The value of the caucus and primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire are that, being such small states, they allow for direct contact with the voters, and therefore give less-prominent candidates a chance to be heard without needing large finances for media buys. And therefore it lets these smaller candidates be moved up in the national discussion.
But important? Meaningful? Both states have extremely small populations, are mostly white, and at least in Iowa this year, only have about 20-25% voter turnout. Iowa isn't even a direct election for Democrats, but a caucus that has its own bizarre rules.
Meaningful? Okay, here's a quiz. Do you know who won the last two Republican caucuses? I'll give you a moment to prepare your answers.. Okay, the last two GOP winners in Iowa were -- Ron Paul in 2012, and Mike Huckabee in 2008. I'm sure they felt all gooshy inside about winning, but neither gentleman came close -- or came even remotely close to getting their party's nomination.
At one point during Monday night's coverage, we were shown a map on MSNBC about how a particular precinct was reporting, and the reporter breathlessly explained to us how Ted Cruz was leading with 29% of the vote there, with Donald Trump in second place with 25%. As meaningful as that might sound, if you looked below the percentages on the map, you'd see on a chart below that Cruz had a whopping 701 votes, and Trump had 640. This is only meaningful if you had bet on Cruz in that district by 60 votes and beat the spread. (It would have been nice for the reporter to at least reference this arithmetic detail along with the less-critical percentages he was going on about.)
To be clear, there were valuable results in the election.
Ted Cruz showed that in a religiously conservative state, he was able to beat Donald Trump.
Marco Rubio showed that he was able to do better in a small state than was expected.
Jeb Bush showed that a lot of people wasted their money donating to his campaign, which was focused heavily on Iowa.
Donald Trump showed that he was able to get a lot of people to vote for him when given the chance, though not enough to win in a religiously conservative state.
Bernie Sanders showed that he was able to close a huge gap that existed when he started his campaign, and did well, though didn't get a decisive win -- or win -- going into New Hampshire which he needed since he stands to lose the next primary big in South Carolina.
Hilary Clinton showed that she couldn't put away Bernie Sanders, but did enough to squeak by with an important win, keeping Sanders from being able to claim two victories in a row after New Hampshire.
It was an interesting night. And the results will push the maneuvering of candidates around in ways that weren't certain beforehand. But it's not meaningful. In the words of Ray Kinsella in Field of Dreams -- It's Iowa.