Depending on whom you ask, the results of Monday night's Iowa caucuses mean many different things. Hawkeye Republicans cast a record number of ballots, selecting conservative Texas Sen. Ted Cruz as the candidate to ride a wave of Evangelical support to victory. As for the Democratic caucuses, delegate tallies were much closer and more complicated.
For Donald Trump, the Iowa caucuses were the first chance Americans have to cast a vote in his favor, but not enough Iowans took the New York real estate mogul up on that opportunity — at least not enough to award him first place.
Trump's second-place finish, which to many would have been a sign of strength, exposed a weakness in Trump's unconventional campaign: his ground game. Cruz is now in a more competitive position heading into next week's New Hampshire primary, a state where Trump has dominated the polls.
According to William Franko, associate professor of political science, the Iowa and New Hampshire primary contests are less about winning and more about exceeding or falling short of expectations.
"The question then becomes how much influence do Iowa and New Hampshire really have over this process?" Franko said. "One of the more consistent findings researchers have shown is that it's not necessarily winning or losing in these states that is as important as meeting or not meeting expectations."
Cruz captured 28 percent of the vote, Trump took 24 percent and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., finished with 23 percent, according to the Iowa Republican Party. Since 1972, only one candidate has taken the nomination of either party without finishing in the top three in each party's respective contest.
"In the case of Trump, it's not necessarily a bad thing that you lose, but it is when you are expected to win," Franko said. "You've been leading the entire prenomination process, and then you go and lose in Iowa. That might be a bigger deal [for Trump] than somebody like Rubio who actually didn't do terribly, and he exceeded expectations."
For the Republican establishment, the Iowa results offer many in the party a long-awaited opportunity to derail Trump, who maintains extensive leads in almost every other state polled.
Rubio finished in a strong third, setting up a more solidified three-man race and positioning himself as a potential front-runner for the moderate, "establishment" wing of the Republican Party.
"It may be a boost for Cruz, whom maybe people didn't see as a coming into the lead," Franko said.
For former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Iowa was an opportunity to return to the stable she inevitability touted for much of 2015. Clinton narrowly edged out Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., 701-697 in terms of county caucus delegates, capturing 49.8 percent of the votes compared to Sanders' 49.6 percent.
Results from Democratic caucus sites were still being reported early Tuesday morning, Feb. 2 — perhaps the longest anyone has ever waited to hear the results of a Democratic caucus in Iowa. The Associated Press did not choose to report a winner until nearly noon.
The drawn out contest and the .2 percent lead Clinton secured over Sanders were representative of the entire contest — the closest in history.
At least six county caucus delegates were awarded via coin toss, according to the Des Moines Register and the Washington Post. Clinton won all six of the coin tosses. As results were still trickling in Monday night, Iowa Democratic Party officials emailed campaign staffers for both the Sanders and Clinton campaigns to inform them that many county results were still missing.
For Sanders, Iowa was the first opportunity to translate rallies and millennial support into votes. In the majority of polls leading into caucus night, Sanders trailed Clinton by 3-7 percentage points, depending on the poll.
Extremely high voter turnout most likely closed the gap between Clinton and Sanders, as first-time caucus-goers preferred Sanders 59 percent to Clinton's 37 percent, according to entrance and exit polling conducted by CBS News. Voters younger than 30 supported Sanders at a rate of 84 percent, and voters from ages 30-45 supported Sanders at a rate of 58 percent.
Monday night's virtual tie gives Sanders momentum leading into New Hampshire, a primary contest where he has maintained a 20-30 percentage point lead over Clinton for several weeks.
Out of 11 caucuses since 1972, Hawkeye Democrats have predicted the nominee of their party seven times, but with no decisive winner in Iowa, the primary competition will march on.
The Iowa caucuses have been arguably one of the most important primary competitions in the presidential nomination process for more than 40 years.
Many wonder why it matters so much, considering Iowa is one of the most homogenous, caucasian states in the Union and generally doesn't represent the demographics of either party — especially the Democratic Party, according to Ted Becker, professor of political science at Auburn.
More than 92 percent of the Iowan population is Caucasian, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and the state maintains an unemployment rate of less than 4 percent.
“Sometimes it’s accurate, sometimes it isn’t,” Becker said. “It takes too long and costs too much money. It’s so susceptible to big money and hidden agendas.”
Iowa is considered by many as most important simply because it’s first, according to Becker. Iowa’s position affords its voters intense, both welcome and unwelcome, media attention.
“It’s like a focus group,” Becker said. “You’ve got to go in person, stand in a line, and it’s kind of more of a face-to-face community event. It’s kind of an odd system, but it gets the media excited because it gets people enthusiastic about who all the people are running for office, and it sells ads.”
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