Some Criticisms of the Iowa Caucuses
As we look at the future of the Iowa caucuses we need to examine and understand some of the major criticisms that have been raised about the process.
Iowa is Too Conservative
One of the most widely held criticisms raised about the validity of the “Iowa first” process is the allegation that Republican candidates for president must “veer to the right” in Iowa and then try to veer back to the center for the general election and that this kills their chances of getting elected.
The candidacy of Mitt Romney in 2012 is the most recent example cited by these critics.
My political science colleague Lynn Vavreck, U.C.L.A., professor and co-author of “The Gamble,” about the 2012 presidential campaign has done an interesting research project with her co-author John Sides.
In 2011 they started tracking the responses from “ … weekly surveys, each of which asked 1,000 people to rate themselves and the candidates on a five-point ideology scale ranging from very liberal to very conservative. Most people placed themselves in the middle, and placed Mr. Romney to the right of center and President Obama to the left.” [i]
Their analysis of this data “ … show that people’s views about the candidates’ ideologies didn’t move over the course of 2012.”
In other words, although Romney may indeed have “pandered” to the right of the Republican party in the Iowa caucuses, which by the way he clearly did, he was already seen as “conservative” and towards the end of the campaign he was not seen as being more conservative or unacceptably conservative by those polled.
President Obama was seen as liberal and more liberal than the respondents but since he goot reelected to a second term, that did not seem to hurt him with voters. The authors point out that since the economy was recovering THAT factor was more important than the fact that he was seen as liberal.
In their excellent summary of the research Vavrek states that, “… three pieces of evidence — that Mr. Romney was thought to be no less conservative before the primaries than during or after them, that his average rating didn’t shift much at all during the entire year, and that he was ideologically closer to most voters than Mr. Obama — bust the myth that Republicans lost the 2012 election because of ideological shifts in the primaries.”
Mitt Romney did have to stay close to his many Republican caucus opponents who, like former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, were indeed much more conservative especially on many social issues and religious positions such as their rejection of “evolution” and their firm position on “creationism” – that God created the heavens and Earth and humans.
If Vavreck and colleague are correct it was “ok” for Romney to “pander” to the Iowa Republican caucus attendees and later to conservative Republicans in other areas of the country such as the south. Their research suggests that other factors were more important in the outcome such as Romney’s very strong position with powerful Republican leaders and donors to his campaign across the United States. Romney’s loss in November of 2008 was due to two things.
First was his unfortunate statement about the 47 percent of the country. He said at a fundraiser that 47 percent of voters would chose Obama “no matter what” because they are people “… who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. … These are people who pay no income tax.
“My job is not to worry about those people,” Romney added, “I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
The Second reason Romney lost the election was ORCA. This was a software program that was supposed to give 37,000 volunteers in swing state including Iowa a minute by minute update on what voters needed to be contacted all during election day to get them to the polls. I will not go into the technical details of why the program failed but they ere very similar to the initial disaster of Obamacare. The system had not been tested in real life, the servers were ridiculously insufficient and the system failed.
“… On November 3, field volunteers were told to expect "packets" shortly containing the information they needed to use Orca. Those packets, which showed up in some volunteers' e-mail inboxes as late as November 5, turned out to be PDF files—huge PDF files which contained instructions on how to use the app and voter rolls for the voting precincts each volunteer would be working. After discovering the PDFs in his e-mail inbox at 10:00 PM on Election Eve, [one volunteer] said that "I sat down and cursed, as I would have to print 60+ pages of instructions and voter rolls on my home printer. They expected 75 to 80-year old veteran volunteers to print out 60+ pages on their home computers? The night before election day?"
You can and should read the amazing article on this embarrassing disaster at:
Romney did not lose the election because the Iowa caucuses pulled him too far to the right
Iowa is Too White
Another criticism that has been articulated for many years is that Iowa is “too white.” Indeed, Iowa is among the states with the smallest Black and Hispanic populations. The implied “problem” was that candidates campaigning in Iowa would not be tested on issues of significance to minorities. Since Iowa has been followed by the New Hampshire primary in the past decades and New Hampshire is also a low minorities state the criticism played to the perennial problem of “underrepresented” minorities in the US political process.
This criticism was rudely put to rest when Barack Obama won the Iowa caucuses in 2008 and went on from Iowa to win the nomination, the election and then of course was reelected President in 2012. I have not seen a word about Iowa being to white since the 2008 caucuses so that particular issue has been put to permanent rest.
Iowa Democrats are Too Liberal
Since both the Democrats and Republicans compete in the Iowa caucuses to start the candidate selection process a small ripple of criticism rolled out recently alleging that by giving Obama the winning night in 2008 the majority of Iowa Democrats revealed that they were “too liberal.” After all, Hillary Clinton won the New Hampshire primary in 2008 and most of the “big primaries” so Obama it is argued by some prevented the more “establishment” Democrat, Hillary Clinton, from winning.
Very few Democrats still “go there” if you will. Iowa caucus Democrats were exactly right in giving Obama the nod. Only six Democratic presidents have been reelected to a second term of office since 1900 and Obama is the most recent. Thus it would be silly to second guess the Iowa Democratic caucus participants who saw in Obama qualities that they felt would get him elected in the first place. And, these mostly white voters did not et Obamas race and ethnic difference from all other US presidents get in the way of their choice.
The 2016 Iowa Caucuses
The discussion about Hillary Clinton and liberalism could have an impact in 2016 when once again it appears that she will again be a presidential contender. This time around the progressive, liberal wing of the Democratic party is actually already arguing that Clinton is TOO “establishment.” That’s why much more liberal contestants such as Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren are sniffing the political air in Iowa and are being encouraged by progressive Iowa Democrats to compete in the 2016 caucuses.
The Republican 2016 caucuses will be very interesting with no incumbent president running and no clear GOP frontrunner although Mitt Romney the 2012 candidate has been ahead in early polls.
One of the most intriguing question being asked is whether Romney or former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, brother of former President George W Bush and son of former President George H. W. Bush will compete in Iowa and how they will position themselves.
The early thrust already suggests that at least Bush will not “pander” to the most conservative wing of the Iowa GOP. Jonathan Easley of The Hill reported on January 1, 2015, “Likely 2016 presidential candidate Jeb Bush has declined an invitation to speak at a conservative summit in Iowa hosted by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa.), a sometimes controversial figure in the GOP. A Bush aide told The Hill that the former Florida governor appreciated the offer to speak at the Iowa Freedom Summit in late January but that he would not be able to attend. The Washington Post first reported on Wednesday that Bush had declined the invitation to the summit, which will feature a host of other potential GOP presidential contenders.”
Clearly Bush has bought into the theory that Iowa conservative Republicans pull candidates too far to the right to win the GOP nomination. Vavreck and her colleagues have suggested that this is not the case. Bush can come and “pander” to King and--> the Iowa conservatives and it will not hurt his campaign if he avoids fatal mistakes such as Romney’s ORCA and 47% insult of working class Americans.