Iowa Results: What They Do Not Mean

by Troy M. Olson


Disclaimer! The following will have some harsh truths for U.S. millennials.

Earlier in the week I talked about what the Iowa results mean, and previewed what they don’t mean. I do not take pride in the following observations, but must go forward anyway. I hope I’m wrong, but here it goes.

What the Iowa results do not mean:

That Bernie Sanders should be considered the favorite and/or that Hillary Clinton is in trouble.

Bernie Sanders is still very much the underdog (and should relish that role) even after Iowa, and will continue to be after his clear victory in the upcoming New Hampshire primary. The delegate tie and Bernie outperforming (what are often wildly inaccurate primary polls to begin with) his poll numbers does not fundamentally change the race. For the month of January, Bernie has pulled in 5 million more dollars than Clinton, and he has pulled to within 2 points (it was 31 in December) in one poll released since Monday.  There is no denying Bernie has had a good week and will have another good one following New Hampshire.

I’ve seen plenty of joy and jubilation, especially from my favorite American generation since my grandparents, the Millennial generation, on various social media sites. What I am also seeing is plenty of generational and other demographic splits occurring within the Democratic Party. Which leads me to the first key reason why Bernie still has no more than a 5 percent chance of being the Democratic Party nominee: demographics.

The Bernie coalition is not the Obama coalition. Rather, it is the Obama coalition minus non-white Democratic Primary voters. President Obama was not leading among African-American voters in the lead up to Iowa in 2007-08. The difference though, Obama wins by eight points in Iowa and has many voters who were considering or favorable toward him, come on over from Hillary’s side after the clear victory on January 3, 2008, which proved Obama’s electability. I do not believe Bernie has had this breakthrough among Democrats, yet.

Bernie has injected some important issues into the campaign. For instance, probably the most important issue of our time, economic inequality. However, Hillary has also been talking about that issue the entire campaign, diluting Bernie’s ownership over it. While Obama had the Iraq War vote that worked to his advantage, especially with younger voters, Bernie has not talked about foreign policy nearly as often as Obama did in ’08. More important, too many voters have unfortunately put the foreign policy misstep that was the Iraq War out of their mind and into the dustbin of history. This another unfortunate weakness to his candidacy. He has been right on nearly every foreign policy issue of our time, while Hillary has often been wrong. However, his focus on economic issues and the growing uncertainly in the minds of middle and working class voters over their futures, have put foreign policy discussions to the back burner in comparison.

Bernie simply cannot be the nominee with huge margins of under-40 white people. His demographic diversity will need to expand if he is to have any chance. With his current voter demographic profile, his three best states are Vermont, New Hampshire, and Iowa. It is incredibly easy to write-off victories in his home state, its more moderate twin NH, and a gentlemen’s tie in Iowa.

His financial advantage lately will help him compete with Hillary’s universal name recognition in large states like New York, California, Illinois, or mid-range states with big media markets like Minnesota, Colorado, etc. However, Obama was able to capitalize and two things that Bernie does not have going for him in 2016. One, the two David’s (Plouffe and Axelrod) do not work for Bernie, and two, he is positioned as the “angry” candidate in the race and Americans historically go with the more “optimistic” candidate. Not saying Hillary has cornered the “optimistic” candidate angle either, she hasn’t. Marco Rubio has a good chance to be that candidate though.

In addition, the primary calendar favors Hillary, not Bernie at their current voter makeup. In 2008, as long as Obama survived Super Tuesday, he was well positioned to take a significant delegate lead. In 2016, Bernie has very few states that could give him enough delegates to survive the SEC-heavy Super Tuesday states. Even in states like CO and MN, caucus states where organization gives you a heavy advantage, polling (albeit inaccurate and two weeks old) has given Clinton sizable leads. One could argue Bernie has already made up that ground and can win both CO and MN, and other small to mid sized caucus states, but he doesn’t need to just win those states, he needs to win by a landslide. Remember, this is a delegate race. The Obama campaign knew that early on, and Hillary’s campaign was lead by cynical pollster, Mark Penn in 2008, who prioritized the “inevitability” narrative. While her inner circle hasn’t learned all the lessons from their 2008 primary defeat, they have learned enough lessons. The 2016 Hillary organization on the ground is considerably better, and there have been nearly zero super delegate or establishment defections from her camp. While Obama was not winning in super delegates at this stage in the race eight years ago, he had at least some of them won over. He was acceptable to a large number of establishment Democrats. The “establishment line” toward Obama in 2008 was “wait your turn.” The line toward Sanders in 2016 is “use your indoor voice.”

That Donald Trump is done. 

As long as Trump holds onto his lead and wins the NH Primary, he is still very much in the race because of his near-universal name recognition. Name recognition, or name ID, is the universal rule of political campaigning. Above even party ID, because name ID accounts for primary as well as general election campaigns. People are more likely to support people they know or people they think they know. Those in the public or quasi-public figures are already known. Trump is definitely a celebrity candidate. However, Ronald Reagan, Al Franken, and others before him prove that this can be largely to your benefit, especially if you prime the waters with your political opinions in public long before you enter the political fray.

Like Sanders on the left, Trump has successfully positioned himself as the “angry” candidate, which has become more and more palatable on the right over the years. Unlike Sanders however, his “anger” is fueled by cultural and social hysteria more than economic concerns, although economic reasons may very well contribute to the feelings of his supporters. Sanders’ anger his been decidedly economic and class-based, reminiscent of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s attacks on “economic royalists.” Trump’s campaign has been utterly devoid of substance on the issues, lacks a vision for where the country is supposed to go and how it gets there, and has been mostly filled with insults of other people and candidates, boasting of his poll numbers, critiques of the country as a whole, and appeals to the lowest common denominator typically found in the comment section. Once again, I think this lack of substance would only matter on the left, where a certain amount of hope, optimistic, and vision is always required in an ideal Presidential candidate. On the right, in an age where book-burners are controlling more and more territory that the GOP establishment used to claim as their own, anything is still possible. As mentioned in the previous post, Rubio should now be considered the favorite, but do not count Trump out for good. A solid win in NH or a win period, could change things. Keep in mind that Trump probably wins (although still underperforms slightly) if he doesn’t pull the “no-show at the debate” stunt.

And finally, the number one thing the Iowa results do not mean…

That the establishment of both parties, and therefore the Washington D.C. to Wall Street nexus is in trouble.

As of today, Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio are the favorites to match up in the General Election in 2016. In a time when so much digital ink is spilled showcasing how much anger their is directed toward the establishment, they are still very much winning, and are likely to win in 2016.

If any party’s establishment is cracking a bit, it’s on the GOP side. On the Democratic side, DWS is party chair, Chuck Schumer is scheduled to be permanent minority leader, and the DCCC has no viable plan to gain seats back in Congress or rebuild state parties. Someone who has spoke a lot about party-building on the stump is Hillary Clinton. However, it does not get more establishment than her. The difficult task in the years to come for a rebuilding Democratic Party will reconciling the Boomer establishment with the ascendent and numerous, but still relatively powerless Millennials and Generation X. If the quasi-generational battle between the Millennial candidate, Bernie Sanders, and the Boomer establishment candidate, Hillary Clinton is any indication, this is still the Baby Boomers party. Unlike GOP, which is under-going that generational leadership transition as we speak, and doing so in an era where only the White House stands between them and complete power of all levels and branches of Government in the United States.

This is why I cannot reconcile what I see as happening in the near-future with the in-fighting and irrational enthusiasm and shilling of either the Bernie-Millennials or the Hillary-Boomers. The Democratic Party is in deep, deep trouble. And the folks at “Agreeing Loudly,” like most Millennials, are powerless to stop it.

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