Several hours still remain for Iowa voters to make their voices heard in the first caucus of the 2016 election season. Already newspapers, political pundits and everyday citizens alike are speculating as to who will win and what effects this early voting state will have on the campaign landscape moving forward. As Iowa has been the first state to hold a caucus each election year since 1972, it is often viewed as an indication for which candidates have gathered enough support to continue on and which ought to consider closing up their campaign headquarters. For those of us who are still in denial that any American could consider Donald Trump a viable or reputable candidate, tonight’s results could be a rude awakening: polls showed him leading Cruz (the second highest candidate) by seven points in Iowa just yesterday. And, as they wait for election results to come in, long time Hillary Clinton supporters are anxious that the Democratic nomination might slip away from her once again, as they are forced to consider that, in Iowa, Clinton has quickly lost her once solid lead as Bernie Sanders has spiked in popularity. As of January 31, polls show her leading Sanders by only three points.
However, in no way does the Iowa caucus predict who will eventually win the party nomination on either side. In fact, on the Republican side, Iowa has only accurately predicted who would be the party nominee three times since 1976 (not including uncontested incumbent races). While the Democratic voters have done a better job predicting their party nominee – all but twice since 1976 – the population of Iowa is so homogenous and relatively small that this has to be taken with a grain of salt. The Iowan population is not representative of the American citizenry as a whole, so the caucus’s results do not definitively predict how the rest of the American citizens will vote. Iowa is not, in other words, a small microcosm of the United States who’s vote will be matched on a larger scale. With a little over 3,000,000 people, 92.1 percent of whom are white, it is clear that many states – most states in fact – will have a wider range of backgrounds represented in the voting booths in the upcoming weeks.
So how will the Iowa caucus – and other early voting primaries in New Hampshire and South Caroline – effect the election cycle moving forward? Primarily, they will indicate which candidates have enough support to continue running and which candidates will soon drop out of the race. This, in turn, affects the number of votes that the front running candidates will receive. As Nate Silvers of FiveThirtyEight found, 28 percent of Iowan voters support candidates other than the three front-runners – Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. If the Iowan caucus were later in the election season, these people would likely have to choose which front-runner candidate to vote for, as precedent leads us to believe that the trailing candidates will soon withdraw from the race. Needless to say, when 28 percent of the population must pick a new candidate to support, the polls will reflect a substantial shift in public opinion, and might dramatically affect which candidate is considered the front-runner.
As results begin to come in later tonight (caucuses, unlike primaries, do not have a set ‘end’ time), we will learn whether or not the weeks of polling in Iowa resulted in accurate predictions. More importantly, we will likely see the Republican pool of candidates shrink dramatically – which will impact how remaining candidates on both sides continue with their campaign strategies. If you weren’t interested in the 2016 presidential primaries before, now is a good time to tune in. Things are about to get even more interesting.