US Politics: Iowa is less a bellwether, more a driver – The Democratic presidential primaries kicked off yesterday with the Iowa Caucus, the results of which we still do not know at the time of writing due to apparent ‘inconsistencies’ in the count. Despite the state’s miniscule size (population: 3.1m) and the small number of delegates up for grabs – just 41 of a total 3,979 – the race does matter, but less because Iowa is representative of the country at large (it isn’t), and more because the outcome tends to have an outsized impact on the bigger races that follow. This happens via a number of channels – first, because of the media attention which can propel relative unknowns to the national stage (as happened for instance with Obama in 2008), and second, because a poor performance in Iowa of a given candidate discourages donors and activists. Once started, these trends become self-reinforcing, driving a ‘winnowing’ (or narrowing down) of candidates as the less viable ones drop out.
Indeed, historically, candidates who come first in Iowa – and/or in next week’s New Hampshire primary – usually go on to win the nomination. A glaring exception to this was Bill Clinton in 1992, and this year’s race could also prove to be less predictable given the differing strategies (for instance, Michael Bloomberg skipping Iowa/New Hampshire to focus on Super Tuesday) and the volatile opinion polling in the race so far. The irregularities in the Iowa Caucus vote count could also dent the impact of anyone claiming victory in the state. With that said, the vote is clearly already having some impact on the race even without official results, as reports that Joe Biden performed poorly have led to a sharp decline in his betting market probability of winning the nomination, with corresponding gains for Sanders, Buttigieg and Bloomberg. The next key events to watch are the primaries in New Hampshire (11 February; 24 delegates), Nevada (22 February; 36 delegates), and South Carolina (29 February; 54 delegates), with Super Tuesday taking place on 3 March (1,344 delegates). (Bill Diviney)