From across the pond, the United States’ electoral system always seems to baffle. Many ask, why have such a long-winded process to elect party nominees, lasting over four months with multiple different stages? Regardless of why this may be, the primary and caucus season never fails to live up to expectations, and is an exciting spectacle for all followers of the Presidential cycle.
Monday’s Iowa caucus was no exception. Similarly to last year’s UK General Election, the correlation between polls and the final outcome was weak. Less than three weeks before Iowans began to caucus for their preferred candidate across numerous locations including libraries, schools and town halls, a CNN/ORC poll indicated that long-term frontrunner in the Republican field Donald Trump had an 11% lead over eventual caucus winner, Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Political experts have stated that one of the main reasons for incorrect poll projections leading up to the Iowa caucus was due to pollsters underestimating the significance of evangelicals, who turned out in record numbers to vote for the Canadian-born candidate.
However, the real winner from the caucus was third placed Republican candidate Marco Rubio. His expectations were somewhat low entering Iowa, forecast to finish third behind Trump and Cruz by a significant margin and pose little threat to the two frontrunners. Whilst polls were correct in predicting a bronze-placed finish, Rubio indubitably cemented his place as a genuine contender, almost tying with runner-up Donald Trump. His speech to devoted supporters in Iowa sounded like a victory, and the elated atmosphere in the room will undoubtedly energise supporters approaching the next stop on the campaign trail; New Hampshire. His defiant use of the word when as opposed to if he becomes the Republican nominee suggested that the tides may just be turning in the conservative movement.
On the Democratic side, polls prior to the Iowa caucus envisioned the eventual outcome to a greater degree than that of the Republican caucus. Bernie Sanders came within touching distance of beating former First Lady of the White House and veteran politician, Hillary Clinton. The outcome was so close that six precincts were decided by a coin toss due to the impossibility of winning delegates, as they had an uneven amount. According to media reports, Hillary won all six delegates and this has led to criticism of the Democratic Party using a seemingly undemocratic method to determine the outcome of a democratic caucus.
Whilst we’ve learned not to rely too heavily on the results of polls, Bernie Sanders’ luck may be about to turn around in the New Hampshire Primary. Between 2nd and 4th February, a CNN/WMUR poll gave Sanders a 30% lead over Clinton, a huge turnaround from a poll conducted in June 2015, that placed Clinton 8% above Sanders in New Hampshire. The youth vote is likely to play a pivotal role in New Hampshire, with 87% of 18 to 29 year olds likely to vote for Sanders in comparison to a mere 13% for Clinton, according to a University of Massachusetts-Lowell poll conducted between February 1st and 3rd.
With a record-breaking number of caucus participants in the Republican Iowa Caucus, approximately 182,000 compared to 122,000 in 2012 and a too-close-to-call outcome between Sanders and Clinton in the Democratic Caucus, this year’s presidential race remains the political contest to keep a close eye on in 2016.