Iowa Recap

Happy Groundhog Day! By Phil Roeder from Des Moines, IA, USA (Caucus Tourism: Revolution) [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
Iowa Caucuses results are in and they are interesting. Any results are going to be interesting to election junkies, but these ones include a few genuine surprises. In yesterday’s preview post, I went with the polls and predicted victories for Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, though I specified that the Clinton-Bernie Sanders race was basically a coin flip. Well, Ted Cruz won the Republican contest as Donald Trump underperformed compared to his polling average while Cruz and Marco Rubio overperformed. Clinton won the slightest of victories over Sanders, and calling this one a virtual tie seems fair. Cruz and Rubio are the surprises, and their success in Iowa is going to have real impact.

In the preview post, I wrote about some of the factors that could affect last night’s outcomes. My questions for the Republican race: (1) Are there many new Republican caucus-goers? (2) Does the Trump campaign have a decent presence at the caucuses?(3) How do evangelicals vote? Let’s take each question in turn. Last night’s Iowa Republican Caucus set a new record for participation. Exit polls indicate that new caucus-goers was one of three demographic groups that Trump won (the others were “high school graduate or less” and self-described “moderate”). But at only 30%, Trump did not dominate with new caucus-goers the way that he needed in order to emerge victorious. Regarding the second question, it would seem that Trump’s ground game was lacking and that certainly didn’t help. Finally, Trump held his own with evangelical voters but with more religious candidates likely dropping out soon, such as Mike Huckabee (already out) and Ben Carson (looming), this demographic could be decisive if it rallies behind Cruz.

My questions for the Democratic race: (1) Are there many new Democratic caucus-goers? (2) Where do Martin O’Malley voters go after his candidacy is deemed unviable? Raw numbers are hard to come by right now, but it seems that turnout was good but did not meet the record-setting 2008 contest. Sanders won new caucus-goers, but there weren’t enough of them and his margin was not big enough to win. He dominated the youth vote, but there just weren’t enough of these voters, either. Martin O’Malley’s supporters seem to have mostly gone to Sanders, but to continue the theme here, there just weren’t enough of them to move Sanders ahead of Clinton.

New Hampshire holds its primaries one week from today. What can we take away from Iowa heading into the next contest?

On the Republican side, it’s hard to see how Iowa wasn’t a disaster for Trump. Losing when he was supposed to win, and then losing much worse than expected, are exactly how you would have scripted the beginning of a Trump demise. His entire campaign – his entire persona, really – is based on being awesome and winning and showing us losers how to be awesome and win. If the winner we losers are supposed to worship is actually lame and a loser, well, that’s a problem. There are troubling signs that Trump’s support is rather soft and that as voting day approaches, people sober up and think about how a candidate might perform in the general election.

The Republican establishment must be very happy today. Rubio’s performance is encouraging and gives the establishment exactly what they needed: one clear candidate they can rally around. All the other establishment-friendly candidates – Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and Chris Christie – look like dead men walking into New Hampshire. They all underperformed in Iowa. All three have been looking to New Hampshire as their springboard to the nomination, but it isn’t going to revive all three of their campaigns. Looking at the polls, Rubio would not need a whole lot of momentum out of Iowa to leapfrog both Bush and Kasich. Indeed, it’s likely that Rubio’s success in Iowa will hollow out the support of at least one of those guys.

Trump is unacceptable to a large proportion of Republican voters, and they will start to line up behind the “moderate” that has the best chance to beat Trump and has a decent shot at the general election. Rubio looks like that guy coming out of Iowa. Expect a clear three-man race between Cruz, Trump, and Rubio after New Hampshire votes.

On the Democratic side, it’s hard to say who comes out of Iowa looking stronger. O’Malley is out so there will be no more distractions; this is now a two person race and it could last for some time. For Clinton, not losing was good but she has to be worried about how badly she’s behind with younger voters. For Sanders, the tie in Iowa was nice, but if a candidate wants to win the nomination, he or she needs to actually win some contests. Iowa was a winnable state for Sanders and losing amid rising expectations has to hurt.

Don’t expect New Hampshire to play any kind of decisive role in the Democratic race, unless of course voters rally towards Clinton. If she were to win there, Sanders would be just about finished as a real threat, but it’s doubtful Clinton will be very competitive. Clinton can go to New Hampshire hoping to outperform the polls and if she doesn’t lose there too badly, she should win in South Carolina and Nevada later this month en route to a friendly March calendar. Clinton is still likely to win the whole thing, but Sanders is going to make her earn it.


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