This is an updating of a post from back in 2007.
Q. What is the importance of winning the Iowa and/or New Hampshire primaries?
Short answer: Winning both makes a candidate the overwhelming favorite for his/her party’s nomination. Winning neither means you’re a longshot. Winning one generally means you’re in the race, but you’ve still got to make something of it from there.
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 2012. That gives us 10 nomination cycles for each party, or 20 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 15 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
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. (And 1992 was an unsurprising exception in that there really wasn’t a signifying Iowa primary that year: everyone skipped Iowa, letting favorite son Tom Harkin have an easy but worthless win there.)
The results don’t tell us much, though, about who will win when one candidate wins Iowa and another wins New Hampshire. If there’s any sort of pattern there, I sure don’t see it.