How much does winning Iowa and New Hampshire help?

On the earlier poll thread, a reader asked “What’s your opinion about the statistical summary of past results of Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries?” pointing out data from The Neatorama blogger had tables like these below, but made separate tables for Iowa and New Hampshire and included information about who won the general election. I thought it would tell a better story by combining the primaries and by eliminating the general election data because the main question is who will be nominated.

The tables list who won each of the primaries and who was eventually nominated. So, does winning the first two primaries help? Certainly.


Year Won Iowa Won NH Nominated
1976 “Uncommitted” Jimmy Carter Jimmy Carter
1980 Jimmy Carter Jimmy Carter Jimmy Carter
1984 Walter Mondale Gary Hart Walter Mondale
1988 Dick Gephart Michael Dukakis Michael Dukakis
1992 Tom Harkin Paul Tsongas Bill Clinton
1996 Bill Clinton* Bill Clinton* Bill Clinton*
2000 Al Gore Al Gore Al Gore
2004 John Kerry John Kerry John Kerry
2008 Barack Obama ? ?
*Ran Unopposed


Year Won Iowa Won NH Nominated
1976 Gerald Ford Gerald Ford Gerald Ford
1980 George H.W. Bush Ronald Reagan Ronald Reagan
1984 Ronald Reagan* Ronald Reagan* Ronald Reagan*
1988 Bob Dole George H.W. Bush George H.W. Bush
1992 George H.W. Bush* George H.W. Bush* George H.W. Bush*
1996 Bob Dole Pat Buchanan Bob Dole
2000 George W. Bush John McCain George W. Bush
2004 George W. Bush* George W. Bush* George W. Bush*
2008 Mike Huckabee ? ?
*Ran Unopposed

Combining data from both parties, there were 4 candidates who won both Iowa and NH, and in each of those 4 cases those candidates went on to receive the nomination. Of course, it is not guaranteed that winning both will secure the nomination, but it does make it very likely. This ignores those candidates who ran unopposed, as, obviously, their elections were never in doubt.

Candidates who won at least one of Iowa or NH won 11 out of 12 times, or 92% of the time. Only one time did a candidate not win at least one primary but still went on to win the nomination; that was Bill Clinton in 1992.

This implies the obvious: that by this coming Tuesday, we’ll be nearly sure who the top two candidates are for each party, and if either Obama or Huckabee wins New Hampshire, it’ll be a safe bet that they’ll also win the nomination.

You could separate out the data for each party, but there is no great reason to do so statistically.? The results also are conditional on the past “political situation”, which is largely unquantifiable.? If we assume that today’s politics are not different than those from 1976 until present, then the results are useful.? But if they have somehow changed—e.g. Guliani’s strategy of ignoring Iowa and NH—then these results are far less helpful.

1 Comment

  1. tess

    The candidate for change is definitely HILLARY
    *Under Clinton rule many died of Arkincide.
    *Marines in Whitehouse had to change to civvies.
    *Al Gore had to change offices – Hillary wanted that one.
    *Classified Military Weapon Informatin given to the Enemy.
    *Presidential Title once glorified, now Impeached
    *FBI files changed hands to go to HILLARY
    *Whitehouse decorum changed to ‘throwing lamps’
    *Christmas Tree changed to Porn Tree,compliments Hillary
    *ILLEGAL MONIES from enemy given to Pres & Mrs. Prez
    *Whitehouse guest list changed to list Enemies of State
    *1st bombing of Towers, bombing of our embassies,
    attack on U.S.S. ship etc. etc. change from retaliation
    to: “..pretend it didn’t happen..go on with presidency..”

    There were many many more changes under Bill and Hillary
    but as a normal American wife and mom I have to get
    Sunday dinner ready..
    God Bless our wonderful country!

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