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The Gazette KCRG
Posted December 28, 2011
On “electability”

It’s no secret Republicans nationally and in Iowa are anxious concerning the results of next Tuesday’s caucus.  The reason for such anxiety centers on whether the candidate or candidates who do well in Iowa go on to success in New Hampshire and nationally.

The viability of Republican caucus winners is not simply an artifact of Mike Huckabee’s 2008 campaign.  Examining the value of Republican success in Iowa as a predictor of success in New Hampshire and beyond reveals a rather weak record when compared to Democrats.

Since 1980, Republicans have held five competitive caucuses for which there is reliable data.  In terms of predicting the nominee, the Republican winner in Iowa has gone on to be the nominee just twice (Bob Dole in 1996 and George W. Bush in 2000).

For Democrats, of the nine competitive caucuses held since 1972, the winner of Iowa has gone on to be the nominee six times (this includes counting Carter in 1976 even though “Uncommitted” was the true winner).

Looking at the percent vote share candidates receive in Iowa and New Hampshire reveals an even more dramatic difference.

For Republicans, since 1980, the percent vote received by candidates in Iowa explains only 21 percent of the variation observed in the percent vote of candidates in New Hampshire.

For Democrats, since 1972, Iowa vote share explains 46 percent of the variability observed in the New Hampshire vote.  Excluding 1992, when Iowa’s own Senator Tom Harkin ran, the number jumps to 72 percent.

In short, the percent vote received in Iowa is a much better predictor of the vote share received in New Hampshire for Democrats compared to Republicans.  Or, put another way, Democrats in Iowa and New Hampshire are more similar than Republicans in Iowa and New Hampshire.

A CNN/Time/ORC poll released today of likely caucus-goers adds to the Republican anxiety noted above.  While Mitt Romney and Ron Paul remain the top two candidates at 25 and 22 percent, Rick Santorum has surged into third place with 16 percent of the vote.

On the one hand, Santorum’s surge is partial vindication of the Iowa axiom that candidates must practice “retail politics” in order to do well on caucus night.  Santorum has barnstormed the state, visiting all 99 counties at least once, many multiple times.  And such persistence finally started to pay dividends when Santorum received the endorsement of Iowa’s Secretary of State Matt Schultz in early December, followed by Bob Vander Plaats and Chuck Hurley later in the month.

Of course critics of the Iowa caucus will point to Santorum’s poll numbers in national polls, where his support often registers in single digits.  In the latest Gallup poll, Santorum came in at 4 percent, just two percentage points ahead of Jon Huntsman.

Should Santorum come in first next Tuesday, he is unlikely to win the following week in New Hampshire where he is polling at 4 percent, and equally or even less likely to be the nominee.

Previous polling indicates Republicans who identify as evangelical or born-again Christians comprise a third to 40 percent of likely caucus-goers.  For these folks, Santorum is a close fit based on policy and moral principles.

If these Republicans turn out in large numbers on Tuesday, they face a choice between voting based on principle and voting based on electability.  The data cited above suggests such voters may want to consider the latter if they view the Iowa caucus as an important stepping stone to national success.

12 Responses to On “electability”

  1. I’m confused. This article has no discussion of what electability is and why certain candidates allegedly have it.

    I hate it when people dismiss a candidate early in the election cycle by saying “he can’t win”. We’re supposed to vote according to our beliefs. We are not supposed to look at who other people support, and on that basis join in to support one of those candidates. This isn’t a high school popularity contest.

    Some of us are not content to accept only candidates whom the influential people (whoever they are) say have a chance, nor to abandon those who allegedly have no chance. Some of us will not accept the usual bought-by-corporate-interests candidates who are presumed (so early in the campaign) by the corporate media to have the best chance of winning. ANY candidate has a chance of winning the Presidency if enough of we voters choose that person. The people we see on TV say who can win, but really WE decide.

    Most voters would not vote for a candidate who had been convicted of bribery, no matter how “electable” he/she is or what his/her policy positions are. So why vote for any candidate who accepts legal bribes in the form of special interest money?

    Voters in the caucus could insist on voting for such a candidate, if their party has one available. There are some politicians who take very little money from any sources except individuals; Texas Congressman Ron Paul allegedly is one of them, and he’s the most famous current example that I know of. By my standard, he is the only electable candidate.

    I assume the media aren’t conspiring to dismiss Ron Paul as unelectable; maybe the media decision makers just assume his views are too radical and that his lack of wealthy supporters means he has no chance. I assume he can’t afford many big advertising buys from the major media, because he doesn’t accept the influence of powerful interests!

    • The thread of comments for Ron Paul was removed from iowacaucus.com. What does that tell you? They will do anything to stop Ron Paul.
      The people know this election is about Issues and Ron Paul is the only one following the Constitution with these issues.

      (A)udit the Fed to see where our fake money that we are responsible for is going and has already gone.
      (B)ring the troops home to protect us from Obama and the armed illegals he’s bringing in.
      (C)ut spending so we can balance this budget, stop spending money we don’t have as Ron Paul said.

      • The thread wasn’t removed; a few comments were just incorrectly categorized due to an editor’s error. (Our “community” thread is a place for press releases, news and bloggers.) Candidate endorsements, personal opinions and conversations about any candidate are welcome in the commenting section.

        • It was removed from under the “Your Voice” section. If it was just an “editor’s error” than put it back up. We deserve a thread to stand behind Ron Paul.

  2. it should never be on electability. it should always be on who has the abilities to run the USA, both at home and in the world. Huntsman has experience as Ambassador to China,. the rest are war mongering clowns when it comes to foreign affairs. Be very careful what you vote for.

  3. i forgot Paul is about no government and retreat.

  4. The “choice” between principle and electability is not a choice but a dilemma, one endemic to the Plurality Voting system common in the US. PV fails to produce compromise winners, and it is subject to vote-splitting, which can even result in the *worst* candidate winning. The voting process is thus an ongoing game of everyone watching what everyone else is doing instead of simply voting their own opinion. The simplest, most elegant solution is Approval Voting, with the voters expressing an up-or-down opinion on each of the candidates.

    • Stephen, you hit it squarely. The current system proves “divide and conquer” is happening now. Approval Voting would stop that in it’s tracks. I approve of Ron Paul.

  5. I’m so tired of politicians who just think about “electability”. Ron Paul is the only candidate who cares about positively changing life for 99% of Americans. Most of the others just care about getting elected.

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