Battle for the Democratic Party Nomination after the Iowa Caucuses and New Hampshire Primary
14 FEB 2020 Spotlight
On 3 and 11 February in Iowa and New Hampshire, respectively, the first two of 57 Democratic Party contests for the presidential nomination took place. Pete Buttigieg was the unexpected winner in Iowa while in New Hampshire, Bernie Sanders won. The early favourite in the nomination race, Joe Biden, came in fourth and fifth, respectively. His poor start will make it difficult for him to continue his campaign, largely focused on the confrontation with Donald Trump.
Photo: Reuters Photo: Reuters

What is the significance of the Iowa and New Hampshire results?

These states represent the first official ballots in the presidential campaign and attract voter interest from across the country. They are interpreted as the first assessments of the candidates’ effectiveness in reaching the electorate with their message and the contests affect the preferences of voters in subsequent votes. Although they do not determine who will be nominated, these votes generally indicate which candidates are unlikely to continue much farther. A total of 65 of the 1,990 delegates necessary to win the Democratic Party’s nomination were at a stake in the two states. For Buttigieg and Sanders, in addition to winning one of the contests, they came in second in the other, garnering 23 and 21 delegates, respectively.

Who are Buttigieg and Sanders?

Buttigieg is the 38-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Indiana (2012-2020). He has no experience at the federal level and has centrist voter support, although he also supports leftist ideas such as raising the minimum wage and publicly funded healthcare. His views, however, are far from the proposals of the “progressive” candidates such as Sanders, who aim to cancel student debt, ban private health insurance, and enact a strong federal housing programme. Sanders, who describes himself as a democratic socialist, is a 78-year-old independent senator from Vermont who caucuses with the Democratic Party in the Senate. In 2016, he lost the Democratic nomination to Hillary Clinton. Sanders has been a member of Congress since 1991, first in the House of Representatives until 2007, and then in the Senate.

What are the candidates’ chances of winning the party’s nomination?

The next contests will take place in Nevada (caucus, 22 February) and South Carolina (primary, 29 February). Buttigieg’s and Sanders’ high polling gives them a strong starting position in the upcoming contests. Senator Elizabeth Warren won 18% of the votes in Iowa and eight delegates, but only 9.2% in New Hampshire, resulting in no delegates. Senator Amy Klobuchar, another centrist candidate, did better than the polls indicated, winning seven delegates in New Hampshire. Similar results in Nevada and South Carolina will allow her to compete with the rest of the candidates. Biden won 15.8% of the vote in Iowa (six delegates), but in New Hampshire, his 8.4% did not gain him a single delegate. Mike Bloomberg, who began his campaign relatively late, has not tried to compete in the early contests; instead, he will debut in 15 state contests on “Super Tuesday”, 3 March.

What are the expectations of the Democratic Party electorate?

The results so far show that voters are betting on changes in the Democratic Party, irrespective of whether they are considering more leftist ideals (Sanders) or more centrist proposals regarding, for example, healthcare or education (Buttigieg). For voters in the next states, the results of the previous voting and the effectiveness of the candidates in presenting concepts relevant to the particular state will be important (e.g., economic policy to provide new jobs). In this context, foreign policy or administration-level experience do not significantly affect voters’ preferences. Biden’s poor results in the first votes do not result from doubts as to his chances to defeat Trump, rather the perception of him by a large group of Democratic voters in those states as a candidate who does not meet their expectations.