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Why Iowa?

How Caucuses and Sequential Elections Improve the Presidential Nominating Process

Why Iowa?

How Caucuses and Sequential Elections Improve the Presidential Nominating Process

If Barack Obama had not won in Iowa, most commentators believe that he would not have been able to go on to capture the Democratic nomination for president. Why Iowa? offers the definitive account of those early weeks of the campaign season: from how the Iowa caucuses work and what motivates the candidates’ campaigns, to participation and turnout, as well as the lingering effects that the campaigning had on Iowa voters. Demonstrating how “what happens in Iowa” truly reverberates throughout the country, five-time Iowa precinct caucus chair David P. Redlawsk and his coauthors take us on an inside tour of one of the most media-saturated and speculated-about campaign events in American politics.

Considering whether a sequential primary system, in which early, smaller states such as Iowa and New Hampshire have such a tremendous impact is fair or beneficial to the country as a whole, the authors here demonstrate that not only is the impact warranted, but it also reveals a great deal about informational elements of the campaigns. Contrary to conventional wisdom, this sequential system does confer huge benefits on the nominating process while Iowa’s particularly well-designed caucus system—extensively explored here for the first time—brings candidates’ arguments, strengths, and weaknesses into the open and under the media’s lens.

336 pages | 53 line drawings, 40 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2010

Political Science: American Government and Politics, Political Behavior and Public Opinion


“A well-written, thorough analysis of the Iowa caucuses and their influence on the US system of sequential nominating contests. Highly recommended.”

A. D. McNitt | Choice

“This is an excellent, groundbreaking study of the Iowa Caucus, as well as the presidential nomination system. Why Iowa? is fascinating reading, rich in new insights, and studded with gems unearthed by its powerful analysis. . . . Well-written and readable, this will be a crucial contribution to election literature, for both students and scholars alike.”

Christopher C. Hull, author of Grassroots Rules: How the Iowa Caucus Helps Elect American Presidents

Why Iowa? is an important and interesting study, filled with a terrific array of new data. The authors clearly understand Iowa and its role in the nominating process, and never lose sight of local politics while considering big-picture issues. The book’s main idea—how we structure elections in the United States has consequences for those who win these elections, as well as for what sort of public policy we get—contends that structure matters for Iowa, and Iowa matters for the nation. Although there have been interesting accounts of the Iowa precinct caucuses, there is nothing that approaches the scope and depth of the analysis presented here. Almost everybody I work with would want to read this book.”

Daron R. Shaw, University of Texas at Austin

Why Iowa? is the real ‘game changer’ in American presidential political literature. The authors have painstakingly documented with superb data and analysis why the nation’s first contest matters so much. Their contribution to the literature is must reading for students, scholars, strategists, and anyone who loves politics and is interested in the making of a successful presidential campaign.”

David Bonior, former congressman and U.S. House of Representatives Democratic Whip, manager of the 2008 John Edwards presidential campaign

"The 2012 presidential race is well under way, and with it comes a groundbreaking study of the Iowa caucuses and the U.S. nomination system. Why Iowa? is fascinating, rich in new gems unearthed in its data that will substantially advance the U.S. presidential nomination literature."—Political Science Quarterly

Political Science Quarterly

Table of Contents



part i.            Framing the Argument

chapter 1.     Why Iowa? Because the Rules Matter   

chapter 2.     What We Know and What We Don’t about Presidential

Nomination Campaigns   

part ii.          Caucus Rules

chapter 3.     Iowa Caucus Rules   

chapter 4.     Candidate Campaigns in Iowa:

Grassroots or Mass Media Politics?   

chapter 5.      The Iowa Grass Roots: Participation in the 2008 Caucuses   

chapter 6.      Decided by the Few: Are the Iowa Caucuses


with Daniel C. Bowen

part iii.        Sequential Voting Rules

chapter 7.     Effects of Iowa and New Hampshire in U.S. Presidential

Nomination Contests 1976–2008   

with Rob Hunsaker

chapter 8.     The Micro Foundations of Momentum   

chapter 9.     Participation and Engagement in 2008 Caucuses and Primaries   

with William W. Franko

part iv.        Changing the Rules

chapter 10    Reforming the Presidential Nomination Process   

with Daniel C. Bowen

chapter 11    Why Iowa? Continuity and Change in Presidential Nominations   

Appendix A: Multivariate Tables for Chapter 7   

Appendix B: Multivariate Tables for Chapter 8   

Appendix C: Multivariate Tables for Chapter 9   

Appendix D: Multivariate Tables for Chapter 10 




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