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Groundhogs and Iowans overestimated as predictors

Groundhog and Ted Cruz
Frederic Labaune | Getty Images; Dave Kaup | Reuters

Two bits of news you might have missed: Ted Cruz will be the next president and winter's almost over.

At least, that's if you believe in premature predictions of notoriously unpredictable events.

Tuesday is Groundhog Day, the annual tradition where a rodent in western Pennsylvania teaches us about meteorology. It came a day after the Iowa caucuses, the first step in the long slog of presidential primary voting. Of the many predictors we can turn to for a look at the future, Punxatawney Phil and the Iowa caucuses are some of the worst.

Phil's predictions have been wrong more often than not in the past 30 years, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He's been right only 46 percent of the time since 1988 when comparing his seeing his shadow to that February temperatures' departure from the norm. Looking to March, he's been right only 43 percent of time.

"The table shows no predictive skill for the groundhog during the most recent years of this analysis," the NOAA writes on its site.

That means that Phil is slightly worse at predicting the end of winter than flipping a coin.

Hawkeye forecasts

It turns out that Iowa's caucus-goers have about the same talent for picking their party's winner. Since 1976, Iowa Republicans have held seven caucuses (not counting Monday's) and selected their party's eventual nominee only three times.

That's only a 43 percent win rate.

For example, Mike Huckabee won handily in 2008 and Rick Santorum, while tied with Mitt Romney in percentage points, won in 2012 by 34 votes.

Iowa Democrats are slightly better at forecasting their party's favorite, though with some notable exceptions. Since 1976, Iowa has selected the Democratic nominee five times out of eight, for a rate of 63 percent.

Remember 1992? Bill Clinton came in fourth in Iowa with 2.8 percent of the vote, behind Tom Harkin, Paul Tsongas and "uncommitted," which had 11.9 percent.

So don't worry, Donald Trump. You might be a LOSER now, but you still have a chance to make it "YUGE."