3 Predictions the Pundits Got Really Wrong About Iowa

February 2nd 2016

Dave Fonseca

After months of speculation, the Iowa Caucus produced the first tangible results of the 2016 presidential race. In addition to setting the table for the upcoming primary races in New Hampshire and South Carolina, Monday night’s outcome shows just how unpredictable the electoral process can be.

1. A high voter turnout will favor Donald Trump.

Heading into Monday night, front-runner Donald Trump was pegged as an outsider candidate who was thriving by drawing new voters into the electoral process. The big question surrounding Trump was whether his rabid supporters would actually show up to the polls. Republican insiders told Shane Goldmacher of POLITICO that Sen.Ted Cruz had a chance to surpass Trump, but only if voter turnout was low:

"If Donald Trump brings a surge of fresh caucus-goes to the polls, with 140,000 or more showing up, the billionaire businessman is almost certain to claim the win that polls have predicted."

It turns out, the opposite was true. Iowa Republicans went to the polls in record numbers on Monday night, but they helped Ted Cruz secure the first victory of the primary season.

2. Everybody hates Marco.

To understand why Marco Rubio was so thrilled with his third place finish in Iowa, you have to understand how lowly regarded his campaign had been regarded by conservative outlets. Given the strong base of evangelical voters in Iowa, the conventional wisdom going into Monday night was that Trump and Cruz would both beat Rubio by at least 8-percentage points. Instead, Rubio earned what's being a called a "strong" third place finish, and nearly bested Donald Trump in the process.

Iowa Republican Caucus Results

There were hints that Rubio might fare better than expected in the caucus, but Breitbart's Mike Flynn was eager to deflate the notion that the candidatewas surging into Iowa...

"Like most things with the Rubio campaign, the idea that mainstream Republicans are propelling a late surge for him in Iowa is a nice theory. Again, though, this theory of Rubio crashes on the rocks of reality."

... and Daniel Larison, of the American Conservative, warned that Rubio could be even be heading toward a disastrous fourth place finish.

"Failing to win any of the early contests would be a serious problem for Rubio’s campaign, but it would be even worse if he ends up finishing in fourth or lower in any of these states. While polls have put him at third and second in Iowa and New Hampshire respectively, his weak organization and sporadic campaigning could end up delivering worse results than expected."

Rubio still has a long way to go, but he at least proved that the rumors of his demise were greatly exaggerated.

3. Sanders will replicate Obama's path to victory.

As far back as October, Sen. Bernie Sanders compared himself favorably to Barack Obama and predicted an upset win in Iowa.

“About eight years ago all of the political experts talked about how another Democratic candidate for president just couldn’t win, he was unelectable. Remember that guy? What was his name? Oh, it’s President Obama. Well Iowa, I think we are going to prove the pundits wrong again.”

Obama dominated the youth vote in 2008 and earned what was, to many, a shocking victory. Well, Sanders got the first part right. He crushed it with 17 to 29-year-olds, earning 84 percent of their votes to just 14 percent for Hillary Clinton. The problem is, young voters simply didn’t turn out in high enough numbers to turn the caucus in Sanders' favor, as so many outlets predicted they would. According to early exit poll numbers, 17 to 29-year-olds made up just 18 percent of the vote, down from 22 percent in 2008. Rather than pushing Sanders to a win, youth voters could only rescue him from disaster.

What really hurt Sanders was older voters showing up in force. Voters older than 45 made up 60 percent of caucus voters, and they supported Clinton by a huge margin. According to numbers provided to the Associated Press by Edison Research, 6 in 10 voters between 45 and 64 and 7 in 10 over the age of 65 caucused for Clinton.

The candidates will square-off next in New Hampshire, where they will have the opportunity once again to prove difficult it is to predict what the American voter will do.