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Old 11-19-2018, 01:38 PM
RTFirefly is offline
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On the predictive properties of the Iowa & NH primaries, redux


Since everybody's minds are already into the 2020 Presidential campaign, I thought I'd go ahead and do this a bit early this cycle. This is an updating of a post originally from back in 2007 that I've updated each cycle since.

Q. What is the importance of winning the Iowa caucuses and/or New Hampshire primaries?

Short answer: They effectively narrow the field down to one or two candidates. If one candidate wins both, they've all but got a lock on the nomination. Otherwise, they narrow the field down to two candidates: the Iowa and New Hampshire winners.

The longer version:

Iowa first joined the New Hampshire primary as a launching pad for Presidential hopes when Jimmy Carter won the Iowa caucuses in 1976, so we'll look at 1976 through 2016. That gives us 11 nomination cycles for each party, or 22 altogether.

In five of those cycles, the incumbent President didn't face significant opposition for the nomination. (Dems 1996, 2012; GOP 1984, 1992, 2004.) So that leaves us with 17 cycles. (You can make a case that Buchanan in 1992 constituted a significant challenge to GHW Bush, but it doesn't really make a difference in how this analysis plays out.) So we'll leave them out.

Here's what it looks like (party year: Iowa winner, NH winner, nomination winner bolded):

R 1976: Ford won both
D 1976: Carter won both
D 1980: Carter won both
D 2000: Gore won both
D 2004: Kerry won both

R 1980: Bush, Reagan
D 1984: Mondale, Hart
R 1988: Dole, Bush
D 1988: Gephardt, Dukakis
D 1992: Harkin, Tsongas (Clinton finished second in NH)
R 1996: Dole, Buchanan
R 2000: Bush, McCain
R 2008: Huckabee, McCain
D 2008: Obama, Clinton
R 2012: Santorum*, Romney
D 2016: Clinton, Sanders
R 2016: Cruz, Trump

The asterisk by Santorum is because Romney was declared the winner at the time, but Santorum eventually turned out to have won. One could argue that effectively Romney won both, and I can go either way on that one.

In every instance where one candidate won both primaries, that candidate ultimately won the nomination. And with the exception of 1992 on the Dem side, the ultimate nominee won at least one of these two primaries. (The deal on 1992 is that everyone skipped Iowa, letting favorite son Tom Harkin have an easy but worthless win there. So for all practical purposes, there was no Iowa that year.)

The results don't tell us much, though, about whether the IA or the NH winner will win the nomination when it's a split decision. If there's any sort of pattern there, I sure don't see it.
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Old 11-19-2018, 01:51 PM
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I keep reading they are going to change it so those 2 states are not so important but once again it stays the same.
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Old 11-19-2018, 02:35 PM
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I keep reading they are going to change it so those 2 states are not so important but once again it stays the same.
The South Carolina primary has nudged its way into a clear #3 position on the GOP side.

Also, in the 7 cycles where Iowa and NH diverged on the GOP side, SC broke the tie in 6 of the 7 occasions. (In the seventh, 2012, Santorum won Iowa, Romney won NH, and Newt Gingrich won SC.)

But SC is still not as important as IA and NH, even for Republicans. And if the Dems are going to have an early primary in the South, SC is not the right state for them.
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Old 11-19-2018, 03:05 PM
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Generally it is considered that these two primaries weed out the also-rans. So if you are not in the top 4 or so of at least one of these primaries you might as well quit now.
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Old 11-20-2018, 12:35 PM
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Generally it is considered that these two primaries weed out the also-rans. So if you are not in the top 4 or so of at least one of these primaries you might as well quit now.
The above data suggest something much more emphatic: that if you're not the winner of at least one of them, you're cooked.

Because patterns are made to be broken, I'm sure that one of these years, someone who wins neither IA nor NH, but manages a reasonably close second in one of them, will win their party's nomination. Just that in any given year, it's not the way to bet.

But if third or fourth is the best you do in both of them? That gets you nothing. You're dead.
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Old 11-20-2018, 12:49 PM
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Because patterns are made to be broken, I'm sure that one of these years, someone who wins neither IA nor NH, but manages a reasonably close second in one of them, will win their party's nomination. Just that in any given year, it's not the way to bet. .
Isn't that what your chart says happened in '92?
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Old 11-20-2018, 01:04 PM
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Isn't that what your chart says happened in '92?
What my chart says happened in 1992 was that there really wasn't an Iowa.

In all the other years, candidates competed in Iowa en masse, and did the same in NH. In 1992, nobody campaigned in Iowa, except possibly Tom Harkin, the favorite son candidate.

I wouldn't call it an exception that proves the rule, but it's certainly an exception that in no way disproves it.
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Old 11-20-2018, 01:20 PM
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Well, I suppose you could look at it that way but the fact remains that Clinton won neither and probably wouldn't have won Iowa even if he tried. I guess you could just add the caveat "absent a favorite son candidate from Iowa or NH" to your rule.
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Old 11-20-2018, 02:29 PM
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Well, I suppose you could look at it that way but the fact remains that Clinton won neither and probably wouldn't have won Iowa even if he tried. I guess you could just add the caveat "absent a favorite son candidate from Iowa or NH" to your rule.
Who needs a caveat? If we're grading apples and somehow a single orange has slipped into a crate of apples, we just use our human ability to say, "this one is an orange, not an apple," and chuck it aside.
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Old 11-20-2018, 02:49 PM
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The hard part is distinguishing cause and effect, though. if you picked two random states - I don't know, New York and New Mexico, or Texas and South Dakota, or any others - would you see something similar? This could just be seeing that "The candidates that are liked most overall are also liked in the first states to vote".

Maybe the distribution I want to see is probability of winning the nomination given you won a particular state. ...but even that is fraught - that might just give you that the last states to vote are the most predictive, because by that point everyone has dropped out and only the eventual winner is left.
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Old 02-04-2020, 11:40 AM
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Damned hard for the Iowa result to predict anything until there is an Iowa result.
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Old 02-04-2020, 01:04 PM
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The hard part is distinguishing cause and effect, though. if you picked two random states - I don't know, New York and New Mexico, or Texas and South Dakota, or any others - would you see something similar? This could just be seeing that "The candidates that are liked most overall are also liked in the first states to vote".
Probably but there is also the self-fulfilling prophesy at work. If we assume that only the top 4 move on, it prevents most people from growing popularity. For example, Amy Klobucher got a lot of surprising amount of support in Iowa, but will she be in long enough for people from non-New Hampshire states to say, "Hmmm, she might have a chance. I'll consider voting for her."? Probably not since she'll be #5 after IA & NH.
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Old 02-04-2020, 03:33 PM
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Probably but there is also the self-fulfilling prophesy at work. If we assume that only the top 4 move on, it prevents most people from growing popularity. For example, Amy Klobucher got a lot of surprising amount of support in Iowa, but will she be in long enough for people from non-New Hampshire states to say, "Hmmm, she might have a chance. I'll consider voting for her."? Probably not since she'll be #5 after IA & NH.
Well yeah, but my point is, it's more specific than most people claim. Historically, being in the top 4 or 3 or even 2 has gotten people nothing. If both Iowa and NH are contested, you've got to win one of them, or it's game over.

Since I described this pattern in 2007, it's continued to hold. But maybe this is the cycle where that rule breaks down. Too soon to tell!
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Old 02-08-2020, 07:06 PM
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I think the biggest issue is that after the media coverage of these two states, the money dries up for the also-rans. Like take Yang, for example. If you had an extra $100 lying around and Yang was your guy, are you going to donate it to him now? You would do just as well setting it on fire.

Running for office is expensive and when your cash starts drying up, it starts a vicious downward spiral. Right when you need to run more ads and travel to more places, you don't have the money to do it. Right when you need to have more paid campaign staffers running phone banks and passing out literature, you have to fire them.

To a lesser extent this happens to second place finishers in these states as well. You hear on the news the exact stat in the OP so you wonder if your candidate can win. And that $100 sure could be used for a nice dinner.

This applies to self-funded billionaires as well. Those millions that you would continue to spend on Super Tuesday might be better used in a business venture than throwing it down the tubes.
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Old 02-08-2020, 07:36 PM
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This applies to self-funded billionaires as well. Those millions that you would continue to spend on Super Tuesday might be better used in a business venture than throwing it down the tubes.
He makes a billion a year and has sixty in the bank. 77 years old. Think about it.

Eta: unless you mean Steyer. Even still, money is not why he'll drop out.

Last edited by CarnalK; 02-08-2020 at 07:38 PM.
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Old 02-08-2020, 08:07 PM
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I think the biggest issue is that after the media coverage of these two states, the money dries up for the also-rans. ...
I think the fact that this has been, and media narrative/attention (worth millions) that the win has usually produced, is why the pattern has been. Even before Iowa there has generally been "the invisible primary" in progress.

This cycle is though a very atypical time. The news cycle during and after Iowa was ... crowded, and Iowa was a mess. The usual factors still could winnow this down to Sanders and Buttigieg. Buttigieg though has failed to connect with many Black voters and his performance last night won't help him. Hard to get too much farther without any support there. Sanders has a sizable group that feels he is the biggest risk against Trump and the least likely to help any chance of delivering the Senate. And the "invisible primary" is of no matter to Bloomberg. Bloomberg has been at the point in his life that he cares less about more wealth than about making a difference to the country and the world with his wealth, and has concluded that defeating Trump is the most important contribution to that he can make. He's spent a billion on cutting tobacco deaths; he'll spend a billion on this even more important to the world goal.

In any other cycle this pattern would mean game over for anyone who didn't place. It may still pan out, but this is not any other cycle. I still doubt either Sanders or Buttigieg being the nominee in November, even in Buttigieg wins both.
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Old 02-09-2020, 08:50 AM
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Well, 538 gives Sanders a 45% chance of winning the nomination, with 'no one' running second at 25%, then Biden at 20% and everyone else obviously in single digits.

I'm not sure I buy 'no one' at 25%, because brokered conventions are the most overpredicted thing in the world. Many people thought we were going to get one just last cycle, until Trump pulled away from the pack on the GOP side. But that's the deal: someone always pulls away.

If it's Bernie, there'll be an 'anyone but Bernie' movement from the Dem establishment, and it'll probably fare as well as all the past 'anybody but' movements in past cycles. (1964's "stop Goldwater" movement and 1976's "anybody but Carter" movement flit across my memory here.)

And if that's the way it plays out, there'll be bitter laughter at the Dem establishment from me: laughter, because it'll be exactly what the Dem establishment deserves for having seen Warren as the real threat who needed to be taken down, and getting stuck with Bernie instead as a result. And bitter, because the rest of us get stuck with Bernie too, and even if he wins 2020, I can't see how he wins 2021.
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Old 02-12-2020, 10:21 AM
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Well, now we've had both IA and NH. Sanders seems to have won the most votes in each, but Buttigieg won more delegates in IA and they tied in NH.

Any way you slice it, though, if someone besides Sanders or Buttigieg wins the nomination, this pattern will finally be broken.

And with any luck, the Dems will get a clue and insist on a different pair of states leading off the 2024 nomination campaign.
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Old 02-12-2020, 10:47 AM
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Well, now we've had both IA and NH. Sanders seems to have won the most votes in each, but Buttigieg won more delegates in IA and they tied in NH.

Any way you slice it, though, if someone besides Sanders or Buttigieg wins the nomination, this pattern will finally be broken.

And with any luck, the Dems will get a clue and insist on a different pair of states leading off the 2024 nomination campaign.
I donít know what will happen in 2024, but Iím almost positive weíve seen the end of the caucus. And I think both parties will be happy for that. Anyone who campaigns in Iowa under the broiling sun in July dreads the possibility of a massive snowstorm on caucus day ruining all their hard work because people canít or wonít go out for a 2-3 hour caucus with ten inches of snow and temperatures below zero. The reporting results fiasco was the final straw, Iím sure thereís some grumbling in the Pete campaign that if he had been announced as a clear winner on caucus Monday that might have been enough to push him over Bernie in NH.
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