Momentum from Iowa Caucuses Propels the Candidates into New Hampshire

Tuesday, 2. February 2016
Carrie Weintraub
Fulbright Fellow - The Global Security Research Programme

Rubio is now running on the momentum that he may be the only Republican candidate who can unite the party and activate the base, as opposed to the right-wing Cruz or outlandish Trump.

With 99% of votes reported, the Iowa caucuses have favored Ted Cruz for the Republicans and have Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in a deadlock. The caucuses have also furthered the campaigns of Donald Trump and Marco Rubio, but have caused an end to the Presidential dreams of Democrat Martin O'Malley and Republican Mike Huckabee.

The most recent polls conducted during the last week of January predicted a Trump win over Cruz in the Republican Iowa caucuses, with Trump up by almost five points. However, Republican voters across Iowa have made their voices heard for Ted Cruz, who won the caucuses 28% over Trump's 24%. Coming in third was Rubio with 23% of the vote.

In the long term, this may tell us something about Trump's viability as an actual candidate. Despite Trump's character and unscripted, off-the-cuff remarks, perhaps voters have realized that while the television personality and real-estate mogul is entertaining to watch, he doesn't resonate with their thoughts of a President that can be a diplomatic leader. Trump is now off to New Hampshire where current polls show he has a strong lead over Cruz of more than 20 points. But as shown by Iowa, Cruz and Rubio may be able to try and close that gap.

Rubio's impressive showing will also propel his campaign into the upcoming primaries. According to entrance polls from the Iowa caucuses, 27% of voters who were undecided just before the caucuses chose to support Rubio and those who decided in the few days before also backed Rubio at 31%. More tellingly, among those that said that the candidate quality that mattered most to them was whether the candidate could win in November, Rubio was clearly favored at 43% over Trump's 25% and Cruz' 22%. While Rubio's polling for New Hampshire has him trailing not only behind Trump and Cruz but Kasich and Bush, his strong support in Iowa may help prove the polls wrong. Rubio is now running on the momentum that he may be the only Republican candidate who can unite the party and activate the base, as opposed to the right-wing Cruz or outlandish Trump.

The most telling sign of Iowa though is how well Sanders has done in a neck and neck race with Clinton. To many Americans, Sanders is considered too far left as a "socialist” candidate, a term that doesn't resonate well with the American public. But Sanders has proven that among Democrats, his support is not to be underestimated. Clinton and Sanders are virtually tied with 99.94% reporting, with Clinton showing a delegate strength of 49.9% and Sanders closely behind at 49.5%. They have almost split the Democrats 44 delegates evenly, with Clinton claiming 23 and Sanders claiming 21. In the entrance polls too, Clinton and Sanders appeared to be evenly split in many categories, but strong differences were seen when voters were asked which candidate quality matters most. Hillary was strongly supported by those who said that the candidate quality was the ability to "win in November” and a candidate who "has the right experience”. Bernie was strongly favored by those who chose "cares about people like me” and "honest and trustworthy.”

These results aren't necessarily surprising given that Clinton's strategy has been to highlight her hands-on experience vis-à-vis Bernie's voting record. This tactic has done her well, as those that said "has the right experience” favored Clinton by 88%. But Clinton's strong support may come under threat as Sanders catches up. The fact that Bernie is clearly seen as the "honest” candidate may be a problem for the Clinton campaign. The damage that her emails have caused her, coupled with her appearance as being scripted when she speaks to voters, may cause some democrats to lean toward Sanders if they feel they can trust him more. Sanders has a large lead over Clinton in the polls in New Hampshire, but Clinton is leading strongly in South Carolina. How far the "Feel the Bern” momentum will carry Sanders will be shown in the upcoming primaries and caucuses, where Bernie has proven he has a fighting chance.

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

Texts reflect the opinions of the individual authors