The Iowa Democratic caucus is one of most refreshing, yet maddening, exercises of democracy in America.
It demands the kind of commitment you can’t dispatch with a stamped envelope, a text message, or a polling station line. “Caucusing” requires patience, time, and travel.
Yet lost amid the endless stream of campaign ads, direct mail appeals, and town hall meetings, this extremely fluid race will be decided by something no one can control, manage, or manipulate: Mother Nature.
The National Weather Service projects a low that night approaching 15 degrees. Factor in some wind, and you’re looking at wind chill that could near zero. Add in some snow, and it’ll make going outdoors to attend an event indoors a test of willpower.
This is all suddenly germane in a contest which the latest Des Moines Register Iowa Poll confirms is too close to call between a socialist-turned-Democrat, the VP-turned-Prez wannabe, a small town Mayor with big time ambition, and a former schoolteacher churning out new lesson plans by the minute. The poll shows Sanders with 20 percent, Warren 17 percent, Buttigieg 16 percent, and Biden 15 percent. Each of the four has a legitimate shot to claim first place.
Yet the tiebreaker here will not be divined by looking at more public polls or more television ads or the price of corn, but rather by tracking weather patterns provided by Iowa meteorologists like Ed Wilson and Brad Edwards and Kalie Pluchel.
On Feb. 3, Iowa caucuses day, will the weather be seasonably warm or cold, windy or calm, snowy or clear? Many studies confirm that weather remains the No. 1 unknown factor that could propel a winner and dispel all others.
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After studying 56 years of presidential election results, two Belgian researchers concluded that for every 10 degrees, voter turnout goes up or down by 1.5 percent.
Three American professors confirmed precipitation is a vital factor in close elections, decreasing turnout by 1 percent with every inch of rain, or 0.5 percent for every inch of snowfall. For history and politics buffs, know that if the weather had been more inclement in Massachusetts and Illinois in 1960, Nixon beats Kennedy.
Two years ago, Sylvia Kampfer and Michael Mutz identified another factor: candidates seen as defenders of the status quo fare better in warmer temperatures, while those ready to take on the system surged when the mercury fell.
Given the Iowa Democratic Party requires some caucusgoers to spend hours traveling to a venue, listen to last-minute speeches, and divide into groups over and over again to discern a winner, this favors candidates with a more committed base — and even more so if the weather outside chills attendance among the less fervent.
That’s why Joe Biden is praying to the weather gods for an Indian summer night February 3rd. Sanders hopes that while his message is warming the hearts of supporters, it’s snowing like hell in a veritable polar icebox.
In Iowa, the race for the nomination will not be determined on a precinct map but on a weather map. It is, after all, nature’s way.
Adam Goodman is a Republican media strategist who has advised Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and Jeb Bush. He is the first Edward R. Murrow Senior Fellow at Tufts University’s Fletcher School.