Charles Laffiteau's Bigger Picture
Now that voters in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries have finally spoken, do the results of these first contests really indicate who the future presidential nominees of the Republican and Democratic Parties will be? The short answer is ‘no’.
Even though all of the candidates devote vast amounts of time, money and resources to trying to win either or both of these first-in-the-nation polls, the victors often find it difficult to duplicate their success in other states with more demographically diverse populations. In fact, both Iowa and New Hampshire are really more of an indication of what America’s demographics were more than 50 years ago than they are today.
However, the differences don’t just stop with the racial and ethnic makeup. Both Iowa and New Hampshire have lower levels of unemployment and much higher percentages of married couple households than other American states. There are also big differences in the makeup of the Republican and Democratic parties within them as compared to other states. For example, evangelicals comprise more than 65 per cent of Republican voters in Iowa but represent less than 20 of the GOP’s base in New Hampshire.
Given the large percentage of evangelical conservatives that participate in the Iowa caucuses, I was not at all surprised that Ted Cruz finished on top with 27.6 per cent of the votes and eight of Iowa’s 26 delegates. More to the point, Cruz followed the same blueprint President Obama used to upset Hillary Clinton back in 2008; he knew he had an advantage given the large number of Christian conservatives in Iowa, so he ran a vigorous and savvy political campaign focused on getting those voters to the polls. Like Obama, Cruz spent his money on hundreds of campaign workers instead of running large numbers of TV and radio ads.
On the other hand, Donald Trump made the mistake of believing his own press clippings instead of making a level-headed assessment of his chances of winning the Iowa caucuses. Trump chose to ignore the fact that even though McCain and Romney eventually won the Republican nomination, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum had won the Iowa caucuses thanks to evangelical voters. As a result, Trump set up expectations that Iowa’s results would mirror his public opinion polls, which is why he was viewed as a loser when they didn’t.
Given the fact that he had virtually no campaign organisation on the ground in Iowa, Trump actually did exceedingly well to finish with 24.3 per cent of the votes and seven delegates. Trump’s 45,000 votes were also more than any previous Republican candidate had ever received in the Iowa caucuses. Marco Rubio made a late run and finished a close third with over 43,000 votes and seven delegates, but he more effectively made his third place finish look like he was the real winner in Iowa because, unlike Trump, he never said he expected to win.
On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders finished a very close second to Hillary Clinton in Iowa by capturing almost half of the votes and 21 of the state’s 44 Democratic delegates. Given the amount of time, money and effort Clinton had invested there, Sanders was certainly within his rights to claim that his close finish there was almost as good as a win. He should also feel good about his 20-point trouncing of Clinton in the New Hampshire primary a week later. But the real test for Sanders lies in more racially and ethnically diverse states like South Carolina and Nevada. He has to win there if he truly expects to challenge the Clinton machine.
In New Hampshire, Trump handily defeated all of his Republican challengers by capturing over 35 per cent of the GOP vote and 10 of the state’s 17 delegates. Given the more moderate views of Republicans in New Hampshire, it also wasn’t a total surprise that Ohio Governor John Kasich came in second with almost 16 per cent of the vote and three delegates. Because he knew New Hampshire Republicans were more open to his moderate policy prescriptions, Kasich had invested most of his time and money in New Hampshire, hoping that a good finish there would give him a leg up on other moderates like Jeb Bush and Chris Christie.
While Ted Cruz has tried to spin his finish in a virtual third-place tie with Bush and Rubio as a victory of sorts, the truth is he only got 11 per cent of the vote while his more moderate opponents divvied up almost 50 per cent between them. While Cruz will probably claim victory in his home state of Texas on Super Tuesday, I doubt he can win enough delegates in the South to capture the Republican nomination. As it stands today, Trump looks like the favourite.
Charles Laffiteau is a US Republican from Dallas, Texas pursuing a career in public service. He previously lectured on Contemporary US Business & Society at DCU from 2009-2011 and pursued a PhD in Public Policy and Political Economy.