Iowa caucus: scholars around the globe react

Hillary Clinton takes a selfie with supporters in front of a US Secret Service agent. Reuters/Rick Wilking

U.K.: A race wide open

Inderjeet Parmar, City University London

The headline here in London is that even in third place, Marco Rubio has truly made his mark; while Donald Trump came in second, he simply failed to win big as he predicted. In terms of delegates to the nominating convention, Ted Cruz is to be allotted eight while Rubio and Trump each receive seven – a tiny proportion of the overall total. So the race for the Republican nomination remains wide open.

On the Democratic side, Clinton appears to have eked out only the narrowest of margins over “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders. She may perhaps breathe a sigh of relief given that Sanders is widely favored to win the New Hampshire primary: her nightmare of beginning with two losses in a row has not materialized.

The U.K. is also taking note that antiestablishment feeling in the U.S. is running every bit as high as anticipated. Cruz railed against the media and Washington establishment in his victory speech.

Sanders put it this way:

Given the enormous crises facing our country, it is just too late for establishment politics and establishment economics.

But Iowa’s importance should not be overestimated. It’s only had pride of place since 1972, when the Democrats chose it as the place to begin their primary season. In 1976, the state passed a law to ensure that it would always be the first state to vote in the primaries. That year, Jimmy Carter won the caucuses, the nomination and the White House – and so the myth was born.

A myth it remains. Since 1972, Iowa has chosen eight candidates who went on to be their party’s presidential nominee (five Democrats and three Republicans), but only three presidents won seriously contested caucuses there: Carter, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.

Australia: Rubio takes some key counties

Bryan Cranston, Swinburne University

Iowa is leading the news in Australia. Although Cruz won, the result is being billed here as a “Massive blow to Trump”, “Trumped: Cruz wins Iowa” and “Blood in the water for Trump”.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio is receiving positive press – his third placing “making him easily the leader among establishment candidates”. But it must be said that the mainstream candidates – John Kasich, Jeb Bush and Chris Christie – all but ignored Iowa in order to focus on next week’s New Hampshire primary.

Although the Democrats also held their caucus today, the focus in Australia is on Cruz and Trump, with only passing acknowledgment of Clinton’s narrow win over Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side.

In Australia, the biggest losers from Iowa appear to be Ben Carson, Rand Paul and Rick Santorum, whose poor showings have led them to quell talk of their withdrawal from the race. Santorum, the winner in 2012, received just one percent of the vote this time around.

Oh, and Jim Gilmore. The former Virginia governor finished last with just 12 votes across the entire state.

Does any of this really matter now? Not really. But a closer examination of the results does something rather interesting. Scott County, perhaps Iowa’s most evangelically conservative county, supported Rubio, ahead of Trump and Cruz. This may indicate that Rubio is about to become the standard-bearer for religious conservatives, despite Cruz’s targeted outreach to the party’s religious base.

And in Polk – Iowa’s most populous county – Clinton was a clear winner, and Rubio again beat Cruz.

Despite Cruz garnering the press for winning the Iowa caucus, the real story of the day could well be Rubio.

U.S.: What’s so surprising about Iowa?

Andra Gillespie, Emory University

The narrative of surprise dominates the post-Iowa headlines in the U.S.

Pundits expressed surprise that Cruz won and Donald Trump lost, that Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are essentially tied, and that Marco Rubio came in third place.

However, only the margins are truly surprising. In many ways, yesterday’s results affirm conventional wisdom.

There is no denying that Donald Trump is a force of nature. He has demonstrated a knack for earning free media and for drawing attention towards him and away from his competitors. But the lesson of Iowa is that old fashioned field organization still matters more.

Over the years, Iowans have come to expect presidential candidates – or volunteers representing them – to make personal appeals to voters. Convention holds that the candidates with the best field operations have the greatest likelihood of victory.

Cruz had an organized and publicized field operation in Iowa. That field operation was part of the reason pundits generally thought that Cruz was a contender in Iowa, and it should not have come as a surprise that his ground game helped him win in the end.

Second, we have to come to grips with how we use polls in the U.S. There has been a lot of hand wringing about the accuracy and overuse of polls generally and in this election cycle particularly. Donald Trump has rationalized every inflammatory statement he has made by pointing to his lead in the polls. The media justify their wall-to-wall coverage of Trump based on polling results.

I hope Iowa teaches us how to interpret polls correctly and understand their limitations.

There is a tendency in the media to not consider the full confidence interval when determining whether a race is tied or has a clear leader. Often, those polls had margins of error between 3.5 and 7 points. That means the leading candidate would have to be ahead by a margin of between 7 and 14 percentage points for the race to not be considered statistically tied.

Of the seven most recent Iowa Republican primary polls archived by Real Clear Politics, five showed Trump’s lead was within the true margin of error. This suggested that Cruz had the potential to win, so why the big surprise?

The same goes for the Democratic caucus results. All but two of those recent polls depicted the gap between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders as being within the margin of error.

News consumers should be more discerning about what polls tell us. Margins of error exist for a reason; we cannot expect to make perfect predictions about final vote tallies, especially with small sample sizes. Above all, we should understand that polls reflect the attitudes of the time in which they were taken.

People can, and often do, change their minds. There’s nothing surprising about that.

France: Identity has become a major bias

Marie-Cécile Naves, Audencia Nantes)

In France, we see Cruz’s victory in the Iowa caucuses as an expression of American conservatism. He represents an evangelist, patriarchal, white conception of the U.S.

Perhaps more than ever, identity has become a major focus of the contemporary GOP. Many Republicans seem reluctant to acknowledge inevitable demographic, ethnic and religious change. The question for November becomes: How can Cruz convince minorities and women to vote for him, especially when Hillary Clinton (and Bernie Sanders, though to a lesser extent) has deliberately chosen to talk about racial discrimination and racism?

Marco Rubio is last night’s other winner. Now that Jeb Bush seems to be totally out of the running, Rubio is the mainstream candidate the Republican party is bound to support. His positions on immigration and education, notably, will appeal to fiscal conservatives. During 2014 midterm election, the Republican establishment succeeded in neutralizing radical – especially Tea Party – candidates, which paved the way for a victory in the Senate. During this election cycle, while they are likely to get rid of Trump, Cruz may be a big problem for them.

As for the Democrats, Clinton remains the favorite despite her tight victory in Iowa. During the caucuses, Sanders benefited from a national wave of popularity, notably from the youth and people who are done with politicians from the establishment. Going forward, the race will become more difficult for him as Clinton tailors her proposals to draw in young voters.