Iowa caucus: Important as ever?

On February 1, 2016, the presidential primaries start with the Iowa caucus.


1. I tend to believe that Iowa caucus is probably less important in primaries as in the past. What’s your view?

2. But anyway who really need to score in Iowa from Dems and GOP, and why?


Justin Holmes, Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Northern Iowa

1. I don’t really have any reason to think that (with caveat below) Iowa might be less important this year than in the past. The caveat – Iowa and New Hampshire function differently than they did before say the early 90s. Back then, there was more time to the next primary, so if a surprise candidate won one or the the other, he could generate fundraising and media attention and build momentum. Now, the calendar is more compressed, so a candidate doesn’t have much time to do this any more. But, the early primaries still matter. They aren’t so good at picking winners, but they are pretty good at chasing losers out of the race. In 2008 Obama won here (last time we had a contested Dem primary) but in 2008 and 2012, the Republican Iowa winner fizzled out. But, in both of those, you saw a number of the longshot candidates quit right after finishing in the back of the pack. I suspect that O’Malley will be out shortly, and I suspect there will be 5-7 Republicans quitting the race after Iowa and New Hampshire

2. For the Dems, Iowa is probably equally important for Clinton and Sanders, for basically the same reason. If Sanders wins, it could make him look like a real contender and help him build support. For Clinton, a Sanders win makes her look weak, and could hurt. The caveat here is the same as above: the timeframe is short. Additionally, while Sanders is doing well here and especially NH, he trails Clinton pretty seriously in the national numbers, so any effect might not be enough to change the race.

On the Republican side, there is more room for an impact. Like I said above, this will end a bunch of campaigns. I’m Some of the long shots may hold on for a while, but not much longer.

The highest stakes are for Trump, Cruz, and Rubio. For Rubio, this is the chance to cement himself as the top “mainstream” candidate. For Cruz, it is the chance to dent trump. Stakes are highest for trump though, in a couple ways. If he loses, this tarnishes his brand a bit. His whole campaign is based on him being a winner, and if he loses… Second, even if he wins, the shift in dynamics could hurt. Many polls have asked voters who their second choice is, and almost nobody’s second choice is Trump. As other candidates quit the race, then, they won’t be flocking to him but to his opponents. If they were to consolidate around Cruz or Rubio, that could give Trump problems.

Donna Hoffman, Associate Professor, Department Head, Department of Political Science, University of Northern Iowa

1. Iowa is important and that has not changed in this cycle. However, it is also key to understand that Iowa is only one state, and the nomination process is state based. Iowa has influence but it doesn’t pick a party’s nominee. Because Iowa is the first state in the process, it gets a large amount of attention from candidates and the media. A candidate skips it at his or her peril; if a candidate were to skip the state, for example, he or she cedes several news cycles after the caucuses to those who did participate. Iowa typically does narrow down the field (that is, we expect several people to drop out of the race after Iowa registers its results).

2. One doesn’t have to win Iowa to be perceived as successful coming out of the caucuses. Expectations are important, so perhaps the winner doesn’t win by as large a margin as was expected. The candidate placing second may be seen as having the momentum going into New Hampshire. Or, take this example: Donald Trump is expected to do well; were he to finish in third place that would be as big of a story as whoever won.

David Redlawsk, Professor of Political Science & Director,  Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

1. I believe it will be very important this year. For the Democrats it will either strengthen Bernie Sanders’ insurgent campaign against Hillary Clinton (if he wins) or will start Clinton on her way to the nomination. For the Republicans, while it probably will not settle who is going to win, it will cut down the field as the candidates who do the worst start dropping out. This is what Iowa usually does.

2. Trump has said he needs to win, and I agree with that. Anything other than a win is a challenge to his “brand” as a winner. Jeb Bush needs to avoid coming in very far behind, and Marco Rubio also needs to give a strong showing, though not necessarily to win. For Ted Cruz, winning would be ideal, but even coming in second to Trump will make his campaign stronger, if the result is close.

For the Democrats, Hillary Clinton has to win to avoid a media narrative that says it is 2008 all over again. Bernie Sanders does not have to win, but if he comes in second, he must keep it close.

Steffen SchmidtUniversity Professor of Political Science, Iowa State University

1. Let me start by telling you Hillary Clinton has spent half of her campaign money on media in Iowa. The other on her NY headquarters. If Iowa is less important why? If she loses in Iowa the psychological blow will be terrible for someone who was ahead by 70%. BUT Clinton can come on second and be just fine. Remember you must come in 1, 2 or 3 in Iowa ever since 1976 Jimmy Carter no one coming in fourth of below has gotten the nomination.

2. Cruz and Trump need to win Iowa. Also Sanders. The reason is they lose momentum and questions will be asked why they came in fourth.


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