Sunday, December 02, 2007

Is this any way to run a democracy?

Hello faithful (or philandering) readers!

To gear up for the primary season, I have returned. This week I will cover the major storylines, so without further ado:

1) Who counts?: The Iowa caucuses are notoriously complicated and convoluted. While the Republican process is fairly typical for voting (the main differences being that there is a set time to vote and that the vote isn't binding - just a guide for the state delegates), the Democratic caucus requires a different level of dedication.

Voters show up and stand in designated areas to show their support for a candidate. If their chosen candidate should fail to meet a threshold of support (often 15%) in that given caucus room, then the supporters shuffle around and go meet with their second choices, until every candidate remaining is above the threshold. This is often a multi-hour process and has received notoriously low turnout. This low voter turnout severely skews polling as no one is sure exactly how to figure out who fits the model of the 'likely voter'.

The added wrinkle of a vote on January 3rd means that even past models of 'likely voters' are unreliable. There are no absentee votes at the caucuses, so vacations interfere. This year, college students will be at home. As you can see, it is a real crapshoot as to whom will attend.

This uncertainty plays itself out in several ways. In 2004, there were competing rationales relating to Howard Dean's insurgent campaign. On one hand, people looked at his supporters (young) and decided that his support was weak as most young supporters had never caucused. The flip side of that was that the passion of his supporters was so strong that some people believed that their passion would get them to the polls. We all know how this turned out (and it has nothing to do with the scream, which occurred at his caucus after-party). Dean and Gephardt (who had led in the early Iowa polling due to his union support) tore each other up, turning off a good deal of the electorate and allowing the myth of electability to coalesce around John Kerry.

One last footnote to this story, Dennis Kucinich was polling in the low single digits going into the caucus in 2004. In order to maximize his impact when it became clear that he would not win, he told his supporters explicitly who his second choice was. This allowed his supporters to peel off and coalesce around John Edwards, when he failed to reach the threshold of votes. We'll never know the extent to which Kucinich's move helped Edwards, but the fact that his supporters were able to move quickly and orderly to their second choice, must have helped in a handful of caucuses, and definitely contributed to Edwards surprise 2nd place.

This post is longer than I expected, so I'll be back tomorrow with part two which will cover the parties' races going on in Iowa.

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