Sunday, October 30, 2011

Who Will Win the Iowa Caucus in 2012?

Back in June, we considered the question of who will win the Iowa Caucus in 2012 by taking a look at the different scenarios that could take place. Much has changed in the last four months. Chris Christie's decision not to run means the "united party" scenario cannot play out: No candidate remains who can unite both wings of the Republican Party. Likewise, the "consensus candidate" scenario cannot occur, since Tim Pawlenty dropped out of the race: There is no establishment candidate who is inoffensive to the Tea Party. The removal of these two scenarios from the political chessboard has greatly enhanced the likelihood that Mitt Romney will win the nomination, since those were the scenarios he feared the most.

Meanwhile, the "moderately electable Tea Partier" scenario is less likely to occur, since Rick Perry's campaign has crashed. The future may allow Rick Santorum to step up and fill Perry's shoes, but he is currently nowhere in the polls. The two remaining scenarios are that Romney wins Iowa, or that an unelectable Tea Partier wins Iowa. In either case, Romney is the favorite to win the nomination.

Here is where the candidates currently stand in Iowa:

Iowa Caucus
10/26 Des Moines Reg -- Cain 23, Romney 22, Paul 12, Bachmann 8
10/25 CNN/Time -- Romney 24, Cain 21, Paul 12, Gingrich 10
10/19 Hawkeye/UIowa --Cain 37, Romney 27, Paul 11, Gingrich 8
10/19 Rasmussen -- Cain 28, Romney 21, Paul 10, Gingrich 9
10/16 Insider Adv -- Cain 26, Romney 18, Gingrich 12, Bachmann 11

Additional Iowa polling in the future may help us determine whether Herman Cain's lead over Romney has indeed disappeared, as the two most recent polls suggest. Until then, we may assume the following basic facts, which are present in each poll: Cain and Romney are leading in Iowa. Between the two of them, it's a close race. They are far ahead of the rest of the candidates, who are polling about 10% or less. Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich are probably at the front of the second-tier, with Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry not far behind.

Cain is the current Anti-Romney-in-Chief, but there are factors holding him back. The Tea Party vote is split. Romney remains within striking distance of winning Iowa. History suggests that voters will move in Romney's direction as voting day approaches, since primary voters--including those in Iowa--prefer to vote for electable candidates. If the past debates are any indication, Romney will benefit from additional debates in November and December.

In conclusion, Romney should probably be considered the favorite to win Iowa at the moment. He is a weak frontrunner, but Cain is a very weak alternative. The Anti-Romney vote may coalesce around someone, but Romney has advantages of his own. Romney should be happy with the situation in Iowa at the moment. A resurgent Perry or an ascendant Santorum would be the biggest threats to his winning the nomination, and neither is polling well.