Also consider that about 122,000 votes were cast in Iowa, population 3.1 million. In South Carolina, which has 4.7 million people, about 600,000 voted in the GOP primary.
Marvin Overby, a political science professor at the University of Missouri, described the caucuses as double-edged swords. “In a system where most people are relying on multimillion-dollar media buys, there are some who say there is virtue in essentially holding something similar to a small New England town hall meeting at a caucus site,” he said. “But you tend to get people who are much more passionate about politics but significantly different from the general public.”
A.J. Spiker, who took over as Iowa GOP chairman after Matt Strawn resigned from his post in the aftermath of the caucus debacle, points out that Iowa fulfilled its duties this cycle: The last candidates who remained in the race were the top four finishers in the race for the nomination, while poor showings prompted two contenders to drop out. Moreover, the results showed that two very different kinds of candidates could do well with Iowans: a social conservative who relied on face time to convey his message, and an establishment candidate who counted on money and superior organization.
“It just goes to show you that anybody can come to Iowa and compete,” Spiker said. In addition, the Iowa Republican Party has formed a 17-member caucus review committee to reexamine its processes to ensure there’s not a repeat of this year’s fiasco.
Iowa Democratic Party Chair Sue Dvorsky said both state Democrats and Republicans must be ready to answer the questions "Why Iowa? Why a caucus?" when they fight for their first-in-the-nation status. Dvorsky added that in the era of the super PAC, there has to be a place where presidential candidates without access to vast amounts of money can do well with some good old-fashioned retail.
Iowa Republicans will have "a heavier burden of proof now than they did before" when they make their case to the national party to stay first in line, Dvorsky said. “But that kind of conversation and back and forth—that happens every four years.”
It’s a good thing for Iowans that the pull of tradition is strong. Josh Putnam, a political science professor at Davidson College who runs FrontloadingHQ.com, a blog about the nomination process, said he doesn’t see the pecking order being disturbed anytime soon.
“For all of its warts, you more or less as a national party know that the system does what it’s supposed to do, which is to pick a nominee,” he said. “Neither party wants to rock that boat.”