Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Are we done writing the eulogy for the Iowa Caucuses?

First Mitt Romney was going to skip Iowa and now there is a potential epidemic of prospective presidential candidate absences from the Hawkeye state? I'm glad the Iowa Republican Party came along and shot this one down tonight. Sure, the numbers cited (via Politico 2012 Live's fabulous candidate tracker) in that tweet are inflated with Obama visits and visits to surrounding areas that don't technically count as visits to Iowa (or any of the other four earliest states). Once you back those superfluous visits out the count looks like this (percentage of total visits to those four states in parentheses):
Iowa: 118 (41%)
New Hampshire: 82 (28%)
South Carolina: 73 (25%)
Nevada: 15 (5%)
The point is still the same: Iowa has the most visits of the four early primary/caucus states.

Now let's compare it to 2008. No, this isn't a fair comparison because it looks at the total number of visits to those states throughout the 2008 invisible primary and primary season periods. But let's focus on the percentage of total visits. [The numbers in the 2008 link are in terms of total visits to all states. We'll focus on the percentage of total visits to just Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.]
Iowa: 1943 (55%)
New Hampshire: 994 (28%)
South Carolina: 420 (12%)
Nevada: 145 (4%)
Yes, that includes Democratic candidate visits in 2008 as well. Now let's constrain it to just the Republican visits.
Iowa: 729 (48%)
New Hampshire: 489 (32%)
South Carolina: 277 (18%)
Nevada: 35 (2%)
Is Iowa getting a smaller share of candidate visits in 2012 as compared to 2008? In this oranges to tangerines comparison, perhaps a little. The Hawkeye state continues to command the largest proportion of visits thus far however. What can explain that? In FHQ's estimation, the explanation is not the rightward shift of the Iowa Republican Party. It has more to do with the fact that it is early and that no candidates have officially announced their candidacies. It might also have something to do with the fact that the nominal frontrunner's strategy is different in the 2012 cycle than it was in 2008. Mitt Romney spent a lot of time and money on both the Ames Straw Poll and the January caucuses to get just a quarter of the vote in Iowa. The former Massachusetts governor's strategy won't have as large a dose of Iowa in 2012. Romney will be in the state, but not like he was in 2008 and that is the real story here.

Iowa will still be first in 2012, it will continue to attract candidate attention and it will have an impact on the course of the Republican presidential nomination race. That hasn't and won't change, but its impact and level of attention will vary from cycle to cycle depending on exogenous factors.

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