Friday, December 30, 2011

The few, the partisan, the Iowa caucuses

It's the same old Iowa story in U.S. politics: a very small minority of very engaged, partisan folks from the full political spectrum, acting in our unrestrained media spotlight, are doing their very distinctive, narrowly regional thing and making unwarranted national waves. You want representative democracy? Forget it.

You want polemics, hype and sound bite journalism? You got it, it's called the Iowa caucuses. Humdrum politics, you say? Aside from their much-publicized role as the "first" head count in the presidential primary race, why should we pay attention to the Iowa caucuses?

The stuff and nonsense of this mid-West media monstrosity is in many ways a repeat of the goofy Ames Straw Poll in Iowa last August, only larger…and by the way, Michelle Bachmann won that one…
A critical look at the Ames Poll
Results of the 2011 Ames Poll

My previous post on "spoofing democracy" in Iowa

Although they're billed as a high profile reading on the state of the Republican presidential primary, the caucuses aren't the very model of predictive truth.

Try to forget about the fact that Mike Huckabee won the Republican Iowa caucus in 2008, getting nearly three times as much support as John McCain, who was the eventual GOP nominee in the presidential race.
 It's just a caucus, the first step of a multi-stage process by which Republicans in Iowa will choose their delegates to the Republican National Convention next year. At the 2012 caucus next week, the Republican party faithful (and maybe some ringers) won't even be voting directly for their preferred candidates. There's no guarantee that the nominal winner of the GOP caucus on January 3 will be Iowa's choice at the convention, and no guarantee that he or she will be the one to challenge President Obama in the November election. Commentary from Lisa Desjardins at CNN

So what good are the Iowa caucuses? I'm ignoring the Democratic caucus, President Obama is the shoo-in winner.

What's this Republican caucus in Iowa all about? On January 3 any registered Republican in Iowa, and any 17-year-old Iowan who will turn 18 before the November 2012 election and wants to pre-register as a Republican, and anybody else who shows up at a GOP caucus in any of Iowa's 1,784 voting precincts and registers as a Republican on-the-spot, will be eligible to vote for delegates who support one of the GOP primary contenders.
    These delegates will go to one of 99 county conventions in the state, and the county conventions will choose delegates to the state conventions that will choose Iowa's official delegation to the Republican National Convention. Nobody is directly voting for Mitt Romney or Ron Paul or Newt Gingrich or anybody else in the January 3 Iowa caucuses.

I mentioned possible ringers. It is possible that crafty non-Republicans could show up at any GOP caucus, register right then and there as a Republican and cast a shifty vote in support of a candidate who might not be viewed by some genuine Republicans as an ideal contender against President Obama. Yes, this would be dirty tricks stuff. Just sayin'…..

Of more concern to me is the number of Iowa voters who are NOT involved in the caucuses.

There are approximately 2.3 million Iowa residents of legal voting age.
In 2008, about 359,000 people participated in both parties' caucuses, according to the Houston
Chronicle the Chronicle story , and only about 120,000 of them were Republicans.

Iowa politics is jumping this year, let's guess that 150,000 Republicans may show up this time. Suppose that 25% of them vote for delegates who support Mitt Romney—a current poll reported by Newsday shows Mitt with that estimated level of support poll results from Newsday . Suppose Mitt is the "winner" of the Iowa Republican caucus. In this very plausible scenario, about 1.6% of Iowans who can vote will determine the big headlines and cable news political trash talk we'll be able to enjoy on January 4. Whoever ends up ranked No. 2 will have the support of even fewer Iowa Republicans…

Will any of the TV talking heads and party spokespersons offer any comment on the point that 98% of voting age Iowans DON'T support the candidate who "won"?

Wikipedia stuff on Iowa caucuses

Another site with info on Iowa caucuses

A Washington Post take on "5 myths" about the caucuses

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