The Iowa caucus has never been decisive in a mathematical sense. The 41 delegates that are up for grabs are only a tiny fraction of the 3,979 available for the Democratic nomination. Iowa is not even representative of the entire nation in demographic terms; over 90% of the population there is white, with only 3.4% blacks. Nevertheless, this small state in the Midwest is considered one of the most important stages in the Democratic primaries, second only to Super Tuesday on the 3rd of March, where more than 15 states will cast their votes. The reason for this centrality derives from the excessive media attention that is granted to the state. Since 1972, Iowa has been the first state to vote in the primaries, and therefore has the power to lift a surging candidate or drown a floundering one. Seventy percent of the time, the Democratic candidate who wins Iowa goes on to win the nomination.
For this very reason, the delay in the reporting of the results on Tuesday night created great disappointment among the Democrats. The candidates who did well wanted to rapidly declare victory and make use of the boost created to launch their campaign in New Hampshire, the next state to vote on February 11. But the problems in counting the votes, caused by an archaic voting system made even more difficult by new regulations and malfunctioning technologies, meant that the media bubble that normally accompanies the results of this state burst even before the winner could be determined. At the stroke of midnight on Tuesday, all the online editions of the most important US newspapers were not reporting on the very few preliminary results that emerged from the election campaigns of some candidates, but instead on the terrible organization of the Democratic Party in Iowa.
At the time of this publication, 71% of Iowa’s precincts have reported their results. Former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg leads with 26.8% of the delegates, followed closely by Bernie Sanders with 25.2%. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren ranks third with 18.4%, while former Vice President Joe Biden only finishes fourth with 15.4%. Finally, we find the moderate Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar with 12.6% of the delegates, while all the other candidates obtained 1% or less. Both Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders can therefore wave the winner’s flag, given that the latter won the popular vote, despite finishing second in the race for delegates. In fact, from the map of Iowa we can see how Buttigieg obtained a more diffused consensus, finishing first in 60 out of 99 counties, while Sanders concentrated his winnings in fewer – 18 to be precise – but more populous counties.
But let’s be careful not to be fooled by the celebratory behavior of Pete and Bernie. If it is true that the latter won the popular vote, it is also true that his result is significantly lower than the one obtained in 2016, when he won 49.6% of the delegates. Many of his votes swung over to Buttigieg and Yang, demonstrating that many in 2016 voted for him only because of Hilary Clinton. And while it is true that Pete has won the most delegates, it is also true that in two of the next three traditional early voting states before Super Tuesday – Nevada and South Carolina – he is far behind.
Then there is the precarious situation of former Vice President Joe Biden, who contributes to the chaotic scenario that emerged from the Iowa caucuses. Hitherto considered the undoubted frontrunner, Biden has only obtained 15.4% of the delegates, and an even lower 13.2% of the popular vote. It is true that Joe never considered Iowa to be a decisive state for his race to the White House, and the data relating to the rallies organized in Iowa prove it– only 117 for Biden, well behind Sanders with 138, Buttigieg with 158, and Klobuchar with 191. But despite this, the former Vice President did expect a better result, also given the predominantly white and elderly electorate present in Iowa.
Now the chances of winning the nomination for Biden are all pinned on the vote in New Hampshire, an outcome that cannot be missed if the former Vice President wants to continue to control his fate in these primaries. The same goes for Buttigieg, who must follow up on the excellent result obtained in Iowa by attempting to win in New Hampshire. Such a win could help him get through the inevitable losses that will arrive later in Nevada and South Carolina, where the population is mainly African American and Pete has a very low consensus. Sanders would simply need to establish himself as the only progressive far left candidate, while Warren must hope for a misstep by Bernie, given that she is not seen as a favorite in any of the next early voting states and her run could therefore end up as a disastrous debacle.
Paradoxically, in these primaries with no winners or losers, there could be room for a third candidate who has so far remained in the shadow. This is Mike Bloomberg, who in the late hours of the reporting disaster, has announced that he will double the funds for his television campaigns in all of the states where he is running. However, this will not have an immediate effect in New Hampshire, let alone in Nevada or South Carolina, given that Bloomberg has decided to snub them and focus everything on the states of Super Tuesday.