Yes the headline is correct. And only 3.69% of Iowa’s registered voters turned out for John Edwards and only 3.66% for Hillary Clinton. The Iowa caucus system is a crazy system for picking a new President. As the New York Times notes today in an editorial entitled “Let it Start Now“; now is a good time to look forward and work for a better process next time.
The Iowa Secretary of State’s website listed some 1,922,235 active registered voters as of 1/3/2008. This number was the total based on figures for each Congressional District.
The Iowa Caucus results as released by the Iowa State Democratic Party are not actual vote totals or a tally of votes cast for specific candidates. According to the Washington Post “Instead of reporting the actual number of caucus voters, the Iowa Democratic Party releases an estimated number of delegates to the state party convention that each candidate will receive based on their proportional support in the caucuses”
Accordingly the Iowa State Democratic Party reported that Barrack Obama received 37.57% of the delegates, John Edwards 29.75% and Hillary Clinton 29.47%. These are the adjusted figures after delegates realigned their votes if their candidate did not meet a minimum 15% threshold figure to qualify for a delegate.
According to the Iowa State Democratic Party some 239,000 voters participated in the Democratic caucuses and some 115,000 voters participated in the Republican caucus.
So overall some 363,000 of Iowa’s 1,922,235 active registered voters participated in the caucuses. This is equal to 18.9% of all the registered voters.
Iowa does register people by party. From the Secretary of State figures there were 575,949 registered Republicans, 605,052 registered Democrats and 741,231 registered Independents.
The result is that some 39.5% of registered Democrats and 20% of registered Republicans participated in the caucuses. Overall participation was significantly higher than in previous caucuses.
Iowa does allow same day party registration so people could register at the caucuses on Jan 3rd. This law actually just went into effect on Jan 1, 2008. I do not know how many actually took advantage of this, but news reports attributed an active effort by some of the candidates to draw new voters into the caucuses process. Barrack Obama made a strong effort to appeal to independents to participate in the Democratic caucus and was successful.
Even so the results when viewed in the context of overall voter participation of 363,000 caucuses attendees out of 1,922,235 active registered voters gives a participation rate of only 18.9%.
And the initial figures I gave above showed that only about 4.67% of Iowa voters wound up supporting Barrack Obama. (239,000 x 37.58% / 1,922,235 = 89,818 voters for Obama/1,922,235 total voters = 4.67% of total voters supporting Obama in the Iowa caucuses.)
The same calculation for Edwards showed him receiving the support of about 3.69% of Iowa voters and Clinton receiving support from about 3.66% of Iowa voters.
Obama won Iowa by the rules in play and is to be congratulated as are Edwards and Clinton for their strong showing.
The point I want to make is that even so, the caucuses are a limiting process in selecting candidates. The numbers support this in that participation levels are much lower than with Presidential Primaries and there is no absentee ballot voting for those that can’t attend because they have to work or are disabled or are in the military or are out of state for work or vacation or school. Caucus rules for Iowa only allowed you to vote if you were physically present.
The race for President is far from over. Iowa’s process and voter makeup is far from ideal in gaging how a candidate will fare in the national November 2008 election. The way the selection process is this year, Feb 5th will be the biggest test facing the viability of the candidates remaining at that time. Over 20 states, including New York, California, Colorado, Georgia, Massachusetts, Illinois and New Jersey will vote that day.
Between now and Feb 5, 2008, voters in New Hampshire, Michigan, Nevada, South Carolina and Florida will vote. You can track the list of state, dates and results at the New York Times Election Guide page.