Iowa Should Not Matter
During the entire M*A*S*H series, Radar the company clerk was given a hard time for the irrelevant little town he was from -- Ottumwa, Iowa. Ottumwa, however, is one of Iowa's major cities and media markets. This should provide some perspective on the eight-month spectacle that is Iowa every four years. It's almost political porn.
Thus, the best way to analyze the Iowa Caucuses is to do so without regard to the results of the voting -- as done here. As of this writing, the actual caucuses are four hours away. But that does not matter because Iowa's caucus vote does not matter. To make Iowa matter is to literally disenfranchise the vast majority of American voters, in fact. We should not let that happen. Yet we do.
The only spin needed for Iowa is to point out how out of phase our emphasis on this state is.
Or more to the point, define how only 120 thousand caucus-goers do not matter mathematically. The entire turnout of the Iowa caucuses is but a rounding error to a large state, let alone the nation. To put this in perspective, consider the following statistical points about the entire caucus turnout versus other realities. And I don't mean the normal recitations about how seldom Iowa picks a nominee -- we all know that. I mean some real eye-opening proportional figures:
A: The entire Iowa Caucus turnout will be less than half of the vote total in New Hampshire. That's right: tiny New Hampshire will have more than twice as many voters as Iowa caucus-goers. In depressed '08, there were 245 thousand New Hampshire Republican voters, and short of a blizzard, there will be more than that this year.
B: The entire primary population of New Hampshire's voters will be about half the number of folks who will vote in South Carolina's primary. Yes, half of South Carolina -- the smaller by far of the two Carolinas. In 2008, South Carolina had 445 thousand GOP primary voters, and there has been a big uptick in Republican interest since then, so half a million is a good guess for the Palmetto State.
In fact, the entire Iowa caucus turnout is what the media estimated was the number of folks inside the stadium -- and partying around the stadium -- for a single football game in that state: the University of South Carolina-Clemson game in November.
So if you are scoring at home, that makes Iowa's voters one-fourth the number of South Carolina's primary voters.
C: But consider this: South Carolina is still only one fourth the size of Florida, relative to projected Republican primary voters. In 2008, 1.92 million voted in the Sunshine State's GOP primary, so 2 million is probably a bit on the low side for 2012. Give or take, this makes Florida's Republican voting turnout roughly 16 times the size of Iowa's caucus turnout. That's right: 16 times, and it could easily be 17 or 18 times if there is but a bit of intensity for the Florida primary.
D: The average population of a single congressional district is something like 700 thousand total people, meaning the single districts that vote to return folks like Barney Frank and Maxine Waters to Congress are roughly 6 times the size of the entire Iowa Caucus turnout.
E: The average congressional district had some 275 thousand votes cast in the 2008 general election, meaning turnout in each of 435 districts was -- on average -- 2.3 times the size of the entire Iowa caucus turnout.
F: South Carolina and Florida combined will have roughly seven times the total of voters as will Iowa and New Hampshire combined.
In other words, to give Iowa this much emphasis is simply insane. To think of the end of the first two events -- Iowa and then the New Hampshire Primary -- is equally misguided.
This is nothing against Iowa and New Hampshire per se -- this is simply an arithmetic analysis. I don't consider the average Iowa caucus-goer 16 times more important than the average Florida primary voter or four times more critical than a South Carolina voter.
But that's exactly what many in the media and many in certain campaigns would have you believe. They are treating Iowa like it is the entire nation -- and frankly, it's nothing more than the opinions of the number of folks at a rather poorly attended NASCAR event.
Which really puts into perspective just how out of proportion the coverage surrounding Iowa is. In the past few weeks, the media and message boards have been abuzz about how there is this huge movement for Ron Paul and for Rick Santorum -- while Newt Gingrich has disappeared, and Rick Perry is failing.
And yet, it is all about the musings of only 120 thousand folks. It is reported like it is of national significance. We are to believe that someone moving up or down 10 points in Iowa is suddenly more important than their national polls or their South Carolina or Florida polls? It just makes no sense.
There are a lot of flaws in how we pick our presidents. The overblown emphasis on the Iowa Caucuses is a bad start to the process.