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Debunking Conventional Wisdom about the Iowa Caucuses

- January 2, 2008

Peverill Squire has a new and timely piece in The Forum that takes on six myths about the Iowa caucuses.

bq. Myth #1. The Iowa country bumpkins pulled a fast one on the big state folks by jumping to the front of the line.

In 1972. Iowa became the first caucus or primary “by accident.” No one thought it was a big deal at the time, since the caucus didn’t matter much for the 1972 Democratic nomination.

bq. Myth #2: Iowa was a king-maker.

A victory in Iowa has proved neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for winning the nomination.

bq. Myth #3: Iowans made crazy decisions.

Iowans largely back the eventual nominee and, moreover, do not have preferences about the candidates that are substantially different than those in the nation as a whole. There are exceptions, of course, but they are just that: exceptions.

bq. Myth #4: It was really all about the money.

“The money” refers to the income the caucus generates for Iowa’s economy. Squire estimates that this constitutes at best .08% of Iowa’s GDP.

bq. Myth #5: Iowans liked being first in the nation, because the caucuses were responsible for the federal government’s ethanol subsidies.

Squire argues that ethanol subsidies derive from a coalition among members of Congress from agricultural states, not from some special favors to agricultural interests in rural Iowa.

bq. Myth #6: In the final analysis, the caucuses were undemocratic.

Turnout in the 2004 Democratic caucus was 23% — hardly high, but higher than is sometimes presumed when single-digit percentages are bandied about.

The whole piece is here, free and ungated, courtesy of Forum Editor Ray La Raja.

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