Saturday, January 05, 2008


Cold news by now, but I'd wager it is still worth it to devote a small post to the caucus held on January 3rd in the Hawkeye State. As a European I have had some trouble discerning a caucus from a primary. The word caucus seems to have its origin in the old Indian Algonquin language, where it was used to describe a gathering of tribal chiefs. Its modern equivalent is, according to a rather dull definition I read somewhere, "a process of political party members gathering to make policy decisions and to select candidates."

So the most obvious result is that Iowa designated Obama and Huckabee as frontrunners on the Democratic and Republican side respectively.

And here is a table with the results:

At first I was puzzled by the vote numbers, not sure how to interpret them. I knew that around 240,000 democratic voters had shown up, was I to read "931" for Obama as "93,100" perhaps? At first sight, the number of votes on the Democratic side thus recalculated might yield something in the neighborhood of 240,000. It didn't quite, however. By contrast, the number of votes on the Rep side seemed to make sense, since the combined total is 103,048, and this jibed with the fact that more than two democratic voters showed up for one republican. Notice, btw, how relative it all is: judging by the massive media coverage, one would conclude that the Iowa Caucus is a political event of the first order. While in fact, barely 360,000 people cast a vote!

But back to the vote calculation. After some rummaging on the web I found out that for the Democrats in Iowa, the votes were allotted according to a rather complicated system, whereby - as far as I can tell - supporters in every voting precinct first flock to a stand representing the candidate of their choosing. To determine the vote of a Democratic candidate, the precinct's chairman then multiplies the number of people at a certain stand with the number of candidates, then divides it by the number of eligible voters. Effective votes only start from a minimum of 15% of the dem voters present. Example: If 150 people show up to a caucus that is to elect four or more delegates, a candidate must get at least 25 people (15% of 150) in his or her corner. If a candidate has 25 caucus-goers, then following the formula, 25 x 4/150 = 0.67 percent, which is rounded up to one, and so the candidate wins one delegate.

I'm not sure I fully understand this weird system, but then I have never understood lefty logic. By contrast, determining the Republican vote is as clear as crystal. It is just a "straw poll". The republican voters cast a paper with the name of their candidate in a box and all votes are counted. The delegates are appointed by percentages.

Not really having paid attention to the polls predicting the Iowa turnout, I can't tell in how far they were correct. It doesn't matter: Obama won for the Dem side, Huckabee on the Rep side. What amazes me most for the Democrats is that Clinton is not even 2nd! Indeed, she comes in AFTER Edwards, be it only by a small margin, and from my point of view, THAT is the big surprise. So, contrary to some experts who claim that the field for the Democrats has narrowed down to two candidates, I'd wager that's far from certain. With regards to Huckabee's surprising jump, I guess that has a lot to do with the sociological profile of Hawkeyers. AFAIK, it's a state with the economy centered mainly around agriculture, even though there is a large section of the working population employed in manufacturing (but then it's agriculture-related manufacturing: tractor construction, meat processing etc). I guess in such an environment - Iowa's part of the "corn belt", isn't it? - with few large urbane concentrations, there's more voters for whom social conservatism is an issue, see also the punishment Giuliani received. As for Romney, he still performed strong, and seemed quite satisfied with his "silver".

But apart from concluding who is definitely out - Dodd, Biden, Hunter - perhaps we should not jump too fast to conclusions - as The Times Online notes:

But history urges caution. Since the US parties adopted primaries as their preferred system for selecting candidates 40 years ago, there have been 13 contests in which there has been a genuine competition for the Republican or Democratic nomination – that is, excluding those times when an incumbent president seeking reelection was unopposed.

In those 13 races, only one winner in Iowa has gone on to win the presidency the following November – George W. Bush in 2000. If Iowa were half as important as everybody thinks it is, we would have celebrated the presidencies of Walter Mondale, Richard Gephardt, Tom Harkin and Bob Dole, all proud winners of the caucuses here, who went on to greater or lesser obscurity thereafter.

Over to the New Hampshire primary Tuesday, but, first, the Wyoming caucus. That's tomorrow, Sunday!


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