We’re just a few days away from the Iowa caucuses – the first in a long line of votes which will determine the 2016 US Presidential election. So who has the best chance of winning these all important contests?
The US Presidential election process is a long slog. You can’t just stand for the general election. First, you have to win your party’s nomination to stand as their candidate in the contest. They clinch this endorsement by winning ‘primaries’ and ‘caucuses.’
Held in each state throughout the country, these votes allow a candidate to win the state in question’s ‘delegates.’ I’m simplifying this a bit, but these delegates go on to the party’s national convention, where they choose the nominee. Therefore, the candidate who receives the most votes from delegates becomes their party’s standard bearer in the general Presidential election.
Traditionally, the Mid-Western state of Iowa holds the first caucuses; this year these will take place on Monday 1st February. As news service the BBC explains, “the number of delegates in each state is based largely on its [population] size, so win the state and you win more delegates. The candidate who gets the majority of these delegates get the nomination.”
Iowa is far smaller than many US states such as California, Texas and New York, so its caucuses shouldn’t be important. But the BBC continues, the “trick is to win states that vote early in the primary process… a good showing in Iowa… creates a sense of momentum and with that comes exposure. Win Iowa and suddenly you’ll be all over television; its great free publicity.”
In other words, if a candidate triumphs in Iowa they show that they’ve got the support of their party’s voting base. This captures the attention of the mainstream media who broadcast the candidate’s message more frequently, allowing them to access a larger share of their party’s electorate – giving them a better chance of winning other primaries and caucuses.
So now we know why the Iowa caucuses are so important, who has the best chance of winning them in both parties this time around? I’ll start with the Republican’s and for both parties, I’m only going to look at the polling for the top two candidates running, since they’re so far ahead of their competitors the others don’t stand a chance in hell of catching up.
So for the Republicans we have Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. In my opinion both equally as horrible, these two are easily leading the pack. Donald Trump is a billionaire businessman who started out in politics as a birther. He announced he was running for President mid-last year and has since gathered support in the xenophobic wing of his party’s base for his anti-immigrant, anti-muslim rhetoric. Cruz is just as bad; a US Senator for the State of Texas, he is a famous conservative hard-liner who led the US government shutdown in 2013.
Trump’s populist candidacy has allowed him to trounce every single one of his rivals in national polls for months; the same is true for Iowa, with one or two little hiccups. The Huffington Post has combined these various polls to produce an average. The Huffington Post’s Republican Iowa poll average suggests that Donald Trump is leading Ted Cruz by 32.1% to 24.7%. Unless things get very surprising on the day, it looks as though Donald Trump will win the Republican Iowa caucuses.
Now let’s turn our attention to the Democrats. Here we have former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US Senator for State of Vermont, Bernie Sanders. Hillary Clinton is the ultimate establishment candidate and she’s received the backing of the majority of the Democratic Party. Sanders, a self-proclaimed ‘democratic socialist,’ is the outsider, who has built a grass roots campaign by promising to tackle one of the biggest issues democratic voters care about – income inequality.
If we look at the Huffington Post’s Democratic Iowa poll average, Clinton’s leading Sanders by a smaller margin of 47.5% to 44.2%. I should also note that the two Democrats have spent the past few weeks jostling for position; both Clinton and Sanders have topped their fare share of Iowa polls in the last month or so.
I’m making this a bit simple. There are extenuating factors on both sides that could swing the vote. For instance, Iowa has one of the most conservative Republican electorates in the US and this could play in Cruz’s favour, as he is typically seen as the more sincere evangelical Christian candidate. Therefore, Iowa’s strong evangelical community could come out and vote for Cruz on election day.
Meanwhile, we could also say that it’s Sanders, not Clinton, who has the momentum on his side. As former First Lady and Secretary of State Clinton had near-universal name recognition in the US at the start of this contest while barely anyone outside of Vermont knew who Bernie Sanders was! Evidence is already suggesting that as people are coming to learn about Sanders, they’re starting to like his message and his poll numbers have been going up for months, while Hillary’s have been charting a downwards trajectory. This could very well have an influence on the outcome in Iowa.
Wait and see
The truth is that we can look at all the numbers in the world, we don’t really have a clear idea who will win the Iowa caucuses. Who knows? Something could happen on the day that would change everything. What we do know is that after we found out who’s triumphed in Iowa, we’ll have a clearer idea of who may compete in the general election!