A study of the effect of momentum on elections…

My friends, as Iowans head to caucuses today, we are at the start of what promises to be an interesting 34 days in American presidential politics. By the time we all wake up on the morning of Wednesday, February 6th, more than half of the delegates for the Democratic and Republican conventions will be decided.

From tonight through Super Duper Stupendous Tuesday, the news will be filled with talking heads analyzing everything. Will the Iowa winner see a bounce into New Hampshire? Any bets on what happens in Nevada (the gambling cliches will fill the air that week)? Will there be any effect from places like Wyoming, Michigan, or Florida because of the penalties imposed on those states?

Still, the dominoes are set up in a way that could propel early winners into unexpected success.

It almost reminds of me the exchange in Saving Private Ryan between Captain John Miller (played by Tom Hanks) and Captain Fred Hammill (played by Ted Danson). To which I will paraphrase:

You’ve got to take Iowa so you can take New Hampshire. You’ve got to take New Hampshire to get South Carolina. South Carolina you got Florida. Florida you got Super Tuesday. And then that big boat home….

Now, I know, I know. You’re going to say that the candidate who wins in the Farmland may not Live Free or Die, or take the first in the south — let alone the Sunshine State and all the marbles available on Feb 5… but there will be some interesting discussions about it.

Here is how I see things shaking out (NOTE – Polling data come from Real Clear Politics – The [Polls] link after each section will take you to the data.):

January 3, 2008

GOP: Pundits have been surprised about the recent rise of Mike Huckabee. Mitt Romney had been leading in the polls for the six months, until Huckabee took the lead about a month ago. Romney has rebounded slightly and Huckabee has come back, but still leads by less than 6%.

DEM: On the Democratic side, Barack Obama has seen a bit of a bounce since his appearance with Oprah Winfrey, giving him a brief lead in this first caucus; but it was merely a continuation of a trend that had been building for quite some time. This race is almost too close to call, with Hillary Clinton, Obama, and John Edwards all within a few points of each other, each with slightly more than a 1/4th of the vote. The winner of this race could see a tremendous bounce into New Hampshire; provided he or she does not have a Howard Dean moment.

New Hampshire
January 8, 2008

The first primary has a unique twist: independent voters can opt to vote in the Republican OR the Democratic primary. In 2000, independents voted overwhelmingly for John McCain, giving McCain a victory over then-Texas Governor George W Bush.

DEM: If Obama manages to win Iowa, he could see a real boost in New Hampshire, where he is running neck and neck with Clinton. Edwards could also see a bump, but he’s currently a distant third in the race. The key here would be to see how many of the independent voters would be attracted to Obama — an Iowa win certainly gives the appearance of electability.

GOP: Romney, the former Governor of a neighboring state, has been fending off a recent surge by McCain — a 15 point lead has shrunk to around 6%. However, the real crux of the issue here will be the independents. As noted, many of them could vote in the Democratic primary if Obama wins Iowa. However, a Romney victory in Iowa might seal a victory for him here as well. A Huckabee win might not have the same kind of effect, because Huckabee is currently a distant fourth in every recent poll.

January 15, 2008

The Democratic National Committee has already voted to strip Michigan of all of its delegates because it is holding a primary election before February 5th.

GOP: Michigan Republicans seem to be more evenly split than the first two states, proving a the first real opportunity to see the effects of earlier voting. Romney and Huckabee in a virtual tie just under 1/5th, while McCain and Giuliani are both within 7 ½ points. A Romney sweep could bode well for him heading into South Carolina. A split in the first two (Romney-Huckabee-McCain) could make this a fairly interesting primary.

DEM: Unlike the Republican party, the Democrat polls show a clear leader: Clinton. However, the polls are weeks old, meaning things may have changed. Clinton has held steady at just under half the voters in most polls over the past year. The lack of campaign activity, because of the DNC penalty, really makes this an interesting race. Thus, just like the Republicans, Michigan Democrats could react strongly to the Iowa and New Hampshire results.

January 19, 2008

DEM: The Democrats selected Nevada to move up to add some ‘balance’ to the early primary calendar. The problem is, this is a caucus — and Nevada Democrats have never before caucused. Most polls show Clinton with a very strong (20+ pts) lead. If she falters in the early states, this lead could shrink or vanish entirely. It will be another good gauge of the effects of momentum (if any) on the process.

GOP: Like earlier Republican contests, Nevada is a close race — with Giuliani, Romney, and Huckabee all bunched together. But a lot of Nevada Republicans are undecided, which would help if anyone can start breaking from the pack in the early contests. If the race is divided, Nevada could be a hodge-podge.

South Carolina
January 19th & 26th, 2008

GOP: South Carolina Republicans moved their primary to hold it “first in the South” – the same day as the Nevada Republican caucus. Huckabee and Romney have pulled ahead, with McCain, Thompson, and Giuliani bunched up right behind. This is currently Thompson’s best chance at a win, and he could be out if he has a poor showing. Romney could continue his momentum if he’s able to start strong in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Michigan. Otherwise, the Palmetto State could a close race.

DEM: The Democrats vote one week after their Republican counterparts, giving the candidates a week between Nevada and South Carolina. Clinton and Obama have pulled ahead of Edwards here, and the battles in the earlier states could shape this race. If Clinton sweeps, this could be a fireline for Obama. If they split, this could be a close contest. If Edwards pulls off the unlikely victories early, he could see a boost here.

January 29, 2008

DEM: The Democratic National Committee voted to strip delegates from any candidate who “campaigns” in Florida, rendering this nothing more than a glorified beauty contest. But, the media will talk about Florida for a full week before Super Tuesday. That gives some weight to the vote. Clinton has a 2-to-1 lead over Obama and almost 3-to-1 over Edwards, with some voters still undecided. The property tax proposal on the ballot could make turnout hard to predict – which could have another interesting twist. Like Nevada, Clinton’s lead in the Sunshine State could be eroded by less-than-expected showing in the first few races.

GOP: The Republican National Committee also voted to strip delegates, but the penalty is only half. So Republican candidates have been all over Florida in recent weeks. This is where Giuliani hopes to stop the Romney/Huckabee machine, because the retail politics and organization that have helped in the smaller states will not work in Florida. Huckabee and Romney have come on strong, such that all three are now very close with around 20-25% each. Turnout will be the most important factor in this race, but will the earlier races have an effect here?

Super Tuesday
February 5, 2008

All this has been but a prelude to the 22 states voting on February 5th, which include California, New York (Giuliani, Clinton), Massachusetts (Romney), Arizona (McCain, Richardson), Illinois (Obama) Tennessee (Thompson), and Arkansas (Huckabee).

There aren’t a great deal of polling data available for each of these states. The large number of states, in both parties, means this is really a “national” primary… where the amount of media — both paid and earned — will be important. If the news coverage is of one candidate starting to sweep the early races (in either party), expect him or her to do well on Feb 5. However, if the early states are split and the race is still neck and neck (and neck and neck…), then you could see a strange mix of states and delegates amongst the candidates for both parties.

By the end of the night, half of the delegates for each party will have already been awarded. As we watch the returns on this night, we will see if 2008 could give us a brokered convention (or two). This will be a fun night for anyone with an interest in politics….

About Jim Johnson

Editor and publisher of The State of Sunshine.
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