of something that I refer to often on this blog, but which – surprisingly – is not accepted by all political scientists: that presidential power is really nothing more than persuasion, and that in practice, persuasion takes place through bargaining.  The negotiations I’ve described here regarding the military authorization bill are the latest illustration of this fact.  Purists, in contrast, view the exercise of presidential power as part of a zero-sum game, where the president either wins by getting everything he wants, or he loses.  But that’s not how it works in a system of shared powers. To get anything, presidents need to be prepared to give something up.

Meanwhile, another congressional donnybrook is brewing. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is now threatening to hold up the Senate vote on an omnibus appropriations bill until he gets Republican agreement to pass an extension of the payroll tax cut due to expire at the end of  the year. House Republicans are supporting their own version of a payroll tax cut extension that includes provisions expediting approval of the Keystone pipeline project.  So far, the Republican bill is a non-starter with Senate Democrats who are hoping to leverage the threat of a government shutdown to force Republican concessions.  In response, House Republicans have gone ahead an introduced their own omnibus spending bill. Their hope is to pass the bill by Friday, thus putting the screws on Reid instead, since Senate Democrats will be forced to either accede to Republican wishes or accept responsibility for failing to pass the spending bill and risking another government shutdown.

This latest round of legislative brinkmanship is sure to bring out the handwringers among the chattering class (and among academics too!) who will cite it as still another example of how our political system is broken.  As with the debt default crisis, however, I think this instead is the logical result of having two evenly matched, ideologically cohesive parties, each controlling one house of Congress.  As long as both sides see it is in their mutual interest to compromise, they will do so, but not before driving Congress to the legislative precipice in order to wring out every last feasible concession.  In this instance, neither Republicans nor Democrats see their brand name benefit by opposing a payroll tax cut, and so they will reach agreement on doing so.  Similarly, there’s not much payoff in shutting down the government, so I expect either some compromise on the omnibus spending bill, probably by decoupling it from consideration of the payroll tax extension, or a short-term spending extension while debate continues.   Obama, at least publicly, seems to want nothing to do with this confrontation, and who can blame him?  He received little credit for negotiating the debt default compromise.

It’s a messy way to legislate, to be sure.  But we should get used to it because, barring a return to unified government, it’s here to stay.

Turning to electoral politics, what are we to make of this Rasmussen automated poll of likely caucus voters in Iowa, which was in the field on Tuesday?  (Rasmussen surveyed 750 likely caucus voters. The margin of sampling error is +/- 4 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence)

2012 Iowa Republican Caucus

12/13/2011 11/15/2011 10/19/2011 8/31/2011 8/4/2011
Mitt Romney 23% 19% 21% 17% 21%
Newt Gingrich 20% 32% 9% 2% 5%
Ron Paul 18% 10% 10% 14% 16%
Jon Huntsman 5% 2% 2% 3% 2%
Herman Cain Withdrew 13% 28% 4% 4%
Rick Perry 10% 6% 7% 29% 12%
Michele Bachmann 9% 6% 8% 18% 22%
Rick Santorum 6% 5% 4% 4% Not Polled
Some other candidate 2% 1% 4% 0% 7%
Not sure 8% 6% 8% 10% 0%

Romney, who has been fading in most recent Iowa polls, is ahead here, albeit with a lead that is within the poll’s margin of error. Rasmussen does not provide crosstabs to nonsubscribers, so I can’t check the poll’s internals to gauge what lies behind the results. But a quick read of the topline results suggests that the real story is not that Romney is gaining in Iowa – it’s that some of Gingrich’s support has moved to Paul.  More generally, we see a tightening of the race in Iowa, almost certainly reflecting the media blitz targeting Gingrich issued by the Romney, Perry and Bachmann camps.  Note that all three candidates have registered small gains since the last Rasmussen poll.

In a video piece we have up at the Middlebury website, my colleague Bert Johnson argues that what pundits perceive as “momentum” coming out of Iowa and New Hampshire is really a function of the various factions solving a coordination problem; in effect, they use these early contests to decide which candidate to coalesce behind.   So, if there are two factions in Iowa – say, social conservatives and fiscal moderates – each group has to decide which candidate to support, or risk dissipating their influence.  To put this another way the reason we seem to think that a candidate gains momentum coming out of Iowa (or New Hampshire) is really a function of the winnowing process that eliminates second-tier candidates.   Their support has to go somewhere.   With only about 20 days to go before the Iowa caucuses, however, potential voters seem in no hurry to solve their coordination problem, to use Bert’s term. This is particularly true among social conservatives, who seem to have split their support among Gingrich, Perry, Santorum and Bachmann.  Newt has to hope he can get those voters to coalesce behind him.  Paul, meanwhile, draws his strongest support among independents, weak Democrats, and young voters.  It’s not clear whether he has hit his ceiling or not.

If the race is tightening in Iowa, it makes tonight’s Sioux City debate all the more crucial (and yes, I’ll be live blogging!)  The key question will be whether Newt now goes on the attack against Paul and Romney, and whether Perry, Santorum and Bachmann can turn in a second straight strong performance and move into the top four  to avoid getting culled from the field.

The debate is at 9 on Fox.  I’ll be on a bit earlier to set the table.  It is potentially the most significant debate of the campaign season to date so I hope those of you who aren’t studying for an exam  (you know who you are) can join me online.

Latest Iowa Results: Tim Tebow Haters Back Ron Paul!

Results from the first two polls to come out of Iowa since last Saturday’s debate were released today and both show that Mitt Romney is in deep trouble.   What is perhaps more interesting, however, is that at first glance, the two polls do not seem to agree regarding who will occupy the “Not-Newt” position in this key caucus state.  The first poll, by Insider Advantage, has Gingrich leading the field with 27.1% of the vote, and Ron Paul in second with 16.5%. (The poll was in the field yesterday.) This is entirely consistent with most recent polls that were in the field prior to Saturday’s debate.  However, the Insider Advantage poll also shows Rick Perry climbing into third place, at 13.2%, ahead of Romney who has fallen to 4rth, with 11.9% support, followed closely behind by Michelle Bachmann at 10.3%.  With the poll’s margin of error at 4%, this suggests that Perry, Romney and Bachmann are grouped together in the “Not-Newt” bunch, behind Paul.  Note that Paul only gets 13% support among Republicans – his second place standing is based primarily on support among independents; he leads among the latter group in Iowa with 27.3% of the vote, just ahead of Gingrich at 24.5%  In addition, Paul leads among the youngest voters age 18-29 with 39.6% (interestingly, Bachmann is second among this group with 22.6%).  All this suggests that Paul is not going to go much beyond 20% in contests restricted to Republicans.   More importantly, the Insider Advantage results are not good news for Romney, who only a few weeks ago was leading in Iowa, and as recently as last week seemed to be the most likely “Not Newt” candidate.   If, as I have long surmised, Paul does have a ceiling of support at roughly 20% among Republicans, whoever wins the remaining slot in the top three in Iowa has the upper hand in  claiming the “Not Newt” slot in the weeks ahead.  As loyal readers know, I have been suggesting that Perry, by virtue of his record as Texas governor and his fundraising prowess, is well positioned to overtake Romney for the “Not-Newt” slot.  What has held him back to date has been a series of dismal debate performances.  On Saturday, however, his exchange with Mitt  “All In” Romney may have boosted Perry’s standing in Iowa (more on that below.) Before we blame Romney’s “bet” for his decline, however, note that his support had already been dropping prior to Saturday’s debate.  Moreover, Perry’s rise is likely also a function of his strong media presence in Iowa; he has been blanketing the state with advertisements in recent weeks.

But wait. Before you  go online to Intrade and place $10,000 of your child’s tuition money on Perry, what are we to make of this second poll by Public Policy Polling?  It shows that Gingrich’s lead in Iowa has dropped from 9% to 1% since the debate; Gingrich is now at 22%, essentially in a dead heat with Paul who has 21%.  Romney is third at 16%, Michele Bachmann at 11%, Rick Perry at 9%,  and Rick Santorum is at 8%.  As I’ve noted several times before, polling a caucus is very tricky business; because turnout is so low, it is imperative that the pollster get an accurate sample.  And that’s hard to do.  In looking at the crosstabs of the PPP poll, we see that Paul leads among those who voted in the Democratic caucus in 2008 with 34% support. Mitt Romney is a distant second among these voters with 18%.  However, if we look only at those who participated in the Republican caucus in 2008, Gingrich is comfortably in the lead at 26%, 8% ahead of Paul. Paul also leads among those who describe themselves as very liberal, liberal or moderate, and among self-identified Democrats – but Gingrich is ahead among all conservative groups and he is comfortably ahead among Republicans. What this suggests, then, is that how well Paul does in Iowa come January 3 will depend on how many independents and Democratic-leaning voters show up in the Republican caucus.   I can’t tell from the PPP cross tabs what percentage of those surveyed voted in the Democratic caucus in 2008.

My point is that we shouldn’t overreact to the increase in Paul’s support.  Although it certainly bodes well for his performance in Iowa, much of his support comes from independents and those who voted in the Democratic caucus in 2008.  Neither bloc of voters is likely to determine the outcome of the Republican nomination. It does suggest, however, that Paul may be a formidable third-party candidate.

A couple of other interesting tidbits from the PPP poll:  Consistent with my read of the debates as reported in my live blog of that event, Gingrich leads at 30% among those who paid a lot of attention to Saturday’s debate, followed by Paul at 23%. Romney, on the other hand, leads among those who did not pay much attention at all to the debates. (Interestingly, given his marriage woes, Gingrich draws equal support among women and men.)  Again, this suggests that the debate bet may have adversely impacted Romney’s support at the margins, at least in the short run.

At this point, the number of those polled who say they may change their mind has dropped to 40% – still a large number less than 25 days before the Iowa caucus, but 20% less than the number of potential undecideds a week ago.  Nonetheless, this race is far from over.  Thursday’s debate may be the most important one to date, particularly for Perry and Romney, who are duking it out for that coveted top three performance.

Perhaps the most telling result from the PPP poll, however, is this: among those polled in Iowa who view Tim Tebow unfavorably, Paul is the first choice of 38% of them!  Among those who view Tebow favorably, however, Gingrich is ahead with 29%.  (Paul is second among this group with 25%)  To me, that is as clear a sign as any that Paul cannot win the Republican nomination.  Because among Republicans, if you don’t like Tim Tebow, you don’t like Mom, Apple Pie and, uh, er…..America.

Parsing the Iowa Poll: Why It’s Good News for Newt

By now most of the media outlets have picked up on the Des Moines Register poll that was released last night, but I want to address a couple of points that may have been missed in the extensive media coverage.  First, it’s worth reminding everyone that polling a caucus state is much more difficult than for a regular primary because the polling outfit has to sample the population of likely caucus voters, which is quite small.  Part of the reason the Des Moines poll garners so much attention is that it generally has a good track record in forecasting the caucus results.  (The paper has been running this poll going back to the Reagan years, so they have some experience in polling Iowa caucuses).  Nonetheless, there are lots of assumptions built into the forecast that leave room for error.  And, there’s still a month and several Republican debates to go. Note that only 28% of those polled in Iowa say their mind is made up.  A lot can happen to change the dynamics on the ground there.

With those caveats, I want to highlight a couple of interesting findings from the actual poll. As I noted in my last post, not only does Gingrich lead among likely caucus voters with 25%, he is the second choice of 18% of the survey respondents, which also leads the field.  In terms of second choice candidates, Romney is second with 15%, and Perry third at 12%.

Gingrich also has the second fewest votes for “least liked”, with only 6% of respondents designating him as such. Santorum leads with only 4% choosing him as least liked.  Romney and Bachmann, however, tie for the lead as least liked, with both getting 15%.

When asked which of the candidates whom they haven’t seen they would most like to see, Gingrich leads the field with 26% of respondents saying he’s the one they want to meet. That suggests that he has potential to win over more voters.  Romney, in contrast, is grouped down with the rest of the field with 15% of respondents saying he’s the candidate they most want to meet.

When asked about various candidate qualities, Gingrich is the overwhelming choice as the most knowledgeable (58%), most experienced (58%) and most like Ronald Reagan (28%).  No one else comes close in these categories.  He also has a slim lead over Romney (22-20%) as most likely to turn the economy around. Finally, Gingrich finishes first as the candidate most likely to bring change, with 27%, followed by Paul at 18%.

However, it is not all bad news for Romney. He is viewed as the most “presidential” (34%) and “most electable” (38%).  Gingrich is a respectable second in those categories.

On the whole, the internals of this poll are more favorable to Gingrich than even the top number showing Gingrich in the lead.  And they raise a critical question for Romney:  Is it even worth devoting resources to Iowa, thus raising media expectations that may be hard to meet?  The answer, I think, may turn on whether Romney calculates that his superior resources will allow him to turn out the vote in numbers greater than suggested by this poll, and that Gingrich will be unable to translate his polling support into actual votes.  Keep in mind that four years ago this calculation didn’t work in Romney’s favor, as Iowan conservatives coalesced behind Huckabee even though Romney spent scads of money in the state.  In looking at the poll results, I can see this same dynamic unfolding in January, with many caucus participants opting for their second choice option.  Note that this poll was in the field before Cain announced that he was suspending his campaign.   The wildcard is Paul, but as I noted yesterday, while I’m sure he’s going to win his 15-18%, the polling results indicate that may be his ceiling; he’s the second choice of only 7% of likely caucus goers.

I’ve discussed in previous posts how Romney might change his strategy to take on Gingrich, so won’t belabor the point here.  Interestingly, the Republican establishment continues to believe – or to hope – that Gingrich’s candidacy is flawed, and that he will implode, ceding the field to Romney.  But if I’m Mitt, I would pay less attention to what the experts keep saying, and more to what the polls indicate is actually going to happen in Iowa.