Are U.S. Elections "Front Loaded?"

The survey gave the Brown University researchers the data they needed to measure momentum shifts throughout the primaries on a day by day basis. Knight and Schiff hope soon to publish their study in a peer-reviewed journal.

Prior to the balloting in Iowa and New Hampshire in 2004, the Democratic nomination seemed like it was already pretty well in the bag for Howard Dean, who had a huge lead in national polls. But Iowa turned that around. Sen. John Kerry was the big winner, at 38 percent, followed by Sen. John Edwards at 32 percent. Dean placed a distant third at 18 percent.

Dean was forced to drop out, and Kerry won the nomination. But it might not have been that way if the first primary had been in another state, say South Carolina, which Edwards carried. In that case, Edwards might have picked up the early momentum instead of Kerry.

So that suggests that Iowa voters, who will send only 56 delegates to the Democratic convention out of a total of 4,366 delegates, will once again have a "disproportionate" amount of clout, Knight said. And this time the Republicans will feel that clout as well. Both the parties are, at the moment, too close to call for Iowa.

The race in Iowa is close enough for someone in both parties to do a lot better, or a lot worse, than had been expected, thus gaining or losing momentum. And it will be a rare opportunity for the rest of us to watch and see if the researchers got it right.

But of course, politics can bring surprises. Who among us in 2004 expected the "Dean scream," that bizarre victory call on the heels of his loss in Iowa? It may have contributed as much to his defeat as the voters in both Iowa and New Hampshire.

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