Over at Vox, Andrew Prokop has a theory about why the Iowa caucuses matter:
Every winner of a competitive major party presidential nomination contest since 1980 except one started off by winning the Iowa caucuses, the New Hampshire primary, or both.
Which would be a great point if you wanted to argue that to eventually win the nomination you have to win one of the first two states. Except that this isn’t what is being argued. Looking at the Vox table, 7 of the 13 nominees won in Iowa. Indeed, starting off like this pretty much gives the game away:
Like it or not, the Iowa results appear to be hugely important in determining who the major parties’ presidential nominees will be — particularly [!] when considered alongside the impact of fellow early state New Hampshire.
Getting to first base is hugely important in determining whether you will score — particularly when considered alongside the impact of getting to second base.
For extra entertainment, the article is also full of quotes along the lines of “but only x number of people will vote so who cares?”:
“What is the difference between first place and third place in Iowa going to be, 4,000 votes? It’s like a student body election,” says Stuart Stevens, who was Mitt Romney’s chief strategist in 2012.
In the past I have been very unkind* to this type of reasoning. But really: Unless you have a convincing case to make that the people who did vote are not representative of the overall electorate, what’s with the obsession with size? Why not just go all in and remark: “What was the difference between first and second place in Florida in 1992, 537 votes? It’s like a Manhattan co-op board election.”
Throwing out the 4,000 number out there also does a good job of distracting from the fact that 120,000 voted in the 2012 Republican caucus there. This isn’t a large number (unless you were attacked by a group of dogs holding a total of 120,000 bees in their mouths, in which case: run away) — but let’s look at the 10 states that vote after Iowa: New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida, Nevada, Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri, Maine, Arizona, and Wyoming. Half of them don’t even come close to matching Iowa’s total number of votes Colorado came closest with 66,027 in 2012).
If you want to argue that the Iowa results “appear [!] to be hugely important in determining who the major parties’ presidential nominees will be,” it would make sense to produce such evidence before moving on to asking me this question 3:
But why, exactly, does this small-time contest affect the larger race so much?
Personally, I don’t think war is unforeseeable.
* Meaning I have been a total asshole.