Election 2020

Iowa Caucus Disaster Hurt Bernie Sanders, Might Have 'Screwed up the Whole Nomination Process,' Analysis Finds

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Because of the predictive nature of the Iowa caucuses when it comes to the Democratic nomination, Monday night’s Iowa caucus fiasco will have a significant impact on the rest of the race, and a particularly negative one for Bernie Sanders, according to analysis from Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight. The Iowa caucus has predicted the Democratic nominee 70 percent of the time. The media coverage resulting from a victory there influences future primaries so much that, according to Silver, the Iowa caucus is “the second most-important date on the calendar this year, trailing only Super Tuesday.”

But Iowa was perhaps most important to Bernie Sanders. The socialist senator from Vermont appeared to go into Iowa with momentum and, based on FiveThirtyEight’s predictive models, has lost the most from the debacle Monday night, while Joe Biden was the only candidate who gained from it. “The presence of Iowa was helpful to Bernie Sanders, whose chances of winning a national delegate majority would have been 24 percent without Iowa — as compared to the 31 percent chance that he had with Iowa, as of Monday afternoon,” Silver explains. “Iowa was hurtful to Joe Biden, however, whose chances of a delegate majority would have been 50 percent without it, rather than 43 percent with it.”

The Iowa Democratic Party’s colossal screw-up in reporting results will potentially have direct effects on the outcome of the nomination process. The failure to report results will almost certainly help Biden, assuming that indications that he performed poorly in Iowa are correct, as they won’t get nearly as much media coverage. And they’ll hurt whichever candidate wins the state — most likely Sanders or Buttigieg.

The Iowa caucuses often result in underperforming candidates deciding to drop out. However, that natural weeding out of candidates will ultimately be delayed. According to Silver, “Delaying the winnowing process would tangibly increase the chance of a contested convention.” There is almost no silver lining for the Democratic Party, either. “It’s already too late for the damage to be entirely undone, even if Iowa eventually gets its act together,” says Silver.


Matt Margolis is the author of Trumping Obama: How President Trump Saved Us From Barack Obama’s Legacy and the bestselling book The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis