I had a brief look at the race for the Republican nomination in the US Presidential election in November – back then it had been something of a series of Conservatives emerging as the “not-Romney” before fading away again to be replaced by a new “not-Romney”. At the time we’d seen Bachmann surge and fade to be replaced by Perry, who surged and faded to be replaced by Cain, who was at the time fading and being replaced by Gingrich. Since then Gingrich has faded under an assault of attacks on his political baggage, and recent polls have seen advances for the liberatarian Ron Paul and, then, in the last few days Rick Santorum.

Tonight we have the first proper votes cast in the Iowa Caucus. The final few polls of the state are:

PPP (31st Dec – 1st Jan): Paul 20%, Romney 19%, Santorum 18%, Gingrich 14%, Perry 10%, Bachmann 8%, Huntsman 4%
Insider Advantage (1st Jan): Romney 23%, Paul 22%, Santorum 18%, Gingrich 16%, Perry 10%, Bachmann 6%, Huntsman 2%
American Research Group (29th Dec-1st Jan): Romney 22%, Paul 17%, Santorum 16%, Gingrich 15%. Perry 9%, Bachmann 8%, Huntsman 4%
Selzer & Co (27th Dec – 30th Jan): Romney 24%, Paul 22%, Santorum 15%, Gingrich 12%, Perry 11%, Bachmann 7%, Huntsman 2%

Overall we have Romney and Ron Paul competing closely with Santorum in third place, but making strong advances from his position a few weeks ago. The Selzer & Co poll for the Des Moines Register has the oldest fieldwork of those above, but is the most respected and has a reputation for having the best record of predicting the Iowa caucus. When releasing their findings they also noted that in the last two days of their fieldwork they were showing Rick Santorum overtaking Ron Paul to take second place.

Averages from 538 and RealClearPolitics both have Romney leading Paul with Santorum in third… but with only a few percentage points between them. The expectation seems to be that with Santorum enjoying a late surge any of the three could win. Gingrich is expected to come fourth, ahead of Perry and Bachmann. Jon Huntsman is not actively contesting the caucus and concentrating on New Hampshire, he’ll almost certainly come last. Caucuses are hard to predict because they are low turnout events that require people to attend meetings in local halls in the middle of winter and listen to prepared speeches before casting a ballot – here Selzer runs through some different scenarios depending on who actually turns up to caucas tonight.

The results today matter more for their effect on campaign momentum and weeding out no-hopers than it does for actual delegates (Iowa has only a small number of delegates and technically no delegates are elected today anyway, only delegates to county conventions who in turn elect delegates to an Iowa State Convention).

Romney wasn’t expected to win in Iowa, so a victory will be a nice plus and could put him on track for tying up the nomination quickly, but isn’t essential. It will be embarrassing for him if he comes third or worse (and would be a boost for Huntsman, the other moderate candidate remaining in the race) but Romney is off to New Hampshire expecting an easy win there anyway. More important is how it weeds out the race to be the Conservative alternative to Romney – whether it will lead to some of the weaker Conservative candidates dropping out and whether it will give any of them the momentum to be clearly identified as the “not-Romney”.

18 Responses to “Polling on the Iowa Caucus”

  1. Iowa sounds like Inverclyde!


    “Des Moines airport officials warn that Wednesday and Thursday will extraordinarily busy days at the airport as all sorts of workers in the state for tonight’s caucuses fly out.”

  2. And how’s this for crass politicking?


    “They pick corn in Iowa,” Huntsman told CBS’s “The Early Show.” “They pick presidents in New Hampshire.”

  3. I was about to respond with a Bill Bryson quote, but found it incorporated into this splendid rant:


  4. It’s worth underscoring the fact that although Iowa can sometimes give momentum to a campaign and point to a winning nominee, it doesn’t always happen that way.

    In 1988, Senator Bob Dole famously defeated the then Vice President George Bush (Senior) in the Iowa Caucus. However, Bush turned it around in New Hampshire by easily out-spending and out-organising his opponent.

    Bush embittered Dole greatly by using a lot of negative campaigning in NH: after the result, Dole told Bush on live TV to “stop telling lies about me”.

    Bush went on to use the same tactics to once again come from behind and defeat Michael Dukakis in the fall election.

    As for this election, I’ve not really focussed much on the candidates but I rather sense that Santorum would be the Republicans’ best hope: like Romney he looks presidential, but unlike Romney he would not be likely to alienate the party’s Conservative activist base.

    Out of the other front runners, one is too old (Paul) and the other has too much baggage (Gingrich).

  5. Roger Mexico

    A fun read – if you aren’t an Iowa voter! I suspect that if there was a UK equivalent of the US primaries, we’d be reading a description much like that about Kent. (ducks for cover)

  6. Meanwhile I can’t help noticing that Santorum’s popularity hasn’t yet reached a high enough level to knock other er definitions of the word off the number one google (non-news) spot.

  7. Roger Mexico

    Why should it? Iowa will show that he is nought but froth.

  8. I do apologise for that last post.

    It should have been “naught” not “nought”. Naughty me.

  9. @Roger M

    LOL (and genuinely shocked). You learn something everyday. Poor bloke.

  10. Entrance polls predict a three way tie with Ron Paul just edging a win, with 13% of the vote in the polls look bang on target

  11. AW

    Why have you got the statue of liberty at the top of this thread, Iowa is famous for its corn

  12. Although it’s far too early to call, the caucus results will certainly not do Santorum any harm in his efforts to corral the anti-Romney vote.

    Santorum will now get a boost in terms of publicity and funding, but he hasn’t got a lot of time between now and the NHP in which to close the gap on Romney’s (currently) superior organisation.

    It also remains to be seen whether Santorum has some hitherto unknown ‘skeletons in the cupboard’ of the sort that have derailed the campaigns of all the previous front-runners in the battle for the anti-Romney vote. If he has, you can rely on the Romney campaign to dig them up within the next few days. After all, the benefits of success are always encumbered by the problems of increased scrutiny.

    On a more general note, Anthony, I do hope the fact that your blog is entitled “UK Polling Report” will not in any way deter you from posting regular articles about US polling. You and my thousands of students on this board will be delighted to know that my expertise in this field is EVEN GREATER than it is with British psephology.

  13. Why have you got the statue of liberty at the top of this thread, Iowa is famous for its corn


    @Richard in Norway

    It wasn’t until I highligthed your comment that I could be sure what Iowa was famous for.

    And it turned out to just be corn…

  14. Regarding any potential ‘skeletons in the Santorum’ cupboard which might derail his campaign for the nomination, readers might like to check out his Wikipedia entry:-


    It doesn’t mention anything devastating from a personal point of view, although he’s certainly made mistakes (including one or two ethical ones).

    Some of his neo-conservative credentials will terrify those of us on the British left, and he has said a number of things which will alienate some sections of the women’s vote and the gay vote (e.g. appearing to link homosexuality to peadophilia) but none of this will upset the Conservative Republican base.

    He lost incredibly badly in his 2006 Senate re-election campaign in Pennsylvania after making some serious tactical mistakes. However, if he eventually wins the Republican Presidential nomination his being from Pennsylvania will probably do him no harm in his efforts to carry the state (which traditionally has a Democratic bias of around five points compared to the country).

    For mainstream America, Romney would probably be a more attractive choice but his perceived liberal leanings and religion may still mean he fails to get the nomination – especially now that a clear challenger appears to be emerging from the right of the party.

  15. Actually Pennsylvania only leans Democratic by 2 points above the average, it is very much a swing state Santorum could carry as he is son of Pennsylvania and would be a major blow to Obama.

    @Oldnat, if Iowa is a rural agricultural state with little actual relevance but receives overly proportional focus, then Iowa is more like Scotland than Kent. ;)

  16. Actually that’s not really true.

    A Republican generally needs to be about 4-5% ahead in the national popular vote in order to carry Pennsylvania (although it might be less for Santorum).

    If you want to be pedantic, you could say that the Democrats do around 2% better in Pennsylvania and the Republicans 2% worse – making a difference of 4%. I’ll give you that.

    Yes, I suppose you could call it a swing state, but it’s one the Democrats really have to win. I think I’m correct in saying you have to go back to the 1950s to find an example of the state not leaning more towards the Democrats than the union as a whole.

    Certainly, in each of the last ten presidential elections, it has leaned more Democratic (and that includes the two Carter elections in which the party’s strength had a strong southern skew).

    Although Pennsylvania has some Mid Western features, including a massive rural expanse, it also resembles a northern ‘big city’ state: its small town/country areas, though geographically big on the map, are usually outweighed by Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

    By the way, I was there in ’88 – and still have a copy of the “Philadelphia Inquirer” (complete with front page picture of Michael Dukakis giving an open air speech in the city, from the day before). Five days later, he went on to lose the state by three points (and the nation by eight).

    The Democrats have not lost Pennsylvania since.

  17. Robin Hood,

    It may well be the case that Santorum could carry Pennsylvania for the Republicans if he were the nomineee .. but would he be able to carry enough swing voters across the rest of the country to win the election ?

    The ability of a candidate to deliver his home state is often exaggerated in terms of its contribution to winning the election, even when the state in question is a large one with a sizeable chunk of electoral college votes.

    IIRC, Dukakis won his home state in 1988 – but not a lot else.

    As you note above, the Republicans have not won Pennsylvania since Bush Snr in 1988, but Bush Jnr still managed to win two elections without it – one of them by a reasonable margin. Clearly winning PA in 2012 would be a significant boon to Republican chances of taking the White House, whomever is the candidate. But equally, it is not a necessary step to winning the overall election.

    Final thought, if Romney were the nominee in August, and IF Santorum remains a viable option by then (a big IF as things stand), then the potential for Santorum to perhaps deliver PA would make him a good choice for VP nominee. That wouldalso provide the Republican right with the reassurance that Romney has his principles in the right place without damaging his electability. A win-win for the Republicans – which is why I am sure that the Democrats will devote a lot of resources in next few weeks to damaging Santorum.

  18. @ PAUL-HJ

    A good post.

    Yes, I think that although Santorum appeals to the Republican grassroots, he would have problems in a run-off against Obama as he would then have to appeal to more mainstream voters.

    Romney is certainly the GOP’s best hope in terms of winning the presidency in November, and Santorum as his VP candidate could – I underscore the word ‘could’ – help to deliver Pennsylvania to the Republican ticket in a tight election.

    That said, I’m not sure about how much of a difference a VP candidate can really make in his home state. There have been cases where even the top of the ticket has not been able to carry his home state (e.g. McGovern’s failure to carry South Dakota in 1972 and Gore’s failure in Tennessee in 2000).

    Incidentally, based upon what I’ve seen from the initial polls in New Hampshire, it looks like Romney’s got that particular primary in the bag. For religious and values reasons, Santorum might have more of a chance in South Carolina, though by then his momentum may have run out.

    Should be an interesting few weeks.