Time to Tell Iowa and New Hampshire: You’re Fired

  • In the 40 contests over this period (2 parties x 2 states x 10 elections) the winner in either Iowa or New Hampshire won the presidency only 13 times. This statistic is even more sobering since it includes all of the contests with an incumbent president. During this period, no incumbent has failed to secure his party’s nomination, winning both Iowa and New Hampshire along the way. And the incumbent wins reelection more often than not.
  • The picture is even worse for open contests, those without a previously elected incumbent. In the 28 races that fit that definition, there are only 5 correct picks between the two states or a 18% success rate. For Iowa it is: George W. Bush (2000) and Barack Obama (2008); and for New Hampshire it is: Ronald Reagan (1980), George H.W. Bush (1988), and Donald Trump (2016). At a time when the party out of power needs to put forward it’s best candidate, Iowa and New Hampshire may go toward weaker ones.
  • Finally, it’s worth considering the downside of rubber-stamping incumbent presidents by these states. The days are long gone when New Hampshire in 1968 helped an insurgent candidate (Eugene McCarthy) to force a sitting president out of the race (Lyndon Johnson). Now in Iowa the party of the incumbent doesn’t even bother with caucuses anymore. But in a couple of cases the party may have been better served by removing a weak incumbent, namely, Carter in 1980 and Bush in 1988.

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