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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Iowa Caucus results: season with salt (a lot of salt)

One of the best political writers you will ever read, should you choose to follow the link, is Eric Black. Bringing valuable context to all things political, he offers a substantial salt appetizer to the Iowa caucus results that will dominate the news tomorrow. A few thoughts for those feeling pressed for time:
In a sense, the pundits will be making a big deal about not very much. Very few national convention delegates are at stake Thursday night (and none will actually be chosen in a binding way until June
In other words, the results being trumpeted on the news Friday morning will be the media-manufactured "momentum." In terms of getting your party's nomination, Iowa's like winning $1.50 on a $1 lotto ticket.

As meaningless as are the results, so are the polls coming out now. No one knows who will actually caucus.
Reading polls as predictions is always hazardous, and for several reasons that you may not be thinking about (details below), it's especially hazardous in the Iowa caucuses... it is harder to identify likely caucus-goers (who must spend an entire evening doing their civic duty). Various polls have "found" that, as a percentage of all the adult Iowans they interviewed, the percentage that could be classified as likely caucus participants ranged from under 10 percent in many polls, to more than 30 percent in some.
And then there's the caucus process itself.

After a few other items of business, the caucus-goers get out of their seats and gather in bunches around the room according to which presidential candidate they support. A first count is taken. In most precincts, any candidate whose gaggle of supporters represents less than 15 percent of the total is declared non-viable, which means that candidate won't be getting any delegates out of that precinct. That candidate's supporters are given a chance to join up with one of the viable candidates' gaggle (presumably reflecting their second preference). The precinct captain for each of the viable candidates gives a speech, imploring the non-viables to come on over.

According to all recent polls, only Clinton, Obama and Edwards are attracting more than 15 percent support among Iowa Democrats statewide.
But, results are based on individual precincts, so there may be caucuses where Richardson, Kucinich or Biden can garner 15 percent to remain viable. And if that wasn't enough, the number you see on TV isn't even a real number:
The percentage reported to the media is a weird statistic that Iowa Democrats call "State Delegate Equivalents." State delegate equivalents project how many delegates to the Iowa State Democratic Convention in June that candidate is likely to have. Here's the next catch. Each county has a preset number of delegates to the next level of conventions. The number does not reflect how many Iowans turned out in that county on caucus night.
Looking at the Iowa caucus for our next president is like asking NFL fans to caucus to select the Superbowl winner. It's not worth a bucket of warm spit.

Let's at least wait until the New Hampshire primary, where people just vote.

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