Amid the swirl of developments on Thursday came word from the Iowa Republican Party that it had certified the results from the state’s Jan. 3 caucuses — and that Rick Santorum, not Mitt Romney, had gotten more votes. Mr. Santorum received 29,839 votes in the state’s certified tally, 34 more than Mr. Romney, who had 29,805. Iowa Republicans were hesitant to deem Mr. Santorum the winner, however. Early Thursday morning, the state party chairman, Matt Strawn, instead described the result as having been “too close to call.” Later, Mr. Strawn was somewhat clearer. “One thing that is irrefutable is that in these 1,776 certified precincts, the Republican Party was able to certify and report Rick Santorum was the winner of the certified precinct vote total by 34 votes,” he told reporters, He cautioned, however, that there was ambiguity in the outcome because the results from eight other precincts were unaccounted for and had never been certified. How safe is it to assume that Mr. Santorum in fact won? And does any of this matter, other than to historians and data geeks?
There is a series of roughly six questions that are pertinent to the vote count. Some of them cannot be answered definitively, but we will give it our best shot. Just how much doubt is there about the real winner of the caucuses? Here is one way to think about the outcome: although the certified vote totals showed an extremely close results, it was not quite as close in percentage terms as some other famous elections, including one that determined the winner of a presidential election. According to the state’s certified results, Mr. Santorum won by 34 votes out of 121,503 ballots that were tallied — a margin of victory of 0.028 percent.
By contrast, George W. Bush’s victory margin in Florida in 2000 is officially listed at 537 votes — but this was out of nearly 6 million votes cast. In percentage terms, Mr. Bush won by 0.009 percent, making it about three times as small.