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Super Tuesday not so super for Iowa

By Christopher W. Larimer, University of Northern Iowa Professor of Political Science.

The Joe Biden campaign is feeling super this morning, but the results from “Super Tuesday” may be less than super for the future of the Iowa Caucuses.

Historically, the Iowa Democratic caucuses have been a good predictor of what will happen not only in New Hampshire but also in terms of narrowing the field toward the eventual nominee.

First, on vote share, from 1976-2016, nearly three-fourths of the variation observed in the results in the New Hampshire Primary can be predicted based on what happened in Iowa. Second, prior to this year, the Democratic caucuses had been perfect in the last four competitive presidential cycles, with the winner of the caucuses going on to be the nominee (Al Gore in 2000; John Kerry in 2004; Barack Obama in 2008; Hillary Clinton in 2016).

2020, however, is a different story entirely.

First, should Joe Biden go on to be the nominee, it would be the first time on the Democratic side in which the eventual nominee did not place in the top three (excluding 1992) on caucus night. On the Republican side, John McCain finished fourth in Iowa in 2008 before going on to be the nominee.

Second, remember the Ames Straw Poll? That event was eventually dropped after the 2011 straw poll in which Michele Bachmann won but ended up finishing sixth on caucus night just four months later. The winner of the 2020 caucuses (Pete Buttigieg) dropped out of the race less than a month after caucus night.

The lack of viability beyond Iowa was already a criticism of the Republican caucuses where, in the last three presidential cycles, the winner in Iowa has failed to remain competitive throughout the nomination process (Mike Huckabee in 2008, Rick Santorum in 2012, and Ted Cruz in 2016). If this criticism now extends to the Democratic caucuses, it will make an already difficult conversation about Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status that much harder.

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