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How Outperforming Expectations (in Iowa) Empirically Matters

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A lot of you might have seen this already, but John Sides (of GWU and the Monkey Cage) has a nice piece at 538 that combines data from both Silver and a book by Redlawsk, Tolbert, and Donovan (which Sides blogs a bit about here) to demonstrate how outperforming expectations in Iowa (e.g. a certain former U.S. Senator who lost re-election by 58.6% to 41.3% in 2006) has a measurable knock-on effect in New Hampshire.  This, in turn, has consequences for future primaries and caucuses.  My only critique of the piece is that the relationship illustrated by the figure, which Sides characterizes as “substantively (and statistically) significant” does appear substantively weak to me.  While this doesn’t go beyond empirically supporting common knowledge:

The conventional wisdom is this: candidates who overperform then receive increased attention from the news media — presumably because they have exceeded the news media’s expectations, which we can approximate with the pre-caucus polls. This is exactly what the graph shows. For every three-point increase in Iowa caucus performance relative to polls, candidates can expect to gain an additional two percentage points of media attention.

it’s import lies in that it does empirically support common knowledge, and we are now in a position to point towards something real when discussing how Iowa’s result will boost the chances of the aforementioned ex-Senator.  To wit:

Why does this matter? Mr. Redlawsk and his colleagues demonstrate that not only do candidates who do relatively well in Iowa do better in New Hampshire . . . but this shift in media attention may play the causal role. The media’s attention matters too, and their attention depends on how candidates perform versus expectations. Mr. Redlawsk and his colleagues then show that the results in New Hampshire shape the candidates’ overall share of votes in the primaries as a whole. So Iowa affects New Hampshire, and New Hampshire affects everything else . . .

Given this, we should see Santorum mounting the latest — and most credible — anti-Romney candidacy for the nomination (as possibly evidenced by the two polls that came out yesterday showing a surge in Santorum’s support).  New Hampshire can even play as a strength for Santorum, as everybody knows Romney will win it overwhelmingly; Romney’s victory will be discounted, and if Santorum can finish second, no easy feat for a rabid conservative in New Hampshire, expect the effect demonstrated by Sides above to further strengthen Santorum’s hand going into SC and FL.

While I don’t think Santorum will parlay this well timed momentum into the nomination, it could at least make things more interesting.

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