How will early voting affect Iowa?

In a recent post on Daily Kos, the “Avenging Angel” (otherwise known as Jon Perr. an Oregon based activist) claims that the “Iowa Effect” could result in a “complete upending of the predicted presidential primary landscape.”

Based on current polls, Perr examines what might happen if John Edwards wins, or does better than expected, in Iowa, and then, based on “Big Mo”, runs the table through New Hampshire, South Carolina, and the Feb 5th primaries. Perr bases this story on his experiences working for Gary Hart in 1983.

Here’s the problem, as anyone who follows presidential primaries knows–the much vaunted “Iowa Effect” never happens. If you just cast your mind back to the emergence of the “new” presidential elections system, after the 1970 McGovern/Fraser reforms, there is only one instance where you can reasonably argue that a “dark horse” emerged after Iowa and ended up winning the nomination. It’s in 1976, in arguably the first “new” presidential contest.

After that, in every case, the presumptive nominee has won, regardless of Iowa. Remember George Bush (“Big Mo”) in 1980? Hart in 1984? Robertson and Simon in 1988, etc.? Except for 1976, in every single case, the best funded and best organized candidate has ultimately won the nomination.

Much as political pundits may wish for dark horses to upend the race, it almost never happens.


But why is this relevant to our blog?

Way down in the comments, you will see the claim that early voting in Florida, California, and other states will reduce the impact of Iowa (apparently a WS Journal reporter [subscription required] is reading Daily Kos).

I have commented on this previously, and I am much less certain that it will change things than the commenter and the Journal.

Reporters–and the public–rely on results, not on votes that may have been cast but have not yet been counted. Certainly, it changes the political landscape when some percentage of the voters cast their ballot prior to Iowa. But I don’t see any reason that this changes the importance of Iowa.

I’d be very surprised if more than 10% of Florida and California voters cast their ballots that early. And if they do, it is because they are committed to a candidate, and are unlikely to be moved by the Iowa results. The very voters for whom Iowa will “matter” are the same ones who vote late.