Iowa Predictions

January 03, 2012

The Iowa caucuses start tonight, with votes trickling in about 12 hours from now (the photo is one I took of a Democratic Iowa caucus vote that I observed in 2008). With the race quite fluid and Republicans dramatically changing their minds in polls during this campaign cycle, no one can honestly say they know how the vote will turn out tonight--especially since the caucuses are famous for surprises. However, here are my predictions on what will happen tonight.

1. Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum will win, followed closely by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and U.S. Representative Ron Paul. It seems highly likely these will be the top three candidates, but the order might move around. Romney seems unable to build on his support from four years ago (25 percent) and will likely come in a little under that showing, which garnered him a distant second place to former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. Romney should be closer to first this year since the opposition is spread out more. Santorum has been third in most recent polls but could pull out the win because he is the candidate with the most momentum right now, he has the type of organization that is generally needed to win the Iowa caucuses, he has loyal supporters, and his main supporters are conservative evangelicals who are usually underrepresented in polls. Paul also has a good organization in the state and very loyal supporters, but seems to have hit his peak support. However, even third place for him would be a victory as he will probably double his support four years ago when his 10 percent garnered him fifth place.

2. The bottom three candidates (not counting former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, who ignored Iowa to focus on New Hampshire) will be: Texas Governor Rick Perry, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann. Although Gingrich sits in fourth place in most polls right now, Perry might move into that position because he has much better organization in the state and because Gingrich is falling quickly. Both should easily beat Bachmann.

3. As a result of the vote, this week will see a candidate or two drop out. If Bachmann does indeed come in sixth place (or even fifth), she will drop out. If Perry is in fourth place he will probably stay in until South Carolina, but will likely drop out if he places fifth. If Gingrich is in fourth place he will stay in and might even try to stay in if he is in fifth because his campaign seems less about being president than it is about getting attention so he can sell books and DVDs. As more candidates drop out, it hurts Romney as there are fewer candidates splitting the vote against him--but if he wins tonight it might be too late regardless how many candidates drop out.

So, I put the order at: Santorum (26%) Romney (24%), Paul (22%), Perry (12%), Gingrich (8%), Bachmann (5%), Huntsman (1%). We will see tonight how close these guesses are, but feel free to add your own predictions in the comments section.

UPDATE [1-4-12]: Well, I was off in a couple of spots. Romney edged Santorum out by 8 votes, but they should be marked as tied--rather than Romney in first--because there is no recount provision and 8 votes is well within the normal margin of counting error. Either way, it is a win for Santorum as he outperformed expectations. Also, Gingrich held up better than I thought and will likely drive Perry out of the race. Perry and especially Gingrich were the only ones I was more than a point off with the percentages. Final results: Romney/Santorum (25%/25%), Paul (21%), Gingrich (13%), Perry (10%), Bachmann (5%), Huntsman (1%).

UPDATE [1-20-12]: The Iowa Republican Party finally released the official, certified vote and Santorum is now the winner of the caucuses--thus, I got it right after all! I argued Romney's showing should not be counted as a win since there are counting errors, and that is what happened. If only the media had understood that and not inaccurately trumpeted Romney as the victor for two weeks.