ATLANTA - Every four years, the road to the presidency starts with the Iowa Caucuses. And because a caucus is not as simple as a quick trip to a voting booth, the challenge for candidates and pollsters is to determine who will actually turn out to vote on what is often a snowy evening in Iowa.
Most of the national pollsters flunked this year’s GOP caucus polling. Even the Des Moines Register’s “gold standard” of polling had Donald Trump winning handily and Marco Rubio a very distant third.
The good news for FOX 5 Atlanta is that our polling partner, OpinionSavvy, stood out as the lone major national pollster to show the race much tighter, as many national news organizations are now reporting.
So with arguably the best pollsters to guide FOX 5 viewers through the remaining maze of presidential primaries and caucuses, what can we expect after Ted Cruz’s win in the Republican Iowa contest and the photo-finish between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in the Iowa Democratic caucus?
First, the Republicans. Donald Trump has been leading in the polls in New Hampshire for a fairly long time. The most recent poll in that state shows Trump with 38% of the vote compared to Cruz’s 14%. Why the big difference? Because Christian evangelical voters, who made up a majority of the GOP vote in Iowa, make up a slim portion of the vote in New Hampshire. Those voters pushed Cruz over the top in Iowa but can’t do it alone in New Hampshire.
I expect the next polls in New Hampshire to show Cruz with a bump after his Iowa win, but with Trump still ahead. To knock Trump off, the so-called GOP establishment will have to consolidate their votes behind one candidate. With his strong showing in Iowa, that candidate would seemingly be Marco Rubio. But given the fact that in the most recent New Hampshire poll Rubio is virtually tied for third place with Jeb Bush and John Kasich, it would require Bush and Kasich to stand down and support Rubio in order to build Rubio’s support to a level that could defeat Trump. If that does not happen, expect the battle to proceed to South Carolina’s big primary later this month and on to the so-called “SEC” primaries of March 1, which include Georgia. Only after those contests might we see the race boil down to two candidates, as they head for Florida’s huge “winner-take-all” contest in mid-March.
As for the Democrats, Hillary Clinton is feeling a bit like it is 2008 all over again. She finally was declared the winner in Iowa, but by such a small margin that her “victory” seemed hollow. By most accounts she will lose New Hampshire, which borders on Sanders’ home state of Vermont and where his lead in the polls seems insurmountable. For Clinton, the path to victory would be to carry South Carolina’s primary and then to use the victory as a template for winning the “SEC” states such as Georgia in early March.
One caveat exists for the Democratic candidates. In 2008 South Carolina’s strong African-American vote turned out to catapult Barack Obama towards the nomination. Should either Clinton or Sanders choose a “putative” running mate, that being a person who they pledge to select as their Vice President if nominated, and that candidate is a popular black leader - say former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick - that would be a game changer. We would likely see a candidate who makes such a move start to scoop up huge vote totals in the various southern states, starting with South Carolina, and likely zoom towards the nomination.
We don’t know what issues or tactical moves will bring us the actual nominees for either party. But we will keep a keen eye on it, and with arguably the best polling resources in the nation being right here at FOX 5 Atlanta.