As predicted over two weeks ago by your fearless correspondent, this was an unprecedented victory. The chart below summarizes the performance of the winning candidate for both parties in every contested Iowa caucus in history. Romney’s 2008 performance is also included for comparison with his 2012 results.
Romney “surpassed” Bob Dole to earn the distinction of having the lowest winning share of the vote in the history of the Iowa caucuses. Never has support in a political party been so tepid for its “favorite”. Romney not only set a record by being the first Iowa winner to convince more than three quarters of voters to choose someone else, but also managed to do even worse than he himself did last time around despite four intervening years of hard, expensive campaigning.
There is an African proverb that runs “When mighty elephants fight, it is the humble grass that suffers”. The situation in Iowa was more just: a bunch of second-rate elephants fought, and they themselves suffered, all looking diminished by the process. To quote John Harris and Alexander Burns, “This big moment on history’s stage is being filled by politicians who so far have looked way too small for the occasion”.
Note: Chart Data available here. The GOP did not release vote proportions prior to 1980.