Friday, January 04, 2008

What Iowa Means

Conventional wisdom, like nature, abhors a vacuum. We're less than than 24 hours after the election, and already the narrative has been written. To step back for a moment into a little meta-analysis--this is remarkable. For months, states have been jockeying to get in closer to the front of the line with the hopes of having some influence. Yet that front-loading focus seemed only to heighten, not mitigate, Iowa's influence.

Since we live in such a media-saturated environment, memes travel instantly and storylines emerge with far greater ferocity than in years past. Already, this is the final recap: it's a change election; Obama's appeal is as broad as it is deep; Huckabee's win shows a deeply fractured GOP; Edwards is out, Hillary on life support. None of these stories reflects reality--350,000 Iowans have only as much influence as the rest of the country gives them--but they can create reality, and apparently have. Once the votes get cast, campaigns totally lose control of the storyline.

Hillary and Giuliani both made strategic miscalculations on this front. Both knew they couldn't do well in Iowa and so took different tactics. Rudy tried a stealth campaign, never visiting, but putting a lot of money into ground troops and advertising. He was hoping for a respectable third or fourth. He finished sixth, though, and no one could miss the fact that he got only a third the vote of the fifth-place finisher, Ron Paul. Hillary knew she couldn't win last summer, but rather than drive down expectations, she competed for the win. Had she publically shot for second, a virtual tie with Edwards could have been spun as a win. Instead, she'll be held hostage by headlines describing this as a personal rebuke to her campaign. Both New Yorkers underestimated the impact of Iowa on the race: Rudy should have spent more time there, Hillary less. Now they know.

Unconventional Wisdom
Obama's win was impressive because he won so fully across demographics--women, the poor, Democrats (whom Hillary was supposed to dominate), everyone under 45 years old. And of course, he won mainly because 52% of the people who showed up to the caucuses wanted change, and half of them voted for Obama (Hillary and Edwards got less than a fifth of that vote each).

But the thing that really lept out at me was the difference in voter composition between GOP caucus-goers and Dems: those who went to the Democratic side were far more diverse, both in terms of party identification and political ideology. Fewer people turned out for the GOP caucuses, and they were overwhelmingly conservative and Republican. Half the people who turned out to the Democratic caucuses were moderate, and a quarter were not Democrats. Since it's just a single election, and a caucus at that, it's not worth spending too much time talking about the trend toward Dems and what kind of huge coattail effect this might have on congressional races. But still.

Here is ideological identification:
Republican Caucus-goers (125,000)
45% - Very conservative
43% - Somewhat conservative
88% - Total conservative
12% - Moderate and liberal

Dem Caucus-goers (232,000)
18% - Very liberal
36% - Somewhat liberal
54% - Total
46% - Moderate and conservative

And here's party ID:
Republican Caucus-goers
86% - Republican
_1% - Democrat
14% - Independent and other

Dem Caucus-goers
76% - Democrat
_3% - Republican
22% - Independent and other
I'll probably continue to comment throughout the day, but this is the one point I wanted to highlight from the outset.

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