This week, Democrats received a very, very ugly reality check in the run-up to November. Despite the antipathy a large number of Americans have to the President, despite the impeachment push, and despite their takeover of the House in 2018, it failed to translate to the first major poll of 2020 – the Iowa Caucuses.
The major reported result of the Democratic Iowa Caucuses was the botched roll-out of the results. As of Tuesday morning, few confirmed results were leaking. Individual campaigns had to go out Monday night and declare some sort of victory as they moved onward to Iowa. Meanwhile, the same campaigns cherry-picked select precincts they thought they did well in to try and build momentum they were robbed of.
But the bigger story, as of yet picked up on because we do not have confirmed results, is that Democratic turnout might be BELOW 2016 levels (to say nothing of record 2008 turnout a full 12 years ago). If so, it showcases just how hard it will be for Democrats to not only excite their base but also overcome the well-oiled machinery of the incumbent Trump campaign. Again, this is not confirmed, but it is even more notable considering Democrats spent significant chunks of time working on making it easier to participate.
This year, Democrats made significant changes to their process, by having two vote totals released and then the final delegate count. The first “alignment” would be every voter’s first preference. If a voter wanted to leave the Caucus after this alignment their vote would automatically stay with said candidate for the second alignment. The second alignment would be the final alignment and result in the precinct winner (leading to delegate allocation). In addition, this was to be the first year the raw vote totals would ever be released (not to mention at two different stages).
These changes combined with having the actual votes tabulated through an app would theoretically increase turnout through the stratosphere. Instead, it does not seem to have worked. Worse, it might have just cost the state it’s coveted first in the nation voting status and will be the but of jokes for decades to come.
Iowa was hardly a state Democrats were likely to take back in the Trump era. The state actually voted for the President by a higher percentage than Texas did. Additionally, while there were a large number of counties in the state which flipped from Obama to Trump (more than any other state in the nation), the very mix of Democratic candidates is largely designed not to flip them. These counties flipped on issues of economic malaise, cultural disappearance, identity politics and globalization. Every Democratic candidate, including Sanders, has fallen into supporting the very issues which droves these voters to Trump.
More importantly though, Iowa was meant to 1) imbue the winner with a sense of momentum and 2) serve as a test run of the Democratic operation challenging Trump. The former never happened and the latter is in hindsight a laughable notion. Whoever comes out the winner of the Caucuses was just delivered an ominous preview of what November could look like.