Quick Iowa Notes

A quick set of bullet points on Iowa, given the new polls, which confirm that Gingrich is collapsing.

1. Everything is still very iffy. All the polling that I’ve seen so far, and granted I haven’t looked really closely at the newest ones (still on the road, so I’m not following things quite the way I normally do) indicates that almost all of the support for all the non-Paul candidates is weak.

2. Therefore, don’t assume that Ron Paul is going to win Iowa. He might, but there’s no real way of knowing right now where all the undecideds or weakly decideds go, including the chance that they stay home. Do use Nate Silver’s prediction model (which has it Paul/Romney/Perry right this minute), but remember that his model is extremely limited by design: it basically just takes a straight line from where the polls are now to the caucuses.

3. Remember that what matters out of Iowa is the spin.

4. Remember that the spin will be influenced by two main things: press biases, and party actors.

5. I count three big releveant press biases. One is that “news” trumps “not news”, which means that surprises get more coverage than whatever is expected to happen — which is where the expectations game really does matter. The second is that the press has limited capacity, and can only really handle one big and one minor story line. The third is that there’s a press bias in favor of portraying the nomination contest as close and uncertain.

6. The story on party influence on spin is of course that it matters a lot how united the party is. If party actors are close to united against a candidate (Newt!) or if large factions are strongly against a candidate (Ron Paul!), then they will attempt to spin against that candidate.

7. Add that up? If a trailing candidate (Perry, Bachmann, Santorum) jumps into the top three, that’s a story. If Romney finishes out of the top three, that’s a story. It probably matters a lot less the order of the finish among the top candidates (although certainly if Perry, Bachmann, or Santorum beats Romney, that becomes the big story of the night. But Paul/Romney and Romney/Paul are basically the same story, probably (although not necessarily, because spin isn’t entirely predictable).

8. And, as always, a good night for an implausible nominee may well affect then next couple weeks or even the shape of the race going forward, but almost certainly doesn’t transform that candidate into a viable option.

9. Apparently over the last three days Rick Perry has actually lost ground on Intrade. That’s nuts!

10. I’ll be back regularly on Wednesday, flight connections willing, but just to confirm: I’m still saying that there’s around a 95% chance that Romney or Perry is the nominee, and that Romney is more likely than Perry. And, yeah, I’m a little bitter that (as far as I know) no one is linking back to any of my “really no Newt has no chance” posts. But, you know…

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.