Iowa Caucus: First in the Nation Clown Show

Toby Harnden tweets, "What a debacle for Iowa. Hard to see why candidates should take Iowa caucuses seriously in future.

Reacting to this morning’s news that not only has Rick Santorum won the Iowa Caucuses after all but that they’ve managed to lose more ballots than the margin of victory, the Telegraph’s Toby Harnden tweets, “What a debacle for Iowa. Hard to see why candidates should take Iowa caucuses seriously in future.”


This is truly a joke. In a contest with fewer total votes (121,503 counted; goodness knows how many lost) than your average election for a school board seat, the powers that be have managed to have wild shifts in the vote count in several districts and be so incredibly incompetent as to render eight precincts uncountable.

This, in a contest that gets so much attention that several candidates are eliminated from the race based on the outcome.

Indeed, as Doug Mataconis noted this morning, the whole story now shifts–but only in retrospect. We’ve gone from Mitt Romney being poised to be the first candidate in a contested nomination race to win Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina–and thus being seen as a runaway train–to Romney potentially coming in second in two of the three and the race being spun as wide open.

Image via DonkeyHotey

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Fiona says:

    Is it horrible that I’m finding this whole clusterf**k of a Republican primary to be laugh-out-loud hilarious? The latest news from Iowa only adds to the absurdity.

  2. As I noted in one of my pre-caucus posts, the number of people who attend the IA Caucuses are a fraction of those who are eligible to vote. For Republicans, total caucus attendees in 2012 accounted for less than 10% of the total voters in the 2008 General Election. For Democrats, the record-breaking 220,000 attendees at the 2008 caucuses constituted 20% of those who would ultimately vote in the General Election.

    Now it’s true that turnout in primaries is typically below that of General Election, but these numbers are pathetic.

  3. James Joyner says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Well, it’s much easier to vote in an election than a caucus. The former is a secret ballot and in and out. The latter is a long gabfest that requires you to publicly defend your candidate. The very process weeds out all but the most extroverted, committed voters.

  4. PJ says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Voter turnout in 2010 was 37.8%, was that pathetic too? You seem to want get rid of caucuses, should something be done to fix the turnout for midterm elections too? What’s a non pathetic turnout?

  5. @PJ:

    I think caucuses are a particularly dumb way to select Presidential nominees

  6. Rockette says:

    The debacle of “open” primaries and premature primaries, which the RNC then penalizes by shaving off the delegate numbers, is a miscarriage of justice to the voters. The voters are forced to cast their ballot under awful circumstances, under the yoke of the rules set by Republicans (RNC) in their state.

    Take care of this at your precinct meeting this year. Make it an issue, and take it to your county convention after that, and get it on your party ballot at your state convention. The big secret is that the grassroots neighborhood precinct meetings determine the rules of power if we will just show and make the rules.

  7. When they warned us before hand that hackers were going to disrupt the Iowa caucuses, we assumed they meant computers hackers. Maybe they just meant people who can’t do their job right.

  8. PJ says:

    @Doug Mataconis: I thought you were making a point with the percentages?

    But I guess the the pathetic turnout is somewhere between 22% and 37.8%.

  9. @PJ:

    The point is that not only is Iowa not representative of the United States, but the caucuses are not representative of Iowa voters. The idea that they go first and have as much influence as they do is absurd

  10. PJ says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Eligible voters are free to participate in primaries and carcases, just as eligible voters are free to participate in the general election.
    The people participating in caucuses and primaries is a subset that isn’t very representative of all voters in the state, but then general election voters in a state is a subset that isn’t very representative of the total population of eligible voters either.

  11. Eric says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    I think caucuses are a particularly dumb way to select Presidential nominees.

    I could not agree more. Why should one of the most important positions in the world be decided by a handful of states where their views are a lot different than mine or other states?