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Liz Mair Had A Point

Iowa Nice” apparently doesn’t apply if you’re not nice to Iowa. Republican digital strategist Liz Mair resigned from Gov. Scott Walker’s prospective 2016 campaign after angering Republican Party apparatchiks in the Hawkeye State. Mair’s crime: attacking Iowa’s status as the first contest in the primary season.

But while it might not be smart politics — Walker apparently didn’t want to risk being associated with someone who would dare to question Iowa’s pre-eminence — Mair has a point: the Iowa Republican caucus electorate is more conservative and more religious than the national Republican electorate.

Iowa 47% 57%
Ala. 36 80
Ariz. 38 42
Fla. 33 47
Ga. 39 68
Ill. 29 43
La. 49 61
Md. 30 38
Mass. 15 16
Mich. 30 42
Miss. 42 83
Nev. 49 28
N.H. 21 22
Ohio 32 49
Okla. 47 74
S.C. 36 65
Tenn. 41 76
Vt. 19 27
Va. 32 46
Wis. 32 38
Average 35 50

In the 2012 Iowa caucus, 57 percent of voters identified as born-again or evangelical Christian, and 47 percent said they were “very conservative.” The average state with an entrance or exit poll during the 2012 Republican primary was only 50 percent born-again or evangelical Christian and only 35 percent “very conservative.”1

Now, it’s important not to make too much of this difference; candidates don’t need to win the Iowa Caucus to win the GOP nomination. That’s probably because, as Bloomberg’s Jonathan Bernstein put it, “party actors have become experts in interpreting the results from the current early states.” Support from party actors, as we’ve mentioned previously, is key in winning a party’s presidential nomination.

But serious White House aspirants in the GOP, for the most part, still need to be competitive in Iowa (I’m looking at you, Rudy Giuliani). The fact that the Iowa GOP is more conservative and religious than the national GOP means that Republican candidates are often pulled to the right early in the campaign. All else being equal, that hurts them in the general election.


  1. This holds when you control for the number of votes cast in each state.

Harry Enten was a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.