On Tuesday, Iowans will caucus in the first Democratic presidential primary event of 2020. The field remains large, with Senator Bernie Sanders leading followed by Pete Buttigieg and former Vice President Joe Biden.
Richard Bensel, professor of government at Cornell University, is an expert on American political development and sectionalism. He predicts that Joe Biden will win Iowa, in part because the Iowa Caucuses structure encourages voters to switch candidate preferences.
“Predicting the outcome of the Iowa Caucuses is extremely difficult for several reasons. In part, because the rules encourage movement between preferences, at least at the margin. Since a candidate must draw the support of at least 15% of those in the caucus room in order to proceed to the next round in delegate selection, people who are supporting candidates who fail to reach that threshold will be encouraged to give their support to a candidate who had met that threshold. Many voters, for example, might shift because they want to prevent another candidate from having the largest number of votes in a caucus. The impact of that kind of behavior cannot be predicted in advance.
“Despite all that uncertainty, I predict that Joe Biden will win the Iowa caucuses for two primary reasons. First, he will be among the top two candidates (the other being Bernie Sanders) in terms of the number of voters attending the caucuses, meeting the 15% threshold in most caucuses. Second, I expect that many Warren and Sanders supporters will, if their own candidate does not meet the threshold, shift to Biden because they will be more interested in stopping the other ‘progressive’ candidate than in supporting someone who shares their policy preferences.
“The hostility between Warren and Sanders supporters might be overstated in the media but, if it isn’t, it will have consequences. On the other hand, Biden should easily draw support from Buttigieg and Klobuchar in rooms where the latter are not viable. In fact, there are some signs that the Biden and Klobuchar camps are negotiating a mutual ‘cooperation’ pact that would enable the transfer of support both ways, although Biden would be the clear beneficiary of such an arrangement.”
Elizabeth Sanders, professor of government at Cornell University who studies American political development, says that this primary season is round two in the struggle for the soul of the Democratic Party.
“Bernie Sanders has triggered a monumental backlash from Democratic Party financial elites – the people who backed Hillary Clinton. First, we had Clinton’s attack in the last two weeks, which provoked strong opposition in Sanders’s ranks. Now, the huge expenditures to fund attack ads against him in Iowa and elsewhere.
“This is a very interesting intra-party clash between the neoliberal elites who have dominated the Democratic Party since 1992, and who were able to overwhelm, by hook or crook, the Sanders challenge of 2015-16.
“This is the second round of the struggle for the soul of the Democratic Party. This primary confrontation will have a big impact on the ideological future of the (once but not forever) ‘left’ party in the United States.”
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