Watchdog Blog

Herb Strentz: Are We Ready for the Iowa GOP Caucuses?

Posted at 10:18 am, November 2nd, 2011
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With two months to go before the Iowa Republican Party caucuses on Jan. 3, 2012, here is a one-question multiple choice quiz for you.

Q: Which of the following characterizes the Iowa GOP caucuses?
A. What a mess!
B. Our long national nightmare is almost over!
C. Hey! Let’s do this again in 2016!
D. All of the above.

Right! The answer is D, and here is why.

A. What a mess! A bizarre look at the GOP candidates was offered by KAL, whose cartoons are featured in The Economist. In vintage Walt Kelly fashion, KAL offered caricatures of the candidates as birds of varying feathers — all the way from (Mittus Romnae) the Flustered Upright Front-Running Dork to (Bachmannus Reductae) the Miniature Minnesota Tittering Trite and (Ubiquitous Newt) the Minor White-Haired Bamboozled Skreech and the others.

And this from a relatively disinterested British publication.

(British philosopher Jeremy Bentham once characterized the concept of “natural law” as “nonsense on stilts” — an apt phrase for the Iowa GOP caucuses.)
If these reviews of the caucuses seem a bit harsh, consider how “What a mess!” applies to U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann and her ballyhooed triumph in the Iowa Straw Poll in August. The press is still trying to explain why her brief front-running status quickly dissolved into a desperate campaign to now exceed single-digit support among GOPers likely to go to the caucuses. The explanations suffer because the press neglects to remind readers that Bachmann’s win in the Straw was bought and paid for, with her campaign paying $35 a vote to the Iowa GOP for most of the 4,823 votes she got.

Herman Cain? KAL captures him as the “Southern Blathering Plainspeaking Parvenu…known for its snappy but irksome song ‘nnnnine, nnnine, nnnine’.”

B. Our long national nightmare is almost over! Despite, or because of A., Jan. 4 will bring some relief that at least we’re done with the Iowa caucuses for a few years. In the dozen or so years that I’ve been writing bits about the caucuses, few commentaries struck a chord with readers as much as did this quote from an Australian website:
“US politics is now a virtually ceaseless election cycle, with eighteen month-long presidential campaigns barely finished before mid-terms begin to loom, before the talent begins assembling for the nomination of the party that most recently lost the White House. At best, policymakers get 6-8 months of clear air before the next round of elections starts dominating the agenda.

“A permanent campaign is no way to run a country. Exhibit 1 — the United States of America.”

Just about everyone agrees that political campaigns are too long and too costly. But as we almost catch our breath from the end of nightmare ’12, we’ll be on to nightmare ’16. Which brings us to:

C. Hey! Let’s do this again in 2016!
Iowans and the national press remain enamored of the Iowa caucuses. After all, someone has to kickoff each quadrennial nightmare, so why not Iowa? We’ve got the process so down pat, with all the debates, photo ops and opportunities for political soothsaying that scarcely anyone pays attention to what some cranks would characterize as a mess or a nightmare.

Efforts to do away with the electoral college and to elect the president by a straightforward popular vote are feared by smaller states such as Iowa because the popular vote approach would focus on, say, California and other vote-rich behemoths. Did you know that California has more residents than the 20 smallest states combined? (The count is about 37.2 million to 34.9) Small wonder Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and others want to keep the electoral college and Iowa’s moment in the political spotlight.

Eight more weeks to savor that role.

D. Congratulations on getting an ‘A’ in the quiz.

3 Responses to “Are We Ready for the Iowa GOP Caucuses?”

  1. kohler says:

    Now with state-by-state winner-take-all laws, presidential elections ignore 12 of the 13 lowest population states (3-4 electoral votes), that are almost invariably non-competitive,in presidential elections. Six regularly vote Republican (Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota), and six regularly vote Democratic (Rhode Island, Delaware, Hawaii, Vermont, Maine, and DC) in presidential elections.

    Support for a national popular vote is strong in every smallest state surveyed in recent polls among Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters, as well as every demographic group. Support in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): Alaska — 70%, DC — 76%, Delaware –75%, Idaho – 77%, Maine — 77%, Montana – 72%, Nebraska — 74%, New Hampshire –69%, Nevada — 72%, New Mexico — 76%, Rhode Island — 74%, South Dakota – 71%, Utah – 70%, Vermont — 75%, West Virginia – 81%, and Wyoming – 69%.

    In the lowest population states, the National Popular Vote bill has passed in nine state legislative chambers — including one house in DC, DE, and ME, and both houses in HI, RI, and VT. It has been enacted by the District of Columbia, Hawaii, and Vermont.

    In the current system, it could only take winning the plurality of the vote in the 11 most populous states, containing 56% of the population of the United States, for a candidate to win with a mere 26% of the nation’s votes.

    But the political reality is that the 11 largest states rarely agree on any political question. In terms of recent presidential elections, the 11 largest states include 5 “red states (TX, Fl, OH NC, and GA) and 6 “blue” states (CA, NY, IL, PA, MI, and NJ). The big states are just about as closely divided as the rest of the country. For example, among the 4 largest states, the two largest Republican states (TX and FL) generated a total margin of 2.1 million votes for Bush, while the 2 largest Democratic states generated a total margin of 2.1 million.

  2. kohler says:

    A survey of 800 Iowa voters showed 75% overall support for a national popular vote for President. The question was “How do you think we should elect the President when we vote in the November general election: should it be the candidate who gets the most votes in all 50 states, or the current electoral college system?
    By political affiliation, support for a national popular vote for President was 82% among Democrats, 63% among Republicans, and 77% among others.
    By age, support was 76% among 18-29 year olds, 65% among 30-45 year olds, 76% among 46-65 year olds, and 80% for those older than 65.
    By gender, support was 82% among women and 67% among men.

    Under National Popular Vote, every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in every presidential election. Every vote would be included in the national count. The candidate with the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC would get the 270+ electoral votes from the enacting states. That majority of electoral votes guarantees the candidate with the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC wins the presidency.

    National Popular Vote would give a voice to the minority party voters in each state and district (in ME and NE). Now their votes are counted only for the candidate they did not vote for. Now they don’t matter to their candidate.

    With National Popular Vote, every vote, everywhere would be counted equally for and directly assist the candidate for whom it was cast.

    In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). Support is strong among Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, as well as every demographic group in virtually every state surveyed in recent polls.

  3. kohler says:

    The National Popular Vote bill preserves the constitutionally mandated Electoral College and state control of elections. It changes the way electoral votes are awarded by states in the Electoral College, instead of the current 48 state-by-state winner-take-all system (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but since enacted by 48 states). It assures that every vote is equal every voter will matter in every state in every presidential election, and the candidate with the most votes wins, as in virtually every other election in the country.

    Support for a national popular vote in closely divided Battleground states: CO – 68%, FL – 78%, IA 75%, MI – 73%, MO – 70%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM– 76%, NC – 74%, OH – 70%, PA – 78%, VA – 74%, and WI – 71%; in Small states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK – 70%, DC – 76%, DE – 75%, ID – 77%, ME – 77%, MT – 72%, NE 74%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM – 76%, OK – 81%, RI – 74%, SD – 71%, UT – 70%, VT – 75%, WV – 81%, and WY – 69%; in Southern and Border states: AR – 80%,, KY- 80%, MS – 77%, MO – 70%, NC – 74%, OK – 81%, SC – 71%, TN – 83%, VA – 74%, and WV – 81%; and in other states polled: CA – 70%, CT – 74%, MA – 73%, MN – 75%, NY – 79%, OR – 76%, and WA – 77%. Americans believe that the candidate who receives the most votes should win.

    The National Popular Vote bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers, in 21 small, medium-small, medium, and large states, including one house in AR, CT, DE, DC, ME, MI, NV, NM, NY, NC, and OR, and both houses in CA, CO, HI, IL, NJ, MD, MA, RI, VT, and WA. The bill has been enacted by DC (3), HI (4), IL (19), NJ (14), MD (11), MA (10), CA (55), VT (3), and WA (13). These 9 jurisdictions possess 132 electoral votes — 49% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.


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