In last night's Iowa Caucus, Mitt Romney won fewer votes than he did 4 years ago when his campaign suffered a serious setback by finishing a distant 2nd in Iowa after spending over $10mil and much of his energy in the race. His vote total dropped by 6 from 30,021 to 30,015 while the caucus turnout increased by about three thousand votes, which is a bit over 2%. Despite getting slightly fewer votes in a slightly larger electorate, this time Mitt Romney is emerging victorious with a narrow six vote win over Rick Santorum. What does this tell us about the Iowa caucus?
Last night once again proved that objective performance in Iowa is much less important than the media and the electorate's subjective interpretation of a candidate's performance. Romney's Iowa campaign strategy this time around was the opposite of their strategy last time: they avoided excessive campaigning in Iowa so that the expectation was that another candidate who did put in a huge amount of time would win (like Santorum) and Rommey's team would have neutralized the damage Iowa did to them last time. This is exactly what almost happened, the actual result was even better for Romney because now he can say he won without trying, its kinda like two wins.
On the loosing end of the numbers vs expectations game is Ron Paul. Looking purely at objective measures (the vote count) Ron Paul seems to have done very well. In an electorate that was 68% over 45, Paul managed to more than double his vote total from 2008 even though he typically does better with younger voters. Earning 15K votes more than last time, Paul moved from a 5th place finish to a 3rd. Subjectively though, Paul may have lost his only chance for the national media and the party to take him seriously.
Ironically, the Iowa Caucus, thought by some to be the zenith of democracy, results in being somewhat anti-democratic. Blame it on the media, the primary system, or possibly party elites, but in the end it doesn't seem to matter much what the voters actually said but how it compares to what we thought they'd say. Maybe it shows how broken/unresponsive the party is to the people who actually vote, that the voters can say basically the same thing about Romney two cycles in a row and yet it results in two opposite outcomes.