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Iowa Votes: The Race Is Officially On

A Commentary by Fran Coombs

Monday, February 01, 2016

Democrats and Republicans in Iowa gather this evening to vote, and so begins the formal process for choosing the next president of the United States.

The most recent polling in the state shows Hillary Trump and Donald Trump squeaking out wins in the Iowa caucuses.

As of last Friday, a high of 74% of Likely Republican Voters nationwide believe Trump is likely to be their nominee. That compares to 27% who felt that way last June when the billionaire businessman first announced his candidacy.

Trump’s decision last week to skip the final Republican debate before the caucus doesn’t appear to have done him any harm, as our earlier polling predicted.

Fifty-one percent (51%) of Likely Democratic Voters think Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont is likely to win the Democratic presidential nomination.  That’s up from 23% when he entered the race in May of last year.

Yet despite her highly publicized troubles, 83% of Democrats still think Clinton is likely to be their party’s presidential nominee this year, a finding that has changed very little over the months.  But this includes just 43% who now say it’s Very Likely, the first time this figure has fallen below 50% since last fall.

Only 19% of Democrats nationally, however, buy that Clinton’s campaign is in trouble. Sixty-nine percent (69%) say that is more a perception being created by the media.

While Clinton opponents hold onto to the hope that she will be indicted for sending and receiving classified information on a private e-mail server while serving as secretary of State, just 36% of Democrats think she actually broke the law. Only 15% of voters in her party believe she’s likely to be indicted.

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Now here are some of the intangibles: A blizzard is forecast to begin late tonight in Iowa. Will that have any impact on turnout at the caucuses?

The passion, at least publicly, appears to be on the side of Trump and Sanders, but will those voters – many of them seen as first-timers or voters estranged from the system – make the effort to vote this evening?

Only registered Republicans and Democrats can vote in their respective caucuses, but voters are allowed to change their registration right there at the individual caucus site before going in to participate. Seventeen-year-olds can vote as long as they are 18 by Election Day in November.

Winning the Iowa caucus is by no means an indicator of future success. The last two GOP winners, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, both failed in their bids for the party’s presidential nomination. But the winners in the four presidential election cycles prior to that did win the nomination.

The strength of the conservative and evangelical vote in the state can show unexpected support for a candidate who quickly fades down the road. The strong showings by televangelist Pat Robertson in 1988 and journalist Pat Buchanan in 1996 and the recent wins by Huckabee and Santorum are the best examples of this.

On the Democratic side, every Iowa caucus winner since 1996 has gone on to win the nomination as well.

The New Hampshire primary, a week from tomorrow, is considered a more reliable predictor of future success for Republicans. That’s why some GOP candidates, most notably Ohio Governor John Kasich this year, are all but ignoring Iowa to focus their attention on making a good showing in the Granite State.

Some candidates are likely to quit the race after tonight’s voting if they do as poorly as expected: Huckabee and Santorum are the likeliest Republican casualties. More may drop out after the New Hampshire primary.

Who knows how long former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley will continue his quixotic bid for the Democratic nomination?

Look for more debates and a smaller cast of characters later this week. Let the voting begin.

See Other Political Commentaries.

See Other Commentaries by Fran Coombs.

Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports. Comments about this content should be directed to the author at fran.coombs@rasmussenreports.com.

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