I know it’s terribly unwise and opens you up to all sorts of scoffing in the aftermath, but I still think it’s fun to make predictions, so I’m going to put out my calls on who is going to win the Iowa caucus and by how much. Working from the polls and having watched endless talking heads blathering about it, and throwing in my own personal take on the state, here’s how I think things will shake out for the two parties:
Hillary Clinton – 28%
Barrack Obama – 25%
John Edwards – 24%
As you can see, I’ve deviated slightly from the major poll results, which show the top three candidates virtually tied, but giving Obama a slight lead overall. I think that lead for Obama is the result of people answering pollsters to make themselves look good rather than in the way they are actually going to vote. Iowa Democrats have a mild, but deep-seated racism which will cost Obama at least 3 points and is not reflected in polls. I dropped Edwards by an extra point because he’s a southerner and because he’s trying to run as an outsider populist despite being a wealthy elitist insider. People can smell hypocrisy. Because it’s a caucus rather than a real primary, Clinton will gain at least a point as the main insider. I think that when the actual vote happens about 5% are going to recoil from the major canidates and put in a protest vote for Richardson or Biden, bringing down the overall numbers for the top 3. I wouldn’t be surprised to see either Richardson or Biden come close to 10% for what little that means.
Mike Huckabee – 24%
Mitt Romney – 23%
John McCain – 14%
Ron Paul – 14%
Rudy Giuliani – 10%
The polls currently give Huckabee a tiny lead over Romney. I think that lead is genuine, and I think his populist message of social conservatism and fiscal liberalism will appeal very strongly in Iowa. I think he’ll beat Romney by more than the polls predict. Despite his relatively low position in the polls, McCain has been campaigning very strongly in Iowa in the last few weeks. I think he’ll move up in the caucus. Iowa Republicans think more in national terms over local terms than Democrats do, so they will not be as negative on Huckabee for being a southerner as they might be. At the same time I believe that Iowans will recoil from the religious backgrounds of both Huckabee and Romney, closing the gap the polls show between the two front runners and the rest of the pack. The main beneficiaries of this will be Paul and Giuliani. Paul gains because of his outsider status and ability to motivate voters, but it doesn’t help him as much in an insider-oriented caucus as it will in the more open primary in New Hampshire. Giuliani gains because he’s the inside candidate and the least religious candidate, so those who lose confidence at the last minute or have religious concerns will turn to him. Thompson is also going to lose out, dropping well below where the polls have him and into 7th place. As you can see, I’ve got McCain and Paul tied. I think they’ll end up very close, both with substantially better showings than they have in the polls, and with enough support to take them into New Hampshire – where both will do much better – claiming a 3rd place victory or the equivalent in iowa as a virtual win.
I don’t see any major upsets of what the polls are predicting for the two caucuses. None of the polls agree on which of the top three Democrats is going to come out first, and they’re equally split on which Republican will take first. Looking farther forward, the most interesting thing I see happening in New Hampshire is in the GOP, where the results are likely to be so radically different from Iowa. Romney may be the only candidate to be in the top 3 in both states, but I think his projected first place position in New Hampshire is entirely spurious. I’ll have a prediction on that next week (unless this one is so embarassing that I give up).
Predictions are always dangerous, and I don’t expect to hit this one 100%, but it’s something to think about, and I think no one will disagree with me when I predict that this is one of the most interesting primaries, especially on the Republican side, in a very long time.