As the 2016 presidential race officially begins, both party contests are in a place that we, and many others, did not expect them to be. On the Democratic side, frontrunner Hillary Clinton faces a stern challenge from a stronger-than-expected foe, Bernie Sanders. And the Republicans could be on the verge of nominating Donald Trump. Still, no votes have been cast. Pulling down the curtain on a contest yet to begin is both premature and foolish.That's a nice and interesting analysis, although perhaps overthinking the issue with regard to Donald Trump.
Here’s how we’re looking at Iowa right now on both sides.
With just a few days to go before the Monday caucuses, we believe Clinton is decently positioned to survive Iowa. Momentum and excitement appear to be more on Sanders’ side, but he may be over-reliant on a base of supporters that are not well distributed throughout the state and a bit less likely to turn out at the level he needs, as we explain further below. If despite all this, Clinton still comes up short, let’s not forget that Iowa’s Democratic activists are overwhelmingly white and somewhat more liberal than in many other states where Clinton will be favored due to strong minority backing. So a Clinton loss here is far from fatal.
For the Republicans, the late momentum (at least as this is written) appears to be Donald Trump’s, and he has built a modest edge in the kickoff contest. The GOP’s leadership, faced with a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea (Trump and Ted Cruz) from their establishment perspective, seem to favor the flexible Republican Trump over the ideologue Cruz, at least for now. We still have questions about Trump’s ability to get his supporters to caucus locations on Monday, but if he can jump that hurdle, he may only grow in strength in the state contests to come.
As we know from previous elections, polls in Iowa routinely miss the mark, and late surges can produce unexpected results. Both party electorates are still in flux, and we can only offer our best guesses about the situation 100 hours before Iowa votes, and in advance of a potentially important Fox News Republican debate on Thursday night — a debate that Trump apparently has decided to skip.
It’s unclear what effects this might have on the race. Trump’s absence (assuming there isn’t a last-minute reentry) diminishes the importance of the final pre-Iowa debate, removes Trump as the on-stage target for seven opponents (all of whom would be shooting bullets at the frontrunner), makes Trump even more the center of attention, and provides an alternative event for his followers to watch and other networks to cover in order to poach audience from the debate. So perhaps it’s another Trump master stroke — unless Iowans feel dissed by the maneuver or think Trump’s behavior signals instability that doesn’t match the demands of the Oval Office. Marginal changes in voter attitudes can easily have a decisive impact on the very competitive Iowa battle.
In any event, the overall Iowa picture, as best we can determine it...
I expect Donald Trump to win on the basis of momentum, which might have been slowed a little by last night's debate diss, but not much. The ground game's going to be decisive, and on that I have no clue, as I've said before. Ted Cruz looked a little musty at the debate last night, from what I've seen of it on video. And he may have been trying too hard to stand out in the crowd minus the big guy Trump. In any case, as noted, I trust the polls. Trump's been consistently ahead in Iowa for a least two weeks. I would discount those seeing double-digit leads, but those with large single-digit leads have been numerous. Recall yesterday's poll out from WSJ and Marist, which had Trump at 32 to 25 percent over Cruz, which seems like a relative margin that's been pretty stable in various surveys. They could always be wrong, but then that'd be a systemic and industry-level crisis problem in polling. I hope it doesn't come to that.
As for Hillary Clinton, she's sweating but I expect she'll still win. I don't pay as much attention to the Democrat race, though. So we'll see. We'll see.
More at the Crystal Ball, in any case.