Who really "won" in Iowa?

Update, February 3: The New Times reports today that Iowans, and others, are questioning the reliability of caucus results. They should.

Update, Feb. 1: The NY Times reports today that the Iowa GOP chairman has resigned.

News reports over the past few days have told us that, after a recount, Mitt Romney did not win the Iowa Republican caucuses by 8 votes, Rick Santorum won them by 23. Or maybe by 34.

The early reports were a tipoff, confirmed by subsequent events, that neither man "won." I think they probably tied. As I reported a year ago in a post about Charles Seife's book "Proofiness," numbers of that exactitude - a win by so few votes out of more than 120,000 cast - suggest a certainty that may not exist. According to the results certified by the Iowa Republican party, the exact number is 121,503. The Iowa Republicans worked very hard to develop this data. You can download the spreadsheet, with its 1767 lines of data yourself, and see it all (along with the potential for error). Eight precincts did not report certified vote totals. For a good discussion of the outcome see, as usual, Nate Silver's analysis. (He thinks it is fair to say that Santorum won.)

The issue of who won isn't all that important any more, though the question of whether those Iowa voters are in any way representative of the general electorate remains. So let's consider the outcome a tie, and move on. The Republican primary season is turning into an interesting time.

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