How Many Iowa Caucus Winners Go On To Be Party Nominees?

The Iowa caucuses could predict which candidate will win the Democratic presidential nomination

Republican U.S. presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. — REUTERS
Jan 24, 2016 at 4:19 PM ET

A few hundred thousand Iowans are set to vote in the Iowa caucuses on February 1 in a process that has tremendous power to set the stage for the 2016 presidential election.

But just how important are the caucuses in determining which candidates later become each political party’s presidential nominee? It depends on the party, Vocativ found. Since 1976, 71 percent—or 5 out of 7—Democratic candidates who won in Iowa ultimately went on to win the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, compared to just 3 out of 7 Republicans who later became their party’s nominee for president.

The Democratic candidates who won the Iowa caucuses and later went on to become party nominees were Barack Obama in 2008, John Kerry in 2004, Al Gore in 2000, Walter Mondale in 1984 and Jimmy Carter in 1976. That doesn’t include the Iowa caucuses for which the Democrats had an incumbent. Curiously, Bill Clinton lost in Iowa, and later in the New Hampshire primary as well. He is the only presidential candidate to lose both and still go on to win the Democratic presidential nomination.

For Republicans, though, Iowa is less representative of who will ultimately become the GOP’s nominee. The three out of seven candidates who won in Iowa and later won the Republican nomination were George W. Bush in 2000, Bob Dole in 1996 and Gerald Ford in 1976. Iowa losers sometimes become winners: Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney all lost Iowa and went on to become the GOP’s choice for America’s top job.

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While the Iowa caucuses started by some accounts in the 1800s, they weren’t technically a big deal in modern politics until 1976. In 1972, the Democrats moved their caucuses to January, and they became a test for who would get the nomination. The Republican Party moved its caucuses to the same date in 1976 when it recognized the potential it had for candidates’ exposure.

The latest CBS News/YouGov poll shows Trump leading in Iowa with 39 percent, Cruz with 34 percent and Rubio with 13 percent. In a slight upset, Democratic polls are almost tied. Bernie Sanders is gaining on Hillary Clinton in Iowa. The latest CBS News/YouGov poll has Sanders with a one-point lead over Clinton, after he trailed behind her a month ago.