What Comes After The Iowa Caucuses? An Event That Matters A Whole Lot More

On Monday, thousands of people across Iowa will take part in the first big voting day of the 2016 presidential race ― that's right, it's the Iowa caucuses. They're the reason why every presidential candidate seems to spend at least four or five months trolling around the Hawkeye State, pandering about ethanol subsidies and hanging out with the butter cow. But what happens next will be even more important for the race going forward, so what comes after the Iowa caucuses?

It's a perfectly sensible question, especially if this is your first rodeo as far as following a national election goes, so don't be embarrassed. The answer, more or less, is that after the Iowa caucuses are over, the primary race really begins ― the New Hampshire primary will be on Tuesday, Feb. 9.

And when you take a quick look at the recent history in New Hampshire, one thing is very clear: This one matters a whole lot more than Iowa. For all the attention and coverage the caucuses get, as the first voting events every presidential election cycle, they have a pretty spotty track record as far as picking eventual nominees and presidents is concerned.


Heading into New Hampshire, however, things look a little more serious. Since 1976, the candidate who won the New Hampshire GOP primary (excepting when an incumbent president was running unopposed) went on to win the nomination six out of eight times, a sparkling 75 percent success rate. On the Democratic side of the fence, New Hampshire winners ― again, when there was no unopposed incumbent president in the race, because that's the only relevant context ― seized the nomination in five out of seven chances.

Basically, in recent American political history, the person who wins the New Hampshire primary usually wins their party's nomination. Obviously, there are some notable exceptions to this ― Hillary Clinton notched a comeback New Hampshire win against Barack Obama in 2008, but still lost in the end, and John McCain won New Hampshire in 2000, only to eventually lose the nomination to George W. Bush.

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Over the last 40 years, the numbers are clear: Winning New Hampshire is a much better predictor of long-term success than winning Iowa is, and it's even more important by simple virtue of momentum. If you lose Iowa but win New Hampshire, the sun is shining again, so to speak, and you've got your legs firmly underneath you. But if you lose out on both, things get very tough indeed ― over that 40-year period, Bill Clinton, in 1992, was the only presidential candidate to win the nomination (and ultimately the presidency) despite losing both Iowa and New Hampshire. He was defeated in those states by Sen. Tom Harkin and Sen. Paul Tsongas, respectively.

In other words, by the time the New Hampshire polls come to a close, a whole lot of also-ran Republican presidential campaigns are going to be on death watch. And in all likelihood, if he even makes it that far, one underdog Democratic campaign, too ― looking at you, Martin.