Is Iowa’s Political Influence on the Wane?

???A few recent articles on the subject of the Iowa caucuses, citing the influence of evangelical Christians in the process, suggest that the traditional Iowa caucuses may be losing much of their influence in the presidential selection process. Moreover, their fundamental role may be changing in another important way as well. Quoting Michael Shear of the New York Times: “But there are signs that its influence on the nominating process could be ebbing and that the nature of the voters who tend to turn out for the Republican caucuses — a heavy concentration of evangelical Christians and ideological conservatives overlaid with parochial interests — is discouraging some candidates from competing there… Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, announced Thursday that he would skip the state’s Republican straw poll this summer, saving his resources — and lowering expectations — for the state’s caucuses next year. Earlier in the week, Jon M. Huntsman Jr., the former governor of Utah, conceded that he was likely to skip the Iowa caucuses altogether, noting that his opposition to ethanol subsidies makes him unpopular in a state where support for the corn-based fuel is all but demanded… In addition to his stand on ethanol, Mr. Huntsman, who served in the Obama administration as ambassador to China, says he believes in global warming and has not embraced the Tea Party movement like some of his rivals. And like Mr. Romney, Mr. Huntsman is a Mormon, a religion viewed with wariness by some conservative Christians. At the same time, the implosion of Newt Gingrich‘s campaign this week, with the resignation of his entire Iowa staff, could take Mr. Gingrich, the former House speaker, out of real contention in the state’s contest.”

Thus the question that arises is to what extent is the penchant for socially conservative issues among the Iowa caucus crowd at variance with the more pressing issues of the economy and fiscal rectitude which have now come to dominate the national discussion? That’s not to say that social issues have faded completely from the political scene, it’s just an acknowledgement that presently they have been relegated to the back burner. An analysis of polling results over the past year on what constitutes the primary concerns of the American people reveals scant evidence that social and moral issues bulk large in the minds of the electorate. None the less, the fixation among Iowa caucus goers with issues of a socially conservative nature appears to have had a net negative effect on the importance of the traditional Iowa caucus process. Doug Gross, a Republican activist and former nominee for governor bemoaned this very development back in March: “We look like Camp Christian out here. If Iowa becomes some extraneous right-wing outpost, you have to question whether it is going to be a good place to vet your presidential candidates.” What also has many Republicans worried is that the controversy arising between fiscal and social conservatives may serve to do nothing more than muddle the G.O.P.’s message as it seeks to defeat Barack Obama.

There is however, an interesting side effect from the potential demise of the Iowa caucuses among conservative front runners and that is that it allows second tier socially conservative candidates like Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann to gain a little breathing room and possibly some much needed momentum in propelling their candidacies forward. However, that windfall of newfound or added momentum will probably only last so long due to the fact that social issues are currently out of vogue having been swamped by issues of economy and fiscal responsibility. Thus the unique nature of Iowa’s socially conservative evangelical Christians within the larger national electorate may have had the net effect of altering the very role that the Iowa caucuses play in the politics of presidential elections.

S.J. Gulitti
6/11/11

Sources:

With Abstentions, Iowa Questions Political Role
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/11/us/politics/11repubs.html?emc=eta1

Iowa May Turn G.O.P.’s Focus to Social Issues
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/27/us/politics/27iowa.html?_r=1

PollingReport.com: Problems and Priorities
http://www.pollingreport.com/prioriti.htm

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