The results from Iowa are not there yet


The results of the primary elections of the US Democratic Party in Iowa – the first in the country, which start the whole process – have not yet arrived, with a huge delay which is at this moment the biggest news of the evening that should have given the first indications on the competition to choose the person who will challenge President Donald Trump in the elections next November. Although more than three hours have passed since the end of the caucus – the popular consultations with which Iowa citizens express themselves in the primary – the Democratic Party has not yet released any data, not even partial.

The reason for this huge delay is unclear. Electoral committees of candidates say there was a problem with the app that individual polling stations should have used to communicate their caucus data to the party – Joe Biden’s committee filed a complaint about this – but an official statement he said that the problem is not about the app but some inconsistencies between the data that has arrived, and that have yet to be resolved. All the candidates took the floor anyway, in the evening, but the only one who seemed to declare a kind of victory – based on the data of his electoral committee, and therefore putting his face on it – is Pete Buttigieg, who in the hours preceding the vote it was given head-to-head with Bernie Sanders. For the rest, the biggest news coming from Iowa right now is that there is no news.

To understand these difficulties it is necessary to know that the Iowa elections are technically not primary, but caucus: voters do not vote by entering the polling station during the day and putting an X on a ballot sheet in secret, but they confront each other for at least an hour (often more) in an intricate but exciting process: everyone publicly chooses his favorite candidate, and then – after a phase of negotiations and attempts of mutual persuasion – who had chosen a candidate who had obtained less than 15 percent on the first lap in that seat chooses one of the remaining candidates. For this reason, the Democratic Party should have disseminated – and will, at some point, disseminate three different data on the vote of tonight: that on the first choices of the voters, that on the final result and that on the distribution of the delegates (which also depends on the geographical distribution of the vote). Many journalists and experts already claim that this trouble – combined with other similar but minor ones that occurred in 2012 and 2016 – could lead to questioning the choice to vote with this method in the future.

Voting first – as happens for a tradition born quite randomly in the early seventies – gives Iowa great influence on the primary process: it is a small state, which allows even relatively little-known and financed candidates to compete, but the expectation that arises in the months preceding the vote historically provides a certain impetus to those who do well in the caucuses. We must go back to 1992 – with Bill Clinton – to find a candidate for president of the Democratic Party who had not won in Iowa. At the same time, however, one should not think that the population of Iowa is representative of the overall US population. The trouble that happened tonight will probably at least partially disengage this momentum (which could also explain Buttigieg’s decision to declare victory based on the data in his committee’s possession, assuming that they are realistic).

Iowa is a predominantly rural state in the Midwestern United States, with an area similar to that of Greece but populated by just three million inhabitants. Its population is overwhelmingly white. In the presidential election Barack Obama had won in Iowa in both 2008 and 2012, but in 2016 Hillary Clinton had been beaten by Donald Trump, in one of the most exemplary cases of how Trump’s strength between the white and poorly educated electorate moved the political balance of the Midwest. One of the issues most felt by the inhabitants of the state is the condition of the agricultural sector, which has been in great difficulty in recent years by the duties imposed by China in the trade war triggered by the Trump administration.

The primary elections will continue until early June. The next consultations will take place on February 11 in New Hampshire, February 22 in Nevada and February 29 in South Carolina, before the so-called “Super Tuesday” of March 3 which will see many different states voting together, and could give a decisive address to competition.

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