John Owens, Emeritus Professor of United States Government and Politics, Centre for the Study of Democracy, University of Westminster
Once the exit polls showed that evangelical voters (Republicans) were turning out in the Republican caucuses we knew that it would be a good night for Cruz, their favorite, and less good for Trump. Cruz also had the best organization; Trump – for all his bravado – did not. To state the obvious, votes count, poll percentages do not. Now, I think we are much clearer how the Republican contest will develop. Most importantly, there are now only 3 real contenders, although other candidates may win the odd poll or caucus. Huckabee (who won the evangelic vote in Iowa in 2008) has already gone. I would expect Bush, Christie and Paul to bail out soon, and certain after Super Tuesday in March. Note also that traditionally Republican winners in Iowa have not gone on to take their party’s nomination. Trump may win NH but after that the Republican contest moves on to Cruz territory, notably in South Carolina, Alabama, Alaska (notwithstanding Palin), Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Kansas, Kentucky and Louisiana. I would expect all these state to be strong for Cruz, and not for Trump. So, the real question as the contest moves on is whether Rubio, who I think is the real winner on the Republican side in Iowa, can benefit from his breakout in Iowa, capitalize on his new momentum to take NH – and whether or not the so-called Republican establishment and importantly the party’s rich donors will now consolidate support round his candidacy and persuade Bush and other candidates to abandon their campaigns to defeat Cruz, whom they definitely do not want.
On the Democratic side, the big shock of course is that Sanders actually translated his poll numbers into votes giving Clinton an unwanted shock. The criticism of his campaign was that his ground organization was weak. Well, clearly it is not as weak as folks thought. So, misgivings about Clinton among Democrats will remain. And, of course, he should win NH. After that, however, I expect Clinton to regain her dominance, particularly in the southern states where support for Clinton among black voters is very strong. So, as soon as 1 March she could have an unassailable lead. O’Malley, of course, has now abandoned his campaign.
David Smith, Senior Lecturer in American Politics and Foreign Policy, Academic Director, United States Studies Centre, University of Sydney
This was an important victory for Ted Cruz. Iowa is favourable territory to him because of its large population of evangelical Christians. He often led in the polls there, and he devoted many organisational resources to his campaign there — unlike Donald Trump, who ran on the sheer force of his personality. Trump can expect to do better in other states such as New Hampshire, where he has a large poll lead, and campaign organisation is less important. However, Trump has inflicted a blow to Trump’s sense of towering invincibility. This may demoralise Trump’s supporters, who like him in part because he is a seemingly unstoppable “winner”.
We should also take note of Marco Rubio, who came within a couple of percentage points of Trump, while all other “establishment” candidates, including Jeb Bush, lagged in the low single digits. This gives the Rubio campaign great optimism, because it shows that Republicans who want a relatively moderate, electable candidate have decided on him as their antidote to Trump or Cruz. He needs to follow this up with a strong performance in New Hampshire.
The virtual tie between Sanders and Clinton is a huge boost for the Sanders campaign. Like Trump, Sanders has a following made up largely of working-class white Americans who are disillusioned with politics. But the Iowa caucus shows that Sanders, unlike Trump, can actually rely on his supporters to come out to vote for him. This puts him in a good position to win the New Hampshire primary. It is still unlikely that he can beat Hillary Clinton, whose support gets stronger the further South and West you go, and who is widely viewed as the more electable candidate. But if it appears the Republicans would elect someone as extreme as Trump or Cruz as their nominee, Democrats may lose their fear of nominating someone who identifies as a socialist.
Robert Busby, Senior Lecturer in Politics, Liverpool Hope University
The results are in, subject to a review perhaps of some of the tightest races in the state for many elections. After months of campaigning, debating and polling the outcomes of the caucus don’t really make anything particularly clearer. On the Republican side Cruz landed his winning card, to mobilize the vote and to establish himself as the reliable Republican who represented the ideological base of the evangelical right. While Trump did well, his appearance as a Republican perhaps did not have the depth or the longevity of ideological attachment that might bring him the necessary grassroots support. It remains to be seen whether he is viewed as mere entertainment or as a political figure of sufficient stature. Voter mobilization may well be his Achilles heel. But beyond the two who were expected to fight it out for first place the surprise package was Rubio, who finished 3rd with very creditable numbers. Many Republicans know that Trump and Cruz are abrasive and divisive, and there is sufficient doubt in their ability to reach out to voters beyond their core target groups. Rubio therefore become a Republican who might be less dynamic but more electable, and given projections of his likely support in other parts of the country if he can stay in the game in the early races then he may well reap significant long term benefit.
For Hillary the race can at best be called a win, assuming recounts are reliable and the race is not a technical draw, or subject to legal wrangling. Indeed, it would appear that across the long term it is very likely that she will be the Democrat candidate. And yet, the fact that Sanders even came close to winning suggests a weakness in the Clinton candidacy that may cause her long term damage. Younger Democrats appear to be voting for Sanders on the grounds of the economic hardship they face. Would they stick with another Democrat in the long term? Older Democrats are siding with Hillary. It was always assumed that Hillary would run, be nominated and would be the most likely winner of the final 2016 race. But voters don’t like being told what they are going to do in advance of an outcome, and media and ‘establishment’ projections are there to be shot at. As a consequence the result can’t be taken for granted.
And so now to New Hampshire where a primary takes place as opposed to a caucus. This is essence means that Republican and Democrat voters can enter polling booths, vote in private and endorse the candidate of their choice. Trump leads in the polls, so does Sanders, but following Iowa that is now very much subject to review. Finally, some of those of those on low level of voter support have already declared that they are reviewing their participation in the process including Huckabee and O’Malley, so the field will narrow and ever more concentration will be given to the 2 Democrats and 3 Republicans who performed well in Iowa.