By Zachary Toillion
In order to understand the 2016 primaries, we have to start with where it all beings. Iowa voters tend to reward candidates that cater to the base of their political parties. Republicans typically back the more conservative viable candidate in the field, while Democrats typically back the more conservative viable candidate in the field.
This was key to the success of Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee in 2008 and 2012. For Republicans, there is another factor: the evangelical vote. More than half of Republican caucus goers are self-described evangelicals and typically back the candidate with a more religious background. This was the case in 2000 with George W. Bush’s victory and 1988 with Pat Robertson’s victory. The candidate that best fits the mold of previous caucus winners is Ted Cruz, who is heavily courting evangelical voters and positioning himself as the “viable conservative” against candidates like Marco Rubio. Republicans in Iowa typically shy away from candidates perceived as “part of the establishment,” meaning candidates that are well-funded and heavily endorsed by Washington elites are typically met with skepticism.
That same skepticism is also found on the Democratic side. Like Republicans, Democrats vote for who they perceive as an “ideologically pure” candidate. In 2008, Iowa voters delivered Obama a major victory over Hillary Clinton after Obama portrayed himself as the more liberal candidate. This same strategy was attempted by John Edwards, meaning the anti-establishment vote in 2008 was nearly 70 percent.
Democrats have another factor to use in their caucus strategies: viability. If no candidate gets more than 15 percent at a caucus site, their supporters must choose a viable candidate that has received the required 15 percent share. In 2008, Obama largely benefited from this rule by securing the votes of liberal candidates. In 2016, conventional wisdom suggests Bernie Sanders will benefit from the supporters of Martin O’Malley, who sits at about six percent of the vote.
Iowa seems to be a toss up on both sides. Sen. Cruz and Donald Trump are neck and neck in the polls, as are Sen. Sanders and Sec. Clinton. An aggregate of polls shows Trump leading by 1.1 percent while Clinton leads Sanders by four percent.
The decisive factor may come down to organization, and in this regard three campaigns stand above all others. Cruz, Clinton, and Sanders have armies of volunteers, multiple field offices and lots of paid staff. Effectively using these assets may well decide who wins on either side.
Whatever Iowa decides, history suggests New Hampshire will disagree. In the last few elections Iowa and New Hampshire have produced different results. In 2008 Iowa went for Obama while New Hampshire went for Clinton. During that year Iowa Republicans went with Mike Huckabee while New Hampshire put McCain on top. Fast forward to 2016; In New Hampshire Trump leads by a commanding 17.6 percent while Sanders leads Clinton by 6.2 percent.
Usually the final battle is South Carolina which decides between the two. In South Carolina both Trump and Clinton have double digit leads. Looking at the map, it’ll be at least March before we know who will be the likely nominee of either party.