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What Really Happened In Iowa?! The Myths And The Takeaways
7 years
Stream: News Feed
Publication: Pressimus Post
Trump Is The White Supremacist's Candidate, And He's Now Favored To Win Iowa

I've already read lots of terrible analysis of last night's Iowa Caucus written by "professional journalists," and even worse analysis written on social media, so I had to chime in on what actually happened in Iowa and what we can expect to happen in New Hampshire.

Let's start with the myths.

Myth #1 - Ted Cruz "Upset" Donald Trump"

Somewhere, political pundits who have never heard of Des Moines before last night are writing about how everyone thought Trump would win Iowa and he was crushed by Cruz who came out of nowhere. In fact, the opposite is true. Cruz has been polling very well in Iowa for weeks, and even before that period of time the best political pundits expected Cruz to do very well in Iowa.

Why? It comes down to style, religion, and an established ground game. Ted Cruz has experience campaigning for George W. Bush in Iowa, but more importantly he is a well-know advocate for all of the things Iowa voters respect -- he's vocally evangelical and fiercely independent. Like Rick Santorum who won Iowa in 2012 and Mike Huckabee who won in 2008, Cruz strikes all the right chords there.

Trump, on the other hand, has had to convince people that he is religious, defended Planned Parenthood recently, and is thought by some to really be pro-choice.  No political pundits who understand these elections would have guessed, without looking at the polls, that Trump was in the lead. 

But wasn't Trump in the lead the whole time in the polls? Sure, but as I've been writing, pundits always expected that to change. When Cruz closed ground in the polls (in many polls he was within the margin of error) many expected that Donald Trump could lose Iowa. 

Myth #2 - So Ted Cruz is the front runner?

When I talk about bad analysis. this is what I'm talking about.

In 2012, Rick Santorum beat Mitt Romney by a narrow margin and people said Romney's campaign was toast (Ron Paul came in a close third). Nobody remembers this because Romney won 42 states, Santorum won 11, and Paul won one.

In 2008, Mike Huckabee won by 9 percentage points over Romney, with Fred Thompson coming in a distant third, effectively tied with John McCain who easily went on to become the Republican nominee.

When candidates who won Iowa went on to win the nomination it is largely because they were already doing well in the national polls. The evangelical-conservatism seen in people like Santorum and Cruz and Huckabee is a tough sell in large parts of the country, and certainly does not get you far in New Hampshire.

This brings us to the polls -- Ted Cruz is simply not doing that well nationally, nor in New Hampshire,  and few pundits think he could win the nomination. Does that mean it's impossible? No, but Cruz gained in the polls in Iowa while staying the same almost everywhere else. 

Myth #3 - The Polls Were Wrong

No, they weren't. Actually, they were pretty good. RealClearPolitics put Hillary Clinton about 4% above Bernie Sanders with an averaged margin on error of somewhere between 3% and 6%. Pundits and pollsters who understand Iowa were calling that a virtual tie with a slight advantage for Clinton, and that's almost exactly what we got.

A very similar pattern was playing out on the Republican side, but something else happened that's worth discussing.

As my previous analysis here has constantly reminded, traditional thinking has been that undecided voters would break for a more moderate and traditional candidate -- a candidate like Marco Rubio. The polls that came out in the days right before the election showed this for the first time, a quick spike for Rubio. 

Trump Polling Below Cruz, Rubio A Strong 3rd In Early #Iowa Results
As we just reported, Donald Trump is currently polling at a close second in Iowa.  As I have reported, at length, Trump does not need to win Iowa to win the other states, and a Cruz victory does little to push Trump off of the pedestal since Cruz is polling poorly in many other states and is an …

Not only do polls have a margin of error, they are also always taken days before they are released, so quick movement is hard to capture. Rubio did about 6% better than he did in the latest polls, but he had gained about 6% in a week, whereas both Trump and Cruz took large dips in the days before the election.

Rubio's win is significant, as I will get to, but the polls were pretty good. There's a reason, though, that polls don't determine election results. 

Now, let's talk about what really happened.

Most Important Takeaways From Iowa's Caucus

1. Donald Trump has to do well in New Hampshire

I said it before the election, but with decisive leads in every state where there is polling data, Donald Trump did not need to win in Iowa. In fact, it's been the only state where the race has even been close. Many, including me, have stressed that Trump's losing to Cruz in Iowa was a possibility.

But if Trump were to lose in New Hampshire, then he could be in trouble. Other more traditional candidates have better ground games and more endorsements that can easily make up ground if the race is tight enough. If Trump loses two in a row people may begin to doubt that he is a real candidate. The traditional candidates will then do what they do best.

2. If you want Trump and/or Cruz to lose, you need someone else to win New Hampshire

If Trump trounces his opposition in New Hampshire (he's currently up by about 22 points), then that could give him the momentum to win South Carolina as well (he's up 16 points, though Cruz is sure to get a bounce). The reality is that the Trump campaign has been a juggernaut, and if someone wants to stop it then they need to do it soon.

3. The problem with crowded fields

If Ted Cruz wins New Hampshire, or maybe comes in a close second, then he could gain ground in South Carolina -- his next competitive state. But Cruz is polling at a sinking-third place in the Granite State. John Kasich, who could do well in New Hampshire and is currently in second, is basically doing well nowhere else. Marco Rubio, who had a great showing in Iowa, will surely gain momentum, but he's currently in fifth place in New Hampshire.

Since Cruz is not really someone we think of when we think if a New Hampshire voter (really, neither is Rubio but he's closer to the archetype than Cruz) it's probably not realistic to think that he can pick up twenty points there in a week. But with all of the other candidates vying for the same set of votes, it's hard to see who can beat Trump in New Hampshire. Rubio's in fifth there for a reason.

But among the pack of Bush, Kasich, Rubio, Christie, and so on, the reality is that there are both policy and personality differences between all of these candidates that make it unlikely that any of them would quickly adopt the idea of dropping out. There's no sign of a thinner pack going into New Hampshire which is only seven days away, and it's not clear how removing a single one of these candidates could help sort out the field.

In other words, if you think Donald Trump is going to lose, there are plenty of pundits and bet makers who think you are wrong, though Rubio's surge has likely changed the odds a lot.

4. The Democratic race just got real

Going into Iowa the Clinton camp must have realized that Sanders holds a decisive lead in New Hampshire and Iowa was their chance to change that. The narrative now is that Sanders nearly unseated Clinton and her campaign is falling apart (there are plenty of reasons, the argument goes, why she did not win in 2008). Sanders will likely hold his ground in New Hampshire -- it's hard to imagine how Clinton can gain momentum by nearly losing last night. Clinton still owns a good lead in South Carolina that Sanders is unlikely to close, but this could mean that going into Super Tuesday (March 1) Clinton could be extremely vulnerable and her best strategy was to soundly defeat Sanders so that he could be dismissed, much like Trump, as an upstart and not a legitimate candidate. It will be hard to make that argument after his near-victory in Iowa and a resounding triumph in New England.

6. Politics is about ideas, not numbers, and Iowa is unique

Yes, I've just written several hundred words about numbers and stats and polls and probabilities, but I actually hate this aspect of politics. Politics should be about the discussion of ideas, policies that will change the direction of our country, our society, and our world, either for the better or for the worse. Voters may (will) be swayed by momentum because our political system has become like professional sports where people want to pick the winners and losers. It's one of the basest parts of our political system.

Like sports, though, every win feels like inevitability and every loss feels like the end of the world. The reality is that Iowa is not even the first game, but it's more like the first quarter of the first game. What happens in the first quarter could set the tone for the entire rest of the season, though. Momentum exposes the cracks in a team or a candidate, but the best candidates, and the best teams, will react and win the day.

Don't overthink Iowa. The state is simply not representative of the rest of the union. Don't underthink it, either. Sanders looks like a contender and Clinton should be worried, but Clinton is still the favorite to win and Sanders is still the underdog. Trump could have walked away with this election, but now it looks like he'll have to work for it.

The GOP establishment needs to take a serious look at the scoreboard and make decisions about how best to use its players. Eleven candidates are still in this race, but only three, or maybe four, are showing any signs of life. The establishment hates Trump, and Cruz, for good reasons, but they have not yet formed a strategy to take down either one.

No, voters should not treat politics like sports -- it's so much more important than that. But if you're in the business of getting people elected, that's exactly how you should be viewing yesterday's election.

7. I missed #5

And so did you. Politics is unpredictable. If you want a candidate to win, go work to make that happen because anything is possible. But hurry up because the game is already underway.
2016-02-02 15:48:11
Read last night's liveblog for more Iowa news and analysis here: 

Iowa Caucus Liveblog

Cruz Wins #Iowa , Trump In Second, Marco Rubio In A Strong Third According to poll results it looks clear that Ted Cruz will carry Iowa with about a 3.3% lead. Trump will come in second, about a percentage-point-and-a-half above Marco Rubio.

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Feb 02, 2016 20:49 (GMT)
-- James Miller