Tag Archives: primaries

The Iowa fallacy

[Hi there – I wrote this a few days ago as a frustrated member of the media, pitched it a few places, and you know how that goes. But I put some time into it so now it’s here for your face to look at. I hope it at least helps put ongoing coverage of presidential primaries in a different perspective.]

Cartoon by Drew Sheneman/The Star Ledger

The early primary season is based on one uniting theory: the candidate who is going to win is the one that has the most momentum, and the candidate with the most momentum is the one that won the previous primary, which was wan by the candidate with the most momentum, etc etc, reductio absurdum.

It’s posited to us that the Iowa caucuses set the tone for the entire year, that they are the pre-pre games that determine which teams wind up in the Super Bowl. This is the problem of our media, in that we’re only able to cover the presidential contest as a horse race, more focused on measuring the inches between candidates rather than the issues that separate them. From above, you’d think they’re covering a particularly abortion-obsessed game of Plants vs. Zombies. Covering electoral politics like the NFL is what keeps CNN and Fox News burning on TVs all year long.

But did you know that only two candidates — George W. Bush and Barack Obama — who won the caucuses went on to win the presidency? And the rest of the stats are even less impressive: The caucuses have only picked the eventual nominee for either party 63 percent of the time since they first rose to prominence in 1972. That’s an awesome D minus average for predictability, yet we’ve been getting wall-to-wall coverage of it for months now, with the cable news stations treating it like every one of Iowa’s 3 million residents is some sort of soothsaying wizard consulting mystical corn husks until they finally share their wisdom with the rest of the world this week. Continue reading