What if Bernie loses Iowa? (hint…not much)

Screen Shot 2016-01-31 at 1.08.51 PMPolling and results in early races are fun to watch, but they predict very little. While it’s interesting that no candidate has lost the nomination after winning both Iowa and New Hampshire, that doesn’t mean it’s scientifically proven that winning Iowa and New Hampshire ensures a party nomination. Correlation is not causation. It will signal momentum, and provide a candidate more leverage to fundraise, but it won’t automatically provide them the nomination. They will still have plenty of time to screw things up, or seal the deal. It’s up to them.

Reporting on horse race aspects of politics, by its very nature obscures policy conversations that we desperately need to have. To paraphrase the movie Barfly, it’s fine that horse race politics are reported on, I just feel better when they’re not around. One of the giants of horse race reporting, Gallup, seems to have come to the same conclusion and decided to stop doing horse race polls in 2016. Instead they’re focusing on more qualitative reporting like candidate favorability and voter engagement — matters that really tell the story of American experience. Good for them.

Everyone wants to know what happens if Bernie Sanders wins both Iowa and New Hampshire. Is he a shoe-in for the nomination? Or, what if Bernie Sanders loses Iowa? Is he done for? 

The fact that we’re even talking about this in terms of Bernie Sanders is shocking, because just a year ago it was inconceivable that anyone but Hillary Clinton would be calling the shots in the early primaries. So let’s look at this.

Sanders is polling so far ahead of Clinton in New Hampshire that it’s difficult to imagine he’d lose that state. So, he’s going to win at least one of the early states. New Hampshire is his, and while Clinton won this state by a wide margin in 2008, the establishment media has reported that Sanders is only winning the Granite State because of his proximity as a Vermonter. This makes little sense, though, because New York is nearly as close as Vermont, as Clinton should benefit from her history campaigning there.

Could it not be that Sanders campaign makes strides in these early states because his strengths as a campaigner are highlighted in these intimate settings? Likewise, do these intimate settings focus attention on Clinton’s weaknesses? In other words, are there qualitative differences between the campaigns that are being missed in the focus on the horse race? I say yes, there are.

In Iowa the candidates are polling neck and neck. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Not even close. The fact that Sanders has closed the gap in Iowa is stunning. If Clinton pulls out a win it likely going to be a squeaker. At this point, if Sanders loses Iowa by a 2-3 points, that’s not a big deal. He’s proven that he can move large numbers people in a short period of time. If he wins it’s going to be YUUUUUUUGE.

But, like I said…correlation is not causation. There will still be plenty of work to do, and plenty of ways to win or lose the nomination. On to Nevada and South Carolina.


Brook Hines is a writer, photographer, activist and former alt-weekly publisher, as well as an award-winning advertising creative with more than 20 years’ experience crafting strategy for clients ranging from healthcare companies to museums. She’s the Senior Political Correspondent for Progressive News Network (tune this Sunday at 7 pm or download the podcast anytime), and the Communications Chair for the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida. All opinions offered here are her own, delivered from the perspective of social theory, cultural criticism, and near constant stream of caffeine. Political and media analysis through a Progressive lens. Read all of Brook’s articles here. Check out brookhines.com

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