By Yigit Topcu
Until Monday, opinion polls were the only indicator of how each candidate was doing in the 2016 race. For a number of different reasons, political polls can be misleading, which makes the results of the Iowa caucasus all the more important: they are the first real measurements of where each candidate stands.
Ted Cruz has become the Republican frontrunner, while Hillary Clinton took a victory over Bernie Sanders. What the final numbers were for each candidate, however, tells a story.
The Republican race is currently coming down to Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and Marco Rubio. Cruz won with 27 percent of the vote, Trump came in second with 24, and Rubio came in third place with a surprisingly strong turnout of 23 percent.
Iowa is politically known for its population of evangelical voters, which Cruz seems to have successfully swayed with his brand of religious and social conservatism. Trump, on the other hand, whose religious credentials have been in question for some time, seems to have lost with this crucial segment of voters.
Trump’s decision last week of skipping the last Iowa debate may also have backfired.
The race between the two frontrunners will no doubt continue to heat up, but the strong third place finish of Marco Rubio places the Florida senator in a unique position. In a race dominated by outsiders and anti-establishment candidates, Rubio is the first mainstream establishment Republican politician to get this far ahead.
Marco Rubio presents himself as someone who can unite conservative voters. He also believes, as the son of an immigrant family, that he can win some of the Latino vote, a demographic which has become increasingly important in elections. More mainstream Republicans fear that Trump and Cruz’s tough stances on immigration will discourage these voters from supporting the GOP.
Rubio’s appeal to Republicans as someone who can win a general election by gathering a wide range of voters is an important campaign advantage in this election, particularly with how the race has gone so far for the Republican party.
On the Democratic side, the race has come down to Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, as Martin O’Malley suspended his campaign after a low turnout. Hillary Clinton won by a very narrow margin, 49.9 percent to Sanders’s 49.6 percent.
Iowa in 2008 was a setback for Hillary Clinton, who back then was also seen as the inevitable candidate of her party. She lost Iowa by coming in at a demoralizing third place with 29.5 percent, while Barack Obama won the state with 37.6 percent.
While the 2008 results seemingly predicted her defeat to the party’s eventual nominee, the 2016 results are more ambiguous about where this race will go.
So far it indicates that Clinton has a very small lead over Sanders. In a state which by and large rejected Clinton in 2008, a victory, however narrow, is no doubt a major boost for the Clinton campaign.
As for Bernie Sanders, while he has lost the state of Iowa, his strong display and challenge to Clinton’s campaign is no small achievement. Sanders’s campaign was scoffed at and dismissed for much of its early days, yet the once-long shot candidate was only .3% short of the frontrunner.
The simple truth that such a dismissed candidate can come this close to the presumed nominee, is perhaps something of a victory for the Sanders campaign as well. Of course not as good as an actual victory, but it’s not just a matter of “looking at the glass half full” – such a close margin is politically significant. Losing by .3% in a race which was once joked to be a coronation legitimizes Sanders’s campaign as a realistic challenge to Clinton, a position which they will no doubt attempt to build upon.