The Iowa caucus has finally come to an end, and in the wake of it a number of questions hang over the head of the American voter. What exactly just happened? What do these results mean? Did anyone win?
On the Republican side, this question is somewhat easy to answer, partly due to the number of candidates and partly due to the more simplistic nature in which their caucus is conducted. It should be noted, however, that turnout on the Republican side reached record levels, peaking around 182,000.
On the Republican side, caucus goers simply cast a paper vote for the candidate they choose, and the candidates then simply aim to get the highest percentage of votes. In last night’s caucus, this highest percentage went to Ted Cruz, who received 27.6% of the votes, followed by Donald Trump with 24.3% and Marco Rubio in a close third with 23.1%.
What does this mean? Well firstly, it upsets the Trump momentum many were expecting and indeed upon which his campaign prospects hinged. Second place is nothing to scoff at, but given how heavily his campaign has hinged on him being a “winner,” such a result puts him at odds with his narrative. He’ll have to have a better showing in New Hampshire to regain his flow.
Cruz’s win was a major boost for him, but may have hinged on the evangelical vote, which, while prevalent in Iowa, is less prevalent in the next contest in New Hampshire. If nothing else, though, it puts him even more at odds with Trump, as both fight to be the self described “outsider.”
Rubio, however, had the biggest night by far. Getting within a little over a percentage point of the national front-runner Trump was a success in and of itself, however he also placed a great deal higher than any other “establishment” candidates, such as Jeb Bush or Chris Christie, neither of whom cracked the 3% level. Given his previous sparring with both Cruz and Trump, he now has the ability to sell himself as an alternative to their hard right outsider’s club.
Another small surprise for the GOP was the placement of Rand Paul, a candidate who had consistently been relegated to undercard debates, in the top five. Granted, he only received 4.5%, and it is unlikely he will manage to get out of the single digits even with the small boost, but his ability to receive more votes than previously hyped candidates such as Bush and Christie no doubt has brought about some level of dejection in their campaign offices. However, despite this surprising showing, Paul dropped out of the race, due to fundraising issues and lack of country-wide appeal.
As for the Democrats, it is finally the two-candidate race it has unofficially been the entire time; Martin O’Malley has finally dropped out, getting barely 1%. However, between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, the situation is complicated and in flux, thanks to a strangely complex caucus system on the Democrat side and the tight race between the two candidates.
The results from the Democrats came in through the entire night, and the final decision only came in the morning after. Part of this is due to the manner in which the Democrat’s caucus works. Caucus goers group together for the candidate they prefer, and as long as their candidate gains above 15% (hence the quick departure of O’Malley) their group stands.
The whole process then descends into one on one and personal debate as, in this case, both sides try to grab members from the other side. They then elect county delegates, who will later go on to do further things in the future. However, the candidates by the end of the night are awarded percentages known as “state delegate equivalents,” which serve to show who won.
Percentage wise, Clinton eked out the slimmest of wins with 49.9%, or 699.57 delegate equivalents, with Sanders getting 49.6% and 695.49 delegate equivalents; these results, the closest in Democratic caucus history, has led to more questions than answers.
For Clinton, while she can claim a win, it’s one that could easily be interpreted as so close to a tie that it means very little. Exit polls showed that she did best among the very groups she expected to: older voters and moderates, while being trounced in the groups Sanders holds. But by not losing, she gives herself leeway if, as expected, her performance in New Hampshire is less than stellar, and let’s her move on to contests like Nevada and South Carolina.
As for Sanders, he’s proven he is a viable candidate in the voting booth (or on the caucus floor), but while he has yet to concede, most agree that he did not definitively win. He’s given a high chance of winning in New Hampshire, which will keep his momentum certainly, but he cannot put “2/2” on the board. Exit polls show positive support among very liberal voters and young voters, groups which, if mobilized correctly, could be very beneficial.
But one thing must be considered; for both Clinton and Sanders, Iowa was a relatively safe state, given its racial homogeny and the one on one campaigning that its voters are used to. Given that Sander’s campaign style and appeal among white voters was well tailored here, the fact his success comes in the form of a relative tie rather than any version of a solid win should make him wary when getting into states such as Nevada and South Carolina, whose demographics could hurt him.
As the campaign pushes into New Hampshire, the stage is now set for what could be a monumental primary season.