Here are 3 early thoughts on the Iowa Caucuses. Perhaps the last of its kind.

Whatever you think, no one saw this coming.

At the time of writing (09.00 Iowa time), there are no results in the Iowa Caucuses some 14 hours after they began. Due to the new rules, agreed to by all candidates, this year’s Caucuses were always going to be more complicated than normal, but this is unprecedented.

Multiple metrics of ‘success’ including state delegate equivalents, first alignment, second alignment, then final pledged delegates coupled with ‘softer wins’, like flipping Trump precincts could also complicate the picture. Something compounded by the still large field, where the performance of at least five or six candidates were going to be influential in the final outcome.

But the problem no one saw stems from an app called Shadow, designed to make data collection more efficient and accurate. On Caucus night though, a number of precincts ‘reported major problems in attempting to download the application and upload the results’. Local Democrats resorted to calling into the state party, causing even more delay. Some, live on air with Wolf Blitzer. So we are here: no results.

Whatever you thought twenty-hours ago, no one predicted this.

This doesn’t exactly look great, so naturally twitter is full of conspiracy. The exact details of what happened and why will need to be seriously look at, quickly, but effectively. Here are three early thoughts on its impact for the rest of the race:

It’s all part of a wider trend anyway, this just might speed up the process. Historically candidates who are flagging can use Iowa as the first proper measurement of their popularity. They might secretly hope for an over-performance, but in reality use it to confirm their instincts — that they will not win the nomination (cough Michael Bennett). Having said that, the aforementioned multiple criteria of ‘success’ model this year means that, baring a total implosion, it is unlikely any candidate would have dropped-out before New Hampshire anyway.

Moreover, several recent results haven’t significantly moved the needle in a race, either. HRC/Bernie, Trump/Cruz/Rubio, Santorum/Romney. So, while this looks bad, Iowa’s importance is on a downward trend. I acknowledge New Hampshire is now perhaps more important that normal, but I am left wondering whether this will have any material difference to the nomination.

It might be losing its influence, but a media bounce is still important, right? If Bernie is the winner, as it looks like he will be, then, sure, he would have ridden those front pages all the way to New Hampshire. Similarly, he would have liked the stories of Biden looking like he won’t even come in the top three. But…

  1. His bounce would have been minimal anyway as there was a growing expectation Bernie would win. A bounce is more pronounced if expectations are low. He already has the media’s attention and doesn’t exactly need help with fundraising, either.
  2. Conventional print media is less impactful and candidates are less reliant on it to gain positive coverage. Word of mouth does the job and by all accounts Bernie had a successful night. But, incidentally, I’d advise caution from his team’s public appearances.
  3. Remember, this is fundamentally a nice problem for him to have. He only has the problem because he ‘won’ in the first place.

Having said all that, it doesn’t look great. This was the first opportunity for people to get quantifiable feedback from a campaign already well over a year old. It is also the first opportunity for the Democrat party to show the rest of the country — if not the world — what they’re about this cycle. It is, as I have argued before, still one of the most sacrosanct institutions in American politics. A unmitigated display of incompetence, whether human or technology based, is not good. This is the party wanting voters to trust it enough to let it run the country, and it can’t even run a mobile app.

It gives off a real ‘useful idiot’ vibe to Trump, Putin, and other adversaries who we know are working to target our elections. Hey, they might think, if they can mess it up this badly by themselves, imagine what would happen if we gave them a helping hand?

In the immediate void, candidates were keen to set their own narratives, which has led to Pete (erroneously and foolishly, imo) declaring himself ‘victorious’.

Statements like that are grossly irresponsible. They are fake news. They undermine the important work of volunteers and activists whose work is now necessarily slower in lieu of the original technology.

In the heat of the moment, Democrats of all factions would be wise to remember one thing: Nothing is rigged. That is what Donald Trump wants people to believe and will use it to deligitimise the eventual nominee.

Just before the Iowa Caucuses, party unity was central to conversations, let’s keep it that way.

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Writing on US politics from across the pond. Occasional comments in the build up to the 2020 election week. Views rarely my own. Especially the funny ones.

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