5 initial thoughts on the Iowa results

I’m writing this on a train using my phone. So apologises for spelling and grammar errors. But:

1. All credit to Bernie – who once seemed like a fringe candidate – for pushing Clinton into a near as dammit draw. Nonetheless, I stand by my view yesterday that anything less than a crushing victory in Iowa shows he doesn’t have the depth of support to win the nomination. It’s a near perfect demographics for him. A draw here means a defeat nationally.

2. The New Hampshire primary now looks far more interesting on the Republican than the Democrat side. It should be an easy win for Sanders as it has even better demographics for him than Iowa and is adjacent to Vermont.

3. This isn’t necessarily a disaster for Trump. His support seems fairly evenly spread so Iowa has no particular significance for him beyond being the first state to vote. But it has shown that his poll numbers are soft, as well as demonstrating the limitations to a campaign based on doing obnoxious things in order to get free media. If he wants to be the nominee he needs to start building a conventional political machine that matches it’s rivals for field offices and ads.

4. Rubio is now the presumptive ‘establishment’ candidate. His rivals for that position will probably hang in till New Hampshire but after this result it seems unlikely any of them can outpoll him there.

5. My instinct is that both Rubio and the Dems will be happy if Cruz’s win in Iowa makes him and not Trump the guy they have to beat. Trump is wiley and unpredictable. By contrast, Cruz is an inflexible hardliner with little room to manoeuvre policywise. He combines that with being the guy who shut down the Federal government and an air of smugness marinated in creepiness.


My Iowa caucus predictions


I have two.

Firstly, the press will overreact to the result on the Democratic side. The indications are that Clinton will either be run close by Sanders or even be defeated by him. If that happens expect journalists and pundits to start talking as if that indicates she is in real danger of not winning the nomination.

In reality, anything less than a crushing victory for Sanders is a strong indicator that he won’t be triumphant. As the chart below – which I’ve stolen from FiveThirtyEight – shows that Iowa is prime Sanders territory. There are only two states that have more of the white liberals that constitute his base: his home state of Vermont and the next event in the primary calendar New Hampshire.


After Iowa and New Hampshire, he will then have to compete in the much less favourable territory. If he does well in Nevada or South Carolina then that would be significant. Sanders doing well in a state tailor made for him to do well in would not be.

On the Republican side, my prediction is that whatever the outcome in Iowa the race will remain turbulent.

If Rubio were to win or come close in a state where ‘anti-establishment’ candidates like Trump, Cruz and Carson have dominated the polls, that would set him up with a clear path to the nomination. But that possibility seems remote.

If either Trump or Cruz can win decisively then they may be able to put an effective halt to the other’s bid. But the ‘establishment’ candidates already expect to do badly in Iowa and won’t be in any hurry to begin rallying behind a candidate they think will take the party to electoral disaster. I would therefore expect at least one of them to go on fighting even if they appear to be losing badly.

I therefore predict that come Tuesday the Democrat contest will look more exciting than it really is, while both the perception and the actuality of the Republican race will be of a brutal fight with plenty of time still on the clock.