Romney’s Historic Iowa Win

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.

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 London. 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 thirteen 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.

15 thoughts on “Romney’s Historic Iowa Win”

  1. If it makes you happy to believe that, fine.

    If you were really listening and observing objectively, you would understand that the real message of Iowa is that the GOP race is over already. Romney virtually ignored Iowa until the last few weeks and still did fine in a state primary where the dynamics are hard for him (he will have an easier time carrying the state in the general). Reportedly, Perry is mulling withdrawal, and I assume Gingrich will be out after Florida. Santorum can only compete in states where there is a large religious right vote. So the Obama – Romney race can begin and the more accurate polling services have Mitt ahead. Ron Paul is already trying to decide whether to compete for the Libertarian nomination; even that one is an uphill battle for him.

    As for Republican enthusiasm, I expect the temperature will rise for the candidate as it always does by convention time. No point wasting passion now.

    My guess is the Dems in November will still be suffering a serious enthusiasm gap as they did in 2010, maybe even worse. The comparison with 2012 when the opposite was the case will be stark.

    But that’s OK. Like Alfred E Neuman, you guys need not worry.

  2. The message of Iowa is that Romney can, indeed, get a quarter of the Republican vote, just as the polls have suggested all along. Rick Perry will probably drop out, but I see no reason to believe that Perry supporters will switch to Romney as their second choice.

  3. Let’s not be too hard on Mitt. Not everyone can become the sort of all-powerful political Colossus that Tom Harkin was. 😉

  4. I heard at least five Iowans interviewed for the news over the last three days and every one of them said that the most important factor was whether the candidate has a good handshake. So glad we are trusting the wise and irrelevant old farst this wise and irrelevant old-fart state with such a weighty decision. Pfffffft.

  5. This was, I think, nearly the worst possible result for Romney. Both Perry and Bachmann did badly enough that they’ll be dropping out. Cain is already gone. Gingrich has no money. There is now a sole not-Romney. That it’s Santorum is unexpected, of course, but someone was always going to end up being the sole not-Romney. Romney needed that to occur as late as possible. It’s happened, instead, as soon as possible.

    To make things worse, Paul did well enough to excite his base, so he will stay in as a spoiler, taking secular votes that would otherwise go to Romney.

    What was reported was the sum of the initial straw votes at the start of the caucuses. By the end of the caucuses, delegates to the next level of meetings will have been chosen. My guess is that Santorum will have had more of them than anyone else and by the time actual Republican National Convention delegates are chosen (there’s another couple of levels of indirect election to go), he’ll end up with the majority of Iowa’s delegates.

    Romney is still the favourite. He has money and a national organization. But this wasn’t good for him.

    1. Not the worst possible outcome – neither of the remotely plausible candidates to seriously contest for the nomination did well. This result left Romney in the same place he’s been since at least when Perry started stuffing his feet down his gullet up to the knee every debate: he’s functionally unopposed for the nomination, and with Perry probably dropping out and Newt underperforming he’ll soon be formally unopposed. The three-way tie for first with two fringe candidates leaves the party with no valid options to Romney, and his coronation will commence.

      Still, losing to his 2008 totals by 6 votes against a weaker field, and eking an eight vote squeaker against Rick Santorum, means that while his plans remain on track, they’ve done so in just about the most humiliating way possible.

      1. If I had to guess I would say Romney will win the nomination. To quote Bob Dole, he wants to win in the worst possible way, and probably will.

        1. No need to quote old Bob Dole when there is even an older saw at hand:

          He that pays the piper calls the tune.

          Romney spent millions in Iowa ruining The Grinch’s *good* name. Right now if there are any shrewd Democratic billionaire’s out there, they ought to be secretly seeding Newt’s campaign with cash for a payback. Newt is pissed to the bone. He wants to sink his chompers into Romney’s hide and jaw-shake. I say give Newt some super pac slush funds. Legal/illegal whatever. Do it. Fund Newt up to the max. Let Newt chase after the chameleon as it climbs and two-tongues its way to the nomination…

      2. It’s not clear to me that Santorum is a fringe candidate. We, of course, find him risible. But that’s partly because we have heard of Dan Savage (yes, I’ve seen lots of tweeted variations on “Santorum comes from behind”). But he’s a solid conservative who served two terms in the Senate. He’s no more fringe than Perry, Gingrich or Bachmann (probably less fringe than Bachmann). He’s a lot more appealing to conservatives than Romney ever can be. His ’06 defeat was embarrassing, no more.

        We’ll see what happens in South Carolina later this month. If conservatives, particularly religious conservatives, flock to his banner, Romney will have a fight on his hands.

    2. I also don’t think it was the worst possible outcome, or even a really bad one for Romney–just not an especially good one because of the margins involved.

      Here’s the good news for Romney, such as it is:

      1. A win is a win is a win. +8 votes means nobody can say he finished second, even if you can’t really say that about Santorum, either.
      2. This also means he stands a good chance of winning the first three primaries outright. Yes, it’s ridiculous that the most disliked front-runner in the modern primary era might also run the table, but that’s life. Iowa was actually one of the tougher states for Romney, given that social conservatives are leery of him and right-wing Christians are leery of voting for a Mormon.
      3. Santorum will draw fewer freed-up Rick Perry voters than Perry would draw from Santorum quitting.
      4. Perry is botching even the quitting phase of the race, meaning that Santorum won’t inherit Perry’s support in time for NH or SC.

      From where we stand, Santorum and Perry are both interchangeable joke candidates. But for all his Texas-sized flaws, Perry makes a more plausible anti-Romney than Santorum. If Romney could have picked his two runners-up, I think only Bachmann-Paul beats Santorum-Paul.

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