There’s no doubting stakes are high for candidates in both parties in the Iowa caucus, but as Wilson sees it, they’re highest for Bernie Sanders supporters and anyone-but-Trump Republicans.
“If Sanders is able to win Iowa, then he could become a bigger movement, but if he does not win Iowa, then the expected New Hampshire win starts to look like more of a home-field anomaly and the air starts to come out of his balloon,” Wilson said. “If he wants to be more than a novelty, Iowa is a big night for him.”
The Republican race took an unexpected turn when Donald Trump’s biggest challenger turned out to be Ted Cruz, a politician Wilson says is reviled by many of his Republican colleagues. Rivals attacked Cruz persistently at Thursday’s debate, potentially turning Monday’s question from “who wins Iowa” to “who finishes second?”
“If Marco Rubio moves past Cruz to second place, that becomes a big story,” Wilson says. “That would show some coalescing of the conventional republican establishment behind one candidate.”
If the unexpected happens and Trump loses Iowa, Wilson says it could deal a tremendous blow to the real estate mogul, whose campaign has been all about, “An aura of momentum, confidence and impending victory.”
Wilson is an SMU associate professor of Political Science who can discuss:
- religion and politics
- political psychology
- voting behavior of religious voters
- public opinion and politics
For months, Trump has held a significant lead in national polls of Republican voters, says Voth, but only a slim lead – if any – in Iowa. With New Hampshire leaning heavily Trump, Voth says an Iowa win for the reality TV star could shakeup the Republican field in a big way.
“If Trump wins the Iowa caucus, it will put a lot of pressure on the larger Republican field to begin dropping out,” Voth says. “It appears likely that some measure of a two-man race will emerge between Cruz and Trump. Additional Republican candidates may begin considering throwing their support to either Cruz or Trump to influence future outcomes.”
On the Democratic side of the race, Sanders’ popularity among college students could boost him the same way it boosted President Barack Obama in 2008.
“This would be important because Sanders is widely expected to win the next primary in New Hampshire, partly due to its proximity to his home state of Vermont and its more similar electoral community,” Voth says. “Remember, 2012 was a surprising year that produced Santorum as a winner. The Iowa caucus is difficult to predict.”
Voth is SMU’s director of debate and an associate professor of corporate communications and public affairs who can discuss:
- debate prep
- debate strategy
- comparisons between this debate season and the 2012 election’s debate season
The question analysts have been asking themselves for weeks, says Engel, is whether or not Trump’s supporters will stand by their candidate in Iowa’s system of caucuses, where voters must look their neighbors in the eye and say they’re not changing their mind about who they’re going to support. In the caucus system, Engel says, the person an Iowan shows up to vote for might not be the candidate they end up supporting at the end of the night.
The caucus result, Engel expects, will surprise many.
“I think Trump will do better than expected,” Engel says. “People who show up to support him are highly unlikely to change their opinion, while the people who show up to support Cruz and Rubio are largely looking for someone to oppose Trump, which means they’re more likely to change their minds about which of the other candidates they’ll vote for.”
Engel explained he believed support for Trump’s rivals is wide, but not deep, while support for the real estate mogul is remarkably deep – but that doesn’t mean the race is over.
“If Trump manages to sweep Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, he might steamroll to the end, but he still might not arrive with enough votes to avoid a brokered convention,” Engel says. “At this point, we either see a Trump runaway, or a brokered convention, and I bet we get the brokered convention.”
Engel is director of the SMU Center for Presidential History who can discuss:
- comparison’s to past presidential races
- foreign policy
- presidential rhetoric
For most of January, no Republican has threatened Trump’s lead in Iowa more than Cruz. The irony of this strong position, says Martin, is that a Trump win in Iowa would damage Cruz more than any other Republican rival.
“If Cruz doesn’t win Iowa, he’ll remain in the race through South Carolina, but that’s as far as he’ll be able to go,” Martin says. “He has no establishment support. He has less establishment support than Trump. He won’t be able to last past South Carolina because he’ll run out of money.”
Martin added that a Trump win in Iowa would signal Trump has won a wide swath of the evangelical vote, which Cruz has built his campaign upon, thus denying Cruz the base he needs to survive.
Martin is an SMU assistant professor of Communication Studies in the Meadows School of the Arts who can discuss:
- economic messages in political campaigns