The Iowa Caucuses 2016 – What Do They Mean?

Thursday, 28. January 2016
Carrie Weintraub
Fulbright Fellow - The Global Security Research Programme

Iowa is a good predictor of which candidates may be able to win the party nomination and which candidate's campaigns may wither out.

On February 1, 2016, Iowans will gather at 1,681 caucuses across the state to begin the process of nominating Presidential candidates. Iowa is noteworthy for its grassroots election style and as being the first of the U.S. states to caucus or primary for Presidential candidates. Iowa provides an early look into Americans' reactions to candidates from both parties, and begins the momentum of election season, into New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina, and Super Tuesday.

Iowa is a good predictor of which candidates may be able to win the party nomination and which candidate's campaigns may wither out. There's a common saying that there are "three tickets out of Iowa” as it's unlikely that those who place poorly in Iowa will win their party's national nomination. This is more important for the Republicans this year than the Democrats, as there are 12 candidates, with Trump, Cruz, and Rubio sporting top polling numbers. Underperforming candidates may face a lack of support and funding following the Iowa caucuses, likely meaning a death to the campaigns of other potential Republican nominees, including both Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, two previous Iowa caucus winners.

Donald Trump is a notable figure in this year's caucus for several reasons. First, Iowa will be the first test of Trump's actual viability as a candidate, as opposed to a media spectacle and business owner commenting in the political sphere. Trump's campaign proves to be entertaining and is respected for talking off the cuff regarding important issues to many Americans. However, the caucuses will weigh how much Americans actually trust Trump to run the country. Trump announced late on January 25 that he will not be participating in the January 27 Republican debate in Iowa, due to contestations with how fairly Fox News has treated him as a candidate. He will instead run a separate event to raise money for wounded veterans during the time of the debate. Whether this may hurt Trump's campaign or may only energize it is yet to say. Trump is expected to do well in the caucuses regardless, but it's essential to note that if he doesn't perform as planned, he does not face the same challenge as other potential candidates; his funding will not dry up, and it will not cause an end to his candidacy.

For the Democrats, Iowa will be a test of how Americans view Bernie Sanders and whether he can hold a candle to Clinton. In the most recent polls, while Clinton still leads over Sanders, she does so by a smaller margin than ever before. A number of Iowa undecided voters who asked questions during the Democratic town hall were young, college-aged voters, and many voters of this demographic have become vocal supporters of the "Feel the Bern” movement. Bernie's performance in Iowa will begin to shed light on his power over Democrats and whether they will sway toward the "revolution” he promises instead of the comfort of the familiar Clinton. Iowa may also mark the end of O'Malley's campaign, especially if his supporters cannot meet the viability threshold in their caucuses.


The column is part of a series of FIIA columns on the US presidential elections.

Texts reflect the opinions of the individual authors