The struggle for a clear victory in Iowa Caucus proves futile

Alexander Wolfe | Staff Columnist

The Iowa Caucus has a history of picking winners, but who won?

When I set out to write a piece describing what I saw from the Iowa Caucuses, I expected to write an explanation of why Bernie Sanders’ performance in Iowa was substantial evidence to predict that he would be the eventual nominee of the Democratic Party. To set aside the ridiculous, potentially caucus-ending, technical problems, Iowans may not have picked THE winner, as they have for the Democrats over the past 30 years, but they did pick some of the losers. The weekend before caucusing began on Monday, Biden staffers leaked their concerns to the media, expressing their worry that the former Vice President would finish in first or fourth. Tom Steyer proved money can’t win caucuses, and Elizabeth Warren became the establishment candidate.

This year’s Iowa caucuses were younger than ever before. According to CNN’s entrance polling, 37% of caucus-goers were first time attendees, compared to 44% in 2016, while 17-44 year olds were nearly in equal attendance as 45< caucusers. Iowans polled reported interest in a variety of issues, primarily healthcare (44%) followed by climate change (21%) with foreign policy and income inequality each receiving around 10%. Furthermore, 62% reported greater interest in a candidate’s electability than their policy. What these numbers display is the white bread liberal spread that is the Iowa Democratic Caucuses. Numbers like 44% concerned about healthcare, a representative sample across the age distribution, show the beliefs of old-timers but few first-time attendees.

Sixty percent of Democratic caucus attendees were new in 2008, generating a huge boost for then-Senator Obama’s campaign to help him win the state. Forty-four percent were new in 2016, and now 37% in 2020. Attendance has increased slightly, so the attendance numbers prove that no one in this race is Obama. Perhaps candidate’s messages are muddied by the density of the field or the debate stage attacks, but no candidate seems to be the Democrats’ savior from relative obscurity. Instead, candidates with widespread support battle others with intellectually diverse support. Like Monty Python’s King Arthur must bring together disparate knights to form his court, a Democratic nominee must bring together the fraying strands of the party’s traditional and contemporary voter bases.

Two potential candidates stood above their competitors in this way: Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders. Mayor Pete’s lead with 71% reporting is built upon scattered support throughout Iowa’s college towns, population centers, and farming communities. He took supporters away from Warren, Sanders, Amy Klobuchar and most notably Biden. Bernie on the other hand maintains a 1,000 ballot lead in the popular vote over Mayor Pete. Sanders’ support comes from population centers, evidenced by his popular vote tally, and from a scattering of rural communities. In third place, Warren’s 20% comes exclusively from college towns, comprising a few cities across the state.

Notably absent? Biden and Klobuchar. Receiving 15% and 12% respectively, the two traditional moderates won in scattered suburbs and rural precincts. Yet a look at the current map in Iowa reveals a worrying story for both campaigns. Their key bases of support were robbed by Buttigieg in hundreds of narrow-margin precincts. Throughout the evening, reports continued to confirm the Biden campaign’s worst fears, as he failed to survive the first rounds of caucusing across the state. In many precincts, supporters of Steyer, Biden, Klobuchar, and of course the Yang Gang, were considered the first ‘second choice voters’ by the Warren, Sanders and Buttigieg campaigns. Interviews with wide-eyed Biden supporters across the state featured precinct captains sure of victory, only to be found later in the evening caucusing for Pete or Bernie, like someone wearing a Pitt sweater walking into Fisher.

In short, we’ve learned everything and nothing from these caucuses, perhaps apart from one thing. Just like Arthur’s knights in The Holy Grail, a few candidates are destined for the pit of death for some dumb answers to dumber questions.