I am predicting Marco Rubio to win with 22% of the vote, followed by Ted Cruz and Donald Trump sharing roughly 18% of the vote. After getting hammered in the last Republican debate and facing a barrage of ads from pro-ethanol groups and the Donald Trump campaign, Cruz has lost momentum going into the caucuses tonight. Though his supporters are typical caucus-going Evangelical voters, I believe some of his would-be supporters will switch to Rubio, who has been making inroads with Evangelicals during his tours of the state. Rubio will also benefit from caucus-goers who show up to support or consider Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, or other more moderate candidates, but realize their vote is better used on Rubio based on other caucus-goers and the speeches offered at the start of the event. Donald Trump has relied on media coverage to propel his campaign, employing a very small field staff who will be unlikely to get his non-traditional supporters out to the caucuses. News of a snow storm certainly won’t help turnout, which the Trump campaign would benefit from.
I am calling Bernie Sanders in the Democratic caucus by a margin of 4%, 52% to 48%, given the energy and enthusiasm I have felt among his supporters. Though this prediction is largely based on anecdotal evidence, Sanders, unlike Trump, has the ground game to bring out voters. Not only are Sanders voters largely concentrated in cities and college towns, he also has a large team of motivated volunteers working to get out the vote. I also think that many O’Malley supporters, like Sanders supporters, are supporting him because he is an alternative to Hillary Clinton. Based on this, as opposed to policy concerns, I believe that when O’Malley supporters are forced to join chose another candidate (a candidate is considered “unviable” if he falls below 15% in a given caucus), most will go to Sanders, giving him an extra three point jump.
In first place I’m going to have to stick with my gut (and more importantly the polls) and go with the Donald. While there is a decent chance a lot of his supporters do not go out to caucus tonight, the enthusiasm and support we have encountered for Trump so far lead me to believe he is still the guy to beat in Iowa. There have also been other polls that show that among likely caucus participants Trump supporters are the most loyal and unwavering. I am going to mix it up in second place where I think that Rubio will overtake Cruz who is currently polling in second. I’m banking on the prediction that Cruz will get hurt by the ads here in Iowa attacking his opposition to ethanol subsidies. Finally I think that establishment Republicans will galvanize around one candidate and Rubio has stood out so far as both Bush and Christie have already moved on to New Hampshire tonight.
For the Democrats, Hillary is still the candidate to beat. She has been the frontrunner since day one and I think she learned from her mistakes eight years ago. There seems to be a decent amount of excitement around her campaign and her support base is much more reliable than that of Sanders. While there is more energy surrounding Sanders I don’t have much faith in his supporters turning out in larger numbers than Clinton’s. O’Malley comes in last. He’s played third fiddle to Clinton and Sanders from the get to and that will not change tonight. Additionally, since O’Malley supporters will have to choose between Sanders and Clinton this will provide a boost to Clinton as she is ideologically closer to O’Malley.
I’m just sticking with the polls. While some pundits have expressed doubt about Trump’s ground game, the throngs of supporters who have attended his events throughout the state seem to indicate otherwise. His supporters aren’t just disengaged citizens; they have a clear willingness to show up for their candidate, waiting for hours in lines to clear through secret service security. Cruz’s weak performance in the recent debate and opposition to ethanol subsidies in a state where corn is one of the top exports will prevent him from winning the state, but his Evangelical base will propel him to second.
On the Democratic side, I think Clinton will eek out a slim victory over Sanders. Although his base has tuned out to his events in throngs, it is still likely that the youth of his supporters will be a disadvantage relative to Clinton’s older voters. It’s unclear whom Martin O’Malley supporters will caucus for after he’s declared non-viable, but it could turn out to be decisive in the race between Sanders and Clinton.