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How Predictive Are Iowa And New Hampshire?

Carter was the incumbent in 1980 but faced opposition. i
Meg Kelly/NPR
Carter was the incumbent in 1980 but faced opposition.
Meg Kelly/NPR

Iowa and New Hampshire get a lot of attention, but their records in picking presidents, let alone nominees, is spotty (as you can see from the chart above). But that doesn't mean the states don't matter. They have been effective at weeding the field of candidates, and they're about momentum for those later states.

Plus, in the last 40 years, just one person has gone on to win the presidency after losing both Iowa and New Hampshire — Bill Clinton.

Here's how the predictability of the states breaks down by party:


Then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush speaks in front of a painting of Jesus Christ during a campaign stop in Colfax, Iowa in 2000. Bush is the only Republican to win Iowa since 1976 and become president.

Then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush speaks in front of a painting of Jesus Christ during a campaign stop in Colfax, Iowa in 2000. Bush is the only Republican to win Iowa since 1976 and become president. Eric Draper/AP hide caption

toggle caption Eric Draper/AP

Republicans

New Hampshire has been better at picking nominees for Republicans. Since 1976:

— Five eventual nominees won the Granite State ...

— Two became president: Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Iowa, on the other hand, has picked:

— Three eventual GOP nominees, but ...

— Just one president: George W. Bush

Here's the thing, though: No Republican has become the nominee in the last 40 years without winning either Iowa or New Hampshire.


Democrats

Iowa was a launching pad, like nowhere else for Barack Obama in 2008.

Iowa was a launching pad, like nowhere else for Barack Obama in 2008. Rick Bowmer/AP hide caption

toggle caption Rick Bowmer/AP

Iowa has been slightly better than New Hampshire at picking nominees on Democratic side. In fact, since 1976:

— A whopping six eventual nominees have won Iowa, including the last three (Barack Obama, John Kerry and Al Gore).

— Two Iowa Democratic winners have become president — Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama.

New Hampshire has picked:

— Five nominees over that same time ...

— Just one became president — Carter.


Fun facts

Bill Clinton hugs his wife Hillary at his election night party in New Hampshire in 1992. Clinton finished second, but after an even worse showing in Iowa, he declared himself the "comeback kid." i

Bill Clinton hugs his wife Hillary at his election night party in New Hampshire in 1992. Clinton finished second, but after an even worse showing in Iowa, he declared himself the "comeback kid." Ron Frehm/AP hide caption

toggle caption Ron Frehm/AP
Bill Clinton hugs his wife Hillary at his election night party in New Hampshire in 1992. Clinton finished second, but after an even worse showing in Iowa, he declared himself the "comeback kid."

Bill Clinton hugs his wife Hillary at his election night party in New Hampshire in 1992. Clinton finished second, but after an even worse showing in Iowa, he declared himself the "comeback kid."

Ron Frehm/AP

— Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan all lost Iowa but went on to win the presidency.

— Bill Clinton didn't win either Iowa or New Hampshire in 1992, but was still declared "The Comeback Kid" after his second-place finish in the New Hampshire.

— The person who led the longest in Iowa in the crowded Republican field in 2015, according to the RealClearPolitics average of polls, was ... Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. He led for six months, from February to August, before dropping out of the race after a series of missteps.

— If Donald Trump wins both Iowa and New Hampshire, it would be the first time a non-incumbent Republican has done so in 40 years.

Correction Jan. 31, 2016

In an earlier version of this story, the chart showed a blue square for Clinton in New Hampshire in 2008, incorrectly representing that she had won the Democratic nomination that year.

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