As you're no doubt aware, the Iowa crockuses are tonight. They are a folksy homespun tradition -- you can tell it's folksy and homespun by the living rooms and pie -- that was invented by Dr. Alfred Crockus, who believed that participatory democracy would be made most inclusive and the results most accurate if everyone went to strangers' homes at night, got drunk, and performed arithmetic.
This year's crockuses seem, to me, to have less media gravity -- to have sucked fewer words and ink into their orbit -- than the ones in 2004, which took place on Jan. 19 of that year. The Christmas and New Year's holidays provided a nice winter snowstorm of light, fluffy news which is great for packing into cable news, as long as you don't have to shovel it. By comparison, at this time four years ago we had another couple of weeks of Iowa campaign events and media coverage to inflate the significance of that state's results. To my mind, this year's crockuses feel more like a starter's gun than a finishing line.
My favorite site for tracking news about the race is http://www.electoral-vote.com, which has switched fully into primary mode as of the New Year. As you can see there, the polls are essentially "25% +/- 5%" for all three of the Democratic contenders, and they've been that way for nearly a full year. It's difficult enough to interpret poll numbers on a two-way race, where the preference numbers are typically an order of magnitude greater than the error. In a three-way (or more) race, where everyone's close and the fraction favoring any given candidate is small relative to error, the polls are almost as short on substance as the crockuses themselves.
And that's not to mention the funny way the crockuses themselves work, prone to mistakes, manipulation, and mess-ups. There may be disputes about the tally at the caucus site, where the loudest voice usually wins, and misinformation about the numbers and the candidates spread on-site to screw with people's votes. And, after all that vote-wangling and miscounting, we may never know how many individual voters were, in the end, recorded as having voted for a given candidate -- because those person-by-person counts are mailed to party headquarters and kept there, not disclosed to the press or the public. Ever.
I was only beginning to read blogs, and had not been commenting or writing, during the 2004 crockuses, but I recall well watching the broadcast of a couple of individual crockuses on C-SPAN that night, and following along on the DFA blog. I've been looking back at the archive of the site from that night, and find that my reactions were well mirrored by a series of comments from someone commenting as "Perry Young," who was liveblogging (perhaps?) before liveblogging was a word:
69. I am watching the Caucus on CSPAN 2, it is a disorganized mess. The people can't get phone calls out due to Bush callers blocking the line - they are having trouble with the math - and it looks like bedlam!!!! For a person from Texas this looks like madness. People trying to do math and they can't get figures to balance. They are getting cut off. Maybe it is just that I am not used to it, but this looks like a nightmare!!!!!
86. How can anyone assure accuracy in an environment such as what I am seeing on CSPAN-2 right now? It looks really really confused. I think I see why Dean spoke out against the Caucus system. It is a prescription for mass error. Wow, never seen anything like this.
115. Watching CSPAN-2 - this looks crazy. Can these people run a calculator? What is the control for error? I am amazed, I have never seen one of these before. Very very very weird. I am used to primaries.
That's just about how I felt. In fact, this post is something of a political birthday for me -- as best I can remember, the first time I commented on a blog or used the name 'emptypockets' was around Jan. 25 2004, in a sort of talking blues about the Iowa system and the race so far. (And, listening to it again now, it's not half bad!) So, happy birthday to me, and -- to you -- happy crockusing!