Political Science Update: Iowa Caucus

January 3, 2008 at 9:16 pm | | news, political science, science and the public, science community

The Iowa Caucuses have concluded with Obama winning the Dems’ caucus, and Huckabee winning the GOP’s. What do the Iowa Caucuses mean for science? First, the caucuses are not good predictors of who will win their respective party’s nomination. Iowa gets it wrong about as often as it gets it right:

George McGovern finished second in 1972—the year the modern caucus process started—and still won the Democratic nod. When Jimmy Carter won the presidency in 1976, he finished second in the Iowa caucus to “uncommitted.” George H.W. Bush defeated Ronald Reagan in the 1980 caucus. George H.W. Bush finished third in Iowa in 1988 and won the presidency that year. Michael Dukakis finished third in the 1988 caucus and won the Democratic nomination. Bill Clinton took third place in Iowa in 1992, with 3 percent; Harkin won 76 percent. Source.

Nevertheless, Iowa is supposedly important in shaping the candidates’ platforms. It serves as America’s veritable test kitchen for candidates’ White House recipes. (Too much metaphor?) Candidates can try out what works and what doesn’t. Obama tried out the ol’ “time for a change” theme, and it seems to have worked better than Clinton’s “I’ve got the experience,” and Edwards’ “I’ve got the compassion” narratives. Huckabee won by offering up the image of a regular Conservative Christian good ol’ boy, over Romney’s “I’m Mormon, but I like to kill terrorists like the rest of you!” approach, Giuliani’s “I am 9/11” slogan, and John McCain’s “I was tortured once, but I believe in a strong….”

Specifically, as to science, as you’ll recall, Sam kindly pointed out that Obama pitched a pro-science platform, but painted that platform in broad and Monet-esque strokes. And Huckabee avoided science, more or less, aside from saying that he opposed stem cell research. To be fair, I dug around a bit more to see what Huckabee’s views were on science. I didn’t find much more. He appears to reject or withhold judgment as to evolution, claiming the question of evolution is irrelevant to the presidency. (I would disagree with Huckabee here. Acceptance of evolution might indicate an amicable view toward science, particularly in light of all the recent hostility surrounding evolution curricula in schools. And rejection of or indecisiveness toward evolution might even more strongly indicate an ignorance, apprehension, suspicion, or hostility toward science. I would say evolution is a “barometric” topic of sorts.) Also, Popular Mechanics quotes Huckabee as follows with regard to energy and climate change:

a.) “Achieve energy independence by the end of my second term.”
b.) “We have to explore, we have to conserve, and we have to pursue all avenues of alternative energy: nuclear, wind, solar, hydrogen, clean coal, biodiesel, and biomass.”
c.) “We will remove red tape that slows innovation. We will set aside a federal research and development budget that will be matched by the private sector to seek the best new products in alternative fuels. Our free market will sort out what makes the most sense economically and will reward consumer preferences.”
d.) “If we are energy independent, we will be able not just to take care of our own needs and protect our economy, we will also create jobs and grow our economy by developing technologies that we can sell to the rest of the world to meet their needs.” Source.

I’m guessing this was just a response to Evangelicals warming up to the problems surrounding global warming. It doesn’t seem terribly pro-science. That said, to the extent the caucuses have taught the candidates something about science (and it probably hasn’t), my guess is that it told the Dems that a vague science agenda is preferable; and the GOP, that de-emphasizing science in favor of faith is the smart card. For both parties, generalities are better. Some past elections would suggest as much. For instance, Gore had a very specific and detailed agenda, much like (Hillary) Clinton does now, and he lost out to (G.W.) Bush who called Gore’s approach “fuzzy math.” Similarly, Perot didn’t gain cool points against (Bill) Clinton and (not the banana) Dole when he pulled out his chart with a detailed explanation of his plan. (Nevermind whether it was a good plan).

All that aside, what if Iowa has it right this time? What if the general election is a showdown between Obama and Huckabee? So far, it looks like Obama has the lead, at least according to mid-December polls. Here’s the rundown:

Fox News’ poll (biased?): Obama 35% / Huckabee 21%

NBC survey: Obama 48% / Huckabee 36%.Gallup: Obama 53% / Huckabee 42%.

Zogby (who?): Obama 47% / Huckabee 42%.

CNN: Obama 55% / Huckabee 40%.

So if Iowa is any indication—and it isn’t—then science is on the up and up!


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  1. Barack Obama made history tonight!… http://enewsreference.wordpress.com/2008/01/04/senator-barack-obama/

    Comment by eNews Reference — January 3, 2008 #

  2. Huckabee is the confluence of overwhelming ignorance with overweening arrogance. We already have Jesus in the Oval Office. How well does that work? Test of faith!

    Obama is acceptable for not being loathsome. It’s the best resume so far. Wuck.

    It is incompetent fascists, corporatists, and double-digit IQ christ-besotted jackasses against bleeding heart Liberals, welfare pimps, Enviro-whiners, feminazis, and Queer Nation. Choose wisely.

    Comment by Uncle Al — January 4, 2008 #

  3. Huckabee seems to be a very interesting candidate who I feel might make a good president. While I don’t agree with him on many of his issues (I outlined my response to his ideas on my blog), I think he has the ability to appeal to a wide range of voters and not just Christian conservatives. There are better candidates, I’m sure, though I can’t really comment intelligently on them as I have yet to go through and pick apart all of their ideas.

    Comment by Paul Andrews — January 4, 2008 #

  4. BTW- Zogby International is perhaps the most respected pollsters in the world so I would not be suspicious of their numbers based on their reputation.

    Comment by Bryce — January 4, 2008 #

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