Here’s the Truth About Our Pointless Obsession with Iowa and New Hampshire

With the Iowa Caucus less than two weeks away, we’re finally speeding toward the official kickoff to primary season. Though as we all know, presidential elections begin years before the first voters go to the polls. In fact, in this country, we obsess about elections. Almost as soon as one election is over, the speculation begins about the next one.

Most of this is nothing but a whole lot of hype, with Iowa and New Hampshire easily being the two most hyped states of the entire process. Candidates literally spend months in these states gearing up for these first two presidential primary elections.

Except, it’s mostly pointless.

You see, in the grand scheme of things, these two states have very specific and unique voting demographics that are terrible representations of the American population as a whole. Which means they’re fairly poor predictors as to what the rest of the country thinks about a candidate.

Take for instance our last 4 two-term presidents – Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Let’s take a look at the primary results from Iowa and New Hampshire from their first election, shall we?

  • Reagan 1980: The conservative icon lost Iowa, won New Hampshire but ultimately lost two of the first four primaries that year. Yet he went on to crush George H.W. Bush, winning a total of 44 states.
  • Bill Clinton 1992: He received a whopping 2.8% in Iowa, lost New Hampshire and Nevada (the third state this year for Democrats). So, Bill Clinton lost the three states that open up this year’s primary elections – including being crushed in Iowa – yet ultimately sailed to an easy 35 state victory.
  • George W. Bush 2000: He actually won Iowa, but got crushed by nearly 20 points by John McCain in New Hampshire. Bush went on to blow out McCain, winning a total of 43 states.
  • Barack Obama 2008: Our current president actually lost New Hampshire, won Iowa and ultimately went on to defeat Hillary Clinton, winning a total of 29 states. (Despite what most people think, President Obama actually lost the overall popular vote to Clinton during the 2008 primary.)

What does this all mean? Well, quite simply: We put far too much emphasis on these two states – and it’s rather pointless.

Three of our last four two-term presidents lost their primary battle in New Hampshire, and only half actually won Iowa. In other words, since 1980 – historically speaking – New Hampshire is a state that’s only correctly picked a party’s candidate who went on to become a two-term president 25 percent of the time. And as far as Iowa goes, the state is essentially a 50/50 toss-up.

If we want to focus on a state that seemingly has a historical importance, much more so than New Hampshire or Iowa, then we should be obsessing about South Carolina – the state Reagan, Clinton, Bush and Obama all won the years they became their party’s nominee and eventually went on to become president.

While I know obsessing over Iowa and New Hampshire gives us something to do, the fact of the matter is, these states typically don’t mean a great deal in the grand scheme of picking a party nominee or our next president. At least not in the last 36 years.

So, no matter what candidate from each party ultimately wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, based on modern historical facts – winning either one of these states doesn’t exactly mean a great deal.

Allen Clifton

Allen Clifton is a native Texan who now lives in the Austin area. He has a degree in Political Science from Sam Houston State University. Allen is a co-founder of Forward Progressives and creator of the popular Right Off A Cliff column and Facebook page. Be sure to follow Allen on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to his channel on YouTube as well.


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