The first in the country Iowa Caucus is set to take place in just a few weeks.
For Republicans, there’s a clear front-runner who is set to win most, if not 100 percent, of the total delegates up for grabs. President Donald Trump faces a nominal opposition from a few GOP challengers, but for the most part it’s a foregone conclusion that the incumbent president will win a very high percentage of Republican voters on caucus night.
For Democrats, it’s an entirely different story — and the outcome of the Iowa Caucus could set up the narrative for the rest of the party’s nomination process.
— Hollie Russon Gilman (@hrgilman) January 16, 2020
A CBS News/YouGov poll from earlier this month shows an incredibly tight race. Sen. Bernie Sanders, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and former Vice President Joe Biden are all tied in the race, with 23 percent of the vote each. Sen. Elizabeth Warren is not far behind, with 16 percent support, according to the poll.
Those rankings and percentages matter, because Iowa’s caucus system allows for voters to change their votes after a first round is completed. Candidates that don’t meet a 15 percent voter threshold are told to choose a more viable candidate, which alters the alignment considerably.
That means the four names mentioned above will be vying with one another, in the next round (or rounds) of the caucuses across the state, for the remaining 15 percent of the electorate, if the CBS News/YouGov poll numbers hold up.
Of course, the Iowa Caucus isn’t until February, and there’s plenty of time (relatively speaking) for voters to change their preferences before then.
Interestingly, the Iowa Caucus will, for the first time ever, allow for the first-round “raw votes” to published so that candidates will know how they fared before the final tally is calculated (after voters realign themselves). That differs from the past, when only the final votes would be published.
Candidates who got under that first-round threshold would end up with zero percent of the votes in the final tally. But now with the raw numbers being released, they can see how well they did, and whether they should keep going on in the nominating process.
This is particularly advantageous for candidates like Michael Bloomberg, whose strategy involves waiting until Super Tuesday to help him win the nomination. But it poses a problem, too: it will create two separate election results for the same election.
A situation could happen where the top candidate in the raw voting stage may not be the top candidate in the final delegates divvied out, after voters realign themselves. For example, hypothetically Biden could win 25 percent of the vote in the first round, with Sanders winning 23 percent.
But in the final round, after voters realign themselves, Sanders could win the caucuses overall, and thus more delegates than Biden, surpassing his 25 percent vote with something higher if more of the realigned voters pick the Vermont senator in subsequent balloting.
News agencies will have to choose how to report on this, and undoubtedly campaigns will distort their own performance numbers against one another. There could be two candidates who both claim to be winners as a result.
With polling showing four candidates — Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren — within five points of each other in Iowa, last night's debate offered candidates their last, best shot at separating themselves from the pack. https://t.co/2C4gs1W7sL
— Autostraddle (@autostraddle) January 16, 2020
But as far as the 2020 campaign goes, in the long run, this is probably going to be just the first of many odd aspects to come. In truth, the Iowa Caucus will not likely be the final decider or “instant kingmaker” that it’s been in the past. The eventual Democratic nominee, whoever it ends up being, will likely have to go through many more nomination contests before securing themselves as the crowned challenger to Trump.