Can Iowa Predict the GOP Nominee?

The Wigwam

This is not one of those articles about how the winner of Iowa almost never goes on to win the GOP nomination, or how New Hampshire tends to be more predictive. The saying goes, “Iowa picks corn and New Hampshire picks the President.” Rather, we’re asking if we can build a state-by-state electorate model based on the demographic data and voting patterns in Iowa. I know what you’re thinking, “Is Iowa white enough to accurately represent the GOP electorate?” It’s hard to say. According to the Iowa entrance polls all the non-white GOP voters caucused for some candidate with the initials N.A. (whom I’ve never even heard of).

We can at least try. Lets make the assumption that the GOP will continue to have record turnouts across the country and that self-described “very conservative,” “somewhat conservative,” and “moderate” GOP voters continue to vote in relative proportions for Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and Marco Rubio as they did in Iowa. This model also takes into account whether primaries or caucuses are open or closed to independents, which will be more moderate, less ideological, and favor Trump. The final (and pretty wild) assumption is that Cruz, Trump, and Rubio stay in the race through the entire primary calendar without stalling out, similar to Clinton and Obama in 2008. Incredibly, Hillary Clinton actually won the final primary contest of 2008, South Dakota in early June, before conceding the race to Senator Obama.

The Model

If these assumptions hold true, the immediate future spells trouble for establishment Republicans. Trump pulls out New Hampshire over Rubio and narrowly defeats Cruz in South Carolina. Cruz blows out Nevada. Because South Carolina’s statewide delegates are winner-take-all, Trump holds a solid lead going into Super Tuesday on March 1st.

Cruz then dominates Super Tuesday, which is being labeled the SEC primary with most of the old Confederacy being brought up to punch their ballots. While Trump loses an ugly fight to Cruz’s demographic and ground game advantages in the south, Rubio is left with the liberal scraps up north, like Vermont, Minnesota, and Massachusetts.

Iowa ModelA key consideration is that these early states, with the notable exception of South Carolina, distribute their delegates proportionally. Meaning, despite Rubio losing every contest before Super Tuesday, and even then somewhat embarrassingly only winning liberal bastions, he won’t dramatically trail in delegates by mid-March. At which point we have the Florida Primary that has 99 winner-take-all delegates. Did I mention Rubio is the Junior Senator from Florida?

After March 15th, a host of winner-take-all delegates in states that heavily favor Rubio’s electorate come into play. If Marco Rubio can somehow maintain momentum for a month and a half in the face of a pretty ugly losing streak, he has enough delegates in blue and purple states to capture a plurality going into the convention. Not enough delegates to lock up the nomination, but enough to have Trump release his delegates and block the mutually (universally?) loathed Cruz. After some deal making, of course.

Reality Check

One major assumption of this model is that all politics are national, not local. The idea being that national issues drove Iowa Caucus goers to vote the way they did, and that the same issues will govern all following primaries. Perhaps more importantly, it assumes Cruz, Trump, and Rubio all stay in the race and maintain their current levels of momentum, really unlikely events. If Trump gets sick of this game and just quits it’s not entirely clear who would absorb his electorate. Many would not vote, since the iconoclastic hordes that support Trump probably don’t care about politics enough to consider voting for someone else. The remainder would be split between Cruz and Rubio, but the exact ratio is hard to predict.

Rubio may also be unable to survive if he can’t pick off an early victory. However, you don’t quit a primary race just because you lose states. The only reasons you quit are because you either run out of money or you run out of primaries. It’s conceivable that Rubio’s battered carcass will be held up by establishment donors like a weird role reversal of Weekend at Bernie’s, where rich old dudes hold up the dead young guy.

Finally, it assumes that Jeb’s exclamation point was just an ironic joke all along, and that he will be pressured out of the race by Party forces bent on consolidating establishment votes and ready to stand at armageddon to defeat Ted Cruz. Jeb might just stay in and demand patronage at the convention instead, or maybe he’s not finished yet and can pull off an upset in New Hampshire by besting Rubio. One thing is clear, the Party regulars want to unite around a stalwart candidate as quickly as possible.

Real Takeaways

We’ll be updating this demographics model as more states go to the polls. For now, these maps simply show where each of the three major GOP candidates has their geographical advantages, and allows us to assess when candidate are over or under performing previous contests.

Methods: Very conservative, somewhat conservative, and moderate GOP primary voters were estimated for each state based on historical data from contested primaries and statewide data acquired by Gallup in 2014. Voting patterns for these groups were predicted for all future primaries and caucuses based on the results of 1,794 Iowa entrance surveys, corrected for final election results.

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