Friday, 4 January 2008

The Iowa Caucus


The most important election in the whole world will happen in 2008 The race for the White House and the result of the contest will affect everyone in the world more than any other through the winner's approach to terrorism, climate change, economic competence and immigration. For this reason I take an interest in what is going on in the US with last night producing the first set of official results. The Iowa Caucus produced its results including winners and losers in both of the races to nominate Democratic and Republican candidates to run for president.

Losers include Joe Biden and Christopher Dodd who have pulled out after polling badly. Working out the winners is a lot more complex. In the Democratic race Barack Obama got 51% of the vote and should be the clear winner but when you factor in superdelegates he is only one ahead of Hilary Clinton and two ahead of John Edwards. When you need 2025 to win it indicates the length of the journey still to go. With the Republicans, Mike Huckabee (a Baptist minister) won, with the voters rating him highly for "shares my values" and "believes what he says". The only problem seems to be the make up of Republican voters as 6 out of 10 describe them as evangelical and 36% said that the religious views of the candidate were the main issue on which they voted. This is not typical of Republican voters in the rest of the US including the next state, New Hampshire in three days time.

There are three observations that I have to make about this. The first is about momentum. The order of the states, the way they hold their election and the makeup of the voters seems to affect the course of the election. For instance, if the election had been in Delaware, where Joe Biden is a Senator, or in New Hampshire, where religious views are seen as less important, this may have changed who is still in the race and who won the most delegates to vote for them. If you look like you are going to win then you attract more money and are seen as a better candidate as more people have already voted for you. It seems a bit strange that candidates might be able to benefit from a positive feedback loop - because you did well - more people in future will vote for you thus making you do even better. I suppose ideally everyone would vote on the same day.

Secondly the campaign of Obama seems to be mirroring that of Matthew Santos in the fictional West Wing. Barack Obama is a 45 year old junior Senator with an Afro American parent. He has only been in the Senate since 2004 before that being a state legislator. He has two children who are 5 and 7. He appears as a fresh candidate with some novel or idealistic approach to politics but has been derided for a lack of experience and some unrealistic policies. In the West Wing Matthew Santos was elected president at the age of 46. He was the first president of Hispanic descent. He has two young children under 10. He had spent some time in state legislature before becoming a little known member of the House of Representatives (there are 435 after all). His policies are fresh and idealistic and he is derided for being too inexperienced and lacking realistic policies, but he succeeds after gaining momentum through the different state elections. It will be interesting to see if fact can match fiction.

Thirdly - the extent to which the results are manipulated and examined is amazing. I have alluded to it above (7 out of 10 voters etc...) but this hugely affects the way the candidates present themselves. Hilary Clinton immediately tried to capture the under 30 vote as they largely voted for Obama and voted in larger numbers than expected. This level of analysis seems to result in a continually changing message from a candidate as they tailor it to meet the figures rather than foster a belief in a single set of policies that need to be explained more clearly so the audience can see their benefits. Eventually all the politicians are putting forward policies they think will get them votes and are reactive rather than pro-active in nature. This then leads to personality being more important than policy. I hope they remember that there are lies, damned lies and statistics.

Sorry if you find this boring but it is the most important election even if like me you don't get a vote.

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