Race and the First Four Primary Contests

In talking over the past few weeks to some very smart people about the primaries and caucuses, I have been surprised how many of them assume that Iowa and New Hampshire will be as predictive of the nomination for both parties. I think that’s probably wrong for the reason highlighted in this table.

Primary Election Slide

GOP primary voters/caucus-goers are as white as the driven snow in all four contests (and probably in all the ones afterwards, though I didn’t check). Even in lily white Iowa, they are whiter than the general population. A Republican candidate who wins Iowa’s white Evangelical voters and New Hampshire’s white Establishment voters should have a ride to the GOP nomination that’s as smooth as mayonnaise on Wonder Bread .

But the Democratic primaries are different because the people who participate in them are racially and ethnically diverse. Iowa and New Hampshire are an unusual pair of starting states for Democratic candidates because they are much more monochromatic than the party as a whole. If we assume that race and ethnicity affect candidate preferences (which seems a good assumption this year at least), it’s easy to imagine an scenario in which a Democratic candidate does badly in the first two contests and well in the next two, or vice versa.

Data Notes after the jump

The data come with caveats, the biggest one being that because the Democratic nomination in 2012 was a lock from day one, news organizations didn’t invest in exit polling and we are thus stuck with 2008 data. I have linked all my sources below and I welcome crowdsourcing of better data — if you know of some please it in the comments.

Iowa: Caucus data from the past two cycles for Republicans and 2008 only for Democrats.

New Hampshire: 2012 exit poll for Republicans and 2008 exit poll for New Hampshire.

South Carolina: Exit poll data from 2012 for Republicans and 2008 for Democrats.

Nevada: 2012 Republican entrance poll and Democratic 2008 exit poll.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College Lonon. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over ten thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

3 thoughts on “Race and the First Four Primary Contests”

  1. " … a ride to the GOP nomination that’s as smooth as mayonnaise on Wonder Bread."
    And as disgusting.

    1. Yes, that at least requires some bacon and tomato to be tasty. Ideally lettuce, too.

      Just as Republican primary voters tend to be whiter than the general population, Democratic primary voters tend to be blacker than the general population. (In fact, each implies the other…) In a large, diverse country, you need to be able to win all sorts of states. Bernie's problems are the mirror image of Hillary's, but he might have a better shot in the general election just exactly because his supporters within the Democratic party tend to be more representative of the country as a whole, than the Democratic electorate.

      Sanders vs Trump; Certainly wouldn't be a boring election. Brings to mind a certain Chinese curse, actually.

  2. You said in your comment that what was in my post was incorrect based on the census. That made no sense. You are now attacking a statement that wasn't in my post rather than acknowledging your mistake, which would be the intellectually honest thing to do.

Comments are closed.