Now What? Chronicling the 2016 Presidential Election


By Matt Bennett, Senior Vice President, Washington D.C. Practice Lead

If you thought the Iowa caucuses would provide answers in the most confounding presidential election in generations…well, let’s see if New Hampshire can help sort this out.

On the Republican side, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) won a clear victory, with 27 percent of the vote, after a closing week of tough attacks from his rivals. Donald Trump, long the leader in the polls and the media coverage, finished second. The consensus “beat expectations candidate” was Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), who came in third with a higher than expected 23 percent.

Democratic front runner former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appears to have won by the narrowest of margins over Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), 49.9 percent to 49.6 percent. This virtual tie demonstrates Sanders’ stronger than anticipated support and the tough but still highly likely road to the nomination for Clinton.

So what does it all mean? First, we have a long way to go. While we all want clear, early indications about who the nominees will be, we often do not find complete answers in Iowa. But the hype continues unabated and in the rush to analyze, interpret and over-react, we get some great and confounding perspectives from the media:

  • Politico said that Cruz, “eked out an impressive 28 to 24 percent win.” Can you eke and be impressive at the same time? Apparently!
  • National Journal professed in a headline, “Clinton Declares Victory Prematurely,” but then noted in the article that, “Tellingly, when Clinton took the stage in person at 11:30 p.m., she didn’t explicitly declare victory.”
  • NBC News organized one of its stories with the clear subheadings of, “Why Clinton’s apparent win feels more like a loss” and “But that doesn’t mean that Sanders’ apparent loss is a win.” Got that?
  • The New York Times Twitter feed posted subsequent Tweets that might be best described as covering all their bases:

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We have to remember that covering political campaigns has become a race to opine. The wall-to-wall coverage by the cable networks, the plethora of websites and blogs offering daily, if not hourly, viewpoints runs from astute to amusing to annoying in the span of minutes. And all perspectives are jammed into the small period of time when events are occurring, leaving the reader more confused than ever.

While the Iowa caucuses dominate the national political conversation, an important fact must be considered when covering and analyzing the results. Iowa is a tiny slice of the American electorate. According to returns so far, 357,904 votes were cast in the caucuses. That is 15.7 percent of the nearly 2.3 million eligible voters in the state. And compare that to the 129,085,410 votes cast in the 2012 general election. The Washington Post does a good analysis of just how small the Iowa caucus electorate is.

So we find ourselves overwhelmed by opinions about the actions of a fraction of voters. And we wait breathlessly to repeat this scene next week in New Hampshire. And Nevada. And South Carolina…

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Going forward, Racepoint Global will be tracking the interesting aspects of the campaign that go beyond the voting results and help us understand the deeper conversations happening across the country. Watch this space for regular updates.

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