A new CBS Battleground Tracker Poll of Iowa revealed that the race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders is a statistical tie, with Sanders leading Clinton 47%-46%.
There is a big gap between the two on who better understands what voters are feeling, and to whom each would listen as president. In Iowa, 91 percent of Democratic voters believe Sanders would pick regular people over big donors. But a majority — 57 percent — of Democrats feel that Hillary Clinton would do what big donors want instead of what regular people want if forced to choose.
The race has seen more critical back-and-forth between the two in recent weeks, and Democratic voters marginally see Clinton’s critiques are the more unfair of the two. Twenty-eight percent of Iowa Democrats feel Clinton’s critiques on Sanders have been unfair, while 16 percent say the same of Sanders’ critiques on Clinton.
Sanders is more widely seen in Iowa and New Hampshire as the candidate who “gets it” — that is, understands how people feel. Eighty-five percent say that of Sanders in Iowa and an enormous 95 percent say that of him in New Hampshire. Sixty-five percent describe Clinton that way in Iowa and 60 percent in New Hampshire — majorities, but nowhere near the numbers Sanders put up.
The presence of Martin O’Malley is hurting Bernie Sanders in Iowa. Much of O’Malley’s 5% of the vote in Iowa would likely move over to Sanders if the former Maryland governor were not in the race.
Popular votes and polling can be especially deceiving in Iowa. On caucus night, delegates will be awarded based on a complicated formula for of allocation in each precinct. Unlike Republicans, Democrats don’t use a vote total, so there will be no popular vote. It is possible that a candidate could have the most popular support but not win the majority of the state’s available delegates. Iowa is not winner take all.
The value of Iowa comes in the form of perception and momentum. If Clinton wins, Iowa can bookend the expected Sanders win in New Hampshire with a win in South Carolina. The Clinton campaign can write off losing New Hampshire to the neighboring state effect and move on.
A Sanders win in Iowa combined with a win in New Hampshire sets the stage for a long primary fight. This is exactly what Hillary Clinton’s campaign is trying to avoid. Back to back Sanders wins open the door to all sorts of possibilities, and none of them are good for Clinton.
Iowa is always important, but the implications for the rest of the 2016 Democratic primary can’t be understated. Bernie Sanders is expected to win in New Hampshire. Hillary Clinton is expected to win South Carolina. The results in Iowa will determine if Clinton rolls to the nomination, or if Democrats will be spending the spring selecting their nominee.
Jason is the managing editor. He is also a White House Press Pool and a Congressional correspondent for PoliticusUSA. Jason has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. His graduate work focused on public policy, with a specialization in social reform movements.
Awards and Professional Memberships
Member of the Society of Professional Journalists and The American Political Science Association