One reason often cited for the importance of the early nominating states is momentum. Taken collectively the early states do exactly that -- after all, most candidates drop out before even close to a majority of delegates is awarded.
A top-three finish in Iowa is often described as a “ticket” out of Iowa. But what impact does win, place, or show in Iowa have for that same candidate in New Hampshire? Turns out, not much.
NBC's Domenico Montanaro breaks down how the caucus process works, why no delegates are awarded, and the mistake some candidates make in not campaigning in early states.
Using the last New Hampshire polls taken before the Iowa caucuses in the GOP primaries in 1988, 1996, 2000, and 2008, the average bump for the winner of Iowa to New Hampshire was just three points; for second place -- four points; and third -- also three.
There are a variety of reasons for this. Often the two races occur parallel to each other, rather than contingent upon each other. In other words, many candidates have focused more heavily on one state or another.
And there are expectations. Imagine someone finishes second in Iowa, but was expected to win -- Mitt Romney in 2008, for example. He didn’t meet expectations, so he wouldn’t be expected to get a bounce -- despite his “silver medal,” as he described it four years ago
That's not to say Iowa hasn’t helped (or hurt, for that matter). And for some by quite a lot. The biggest Iowa to New Hampshire bounces all occurred in 1996 -- another election, by the way, in which a Republican front runner was running for the second time and ultimately against a Democratic incumbent president.
That year, Sen. Lamar Alexander jumped 14 points from the final Boston Globe New Hampshire poll conducted before Iowa to the actual New Hampshire results two weeks or so later. There had been concerns in the Granite State that Alexander wasn't viable. He pulled in just 9% in that Globe poll, but after his third-place showing in Iowa, he finished a close third in New Hampshire with 23%, just four points behind the winner, Pat Buchanan.
That brings us to the second-largest bounce -- Buchanan. He finished second in Iowa, and gained 12 points to win New Hampshire.
The largest drop belongs to Steve Forbes, who nosedived 14 points in New Hampshire after finishing fourth in Iowa.