Can Bernie and Buttigieg Keep Leading the Pack?

GSPM’s Todd Belt analyzes what the results of the Democratic contests in New Hampshire and Iowa mean going forward.

Election Coverage 2020
February 13, 2020

By Tatyana Hopkins

The second contest in the Democratic presidential nominating process concluded this week in New Hampshire, following a chaotic kick-off to the election season with the Iowa caucuses.

Both contests have traditionally played a major role in determining who is a legitimate contender in the race.

Todd Belt, Graduate School of Political Management professor and director of its political management program, shared his thoughts with GW Today following the first two Democratic contests of the 2020 presidential election cycle.

Q: With a record number of Democratic candidates, will these events—the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary—be able to narrow the field as they historically have in the past?

A: They already have. Several candidates have already dropped out

However, they have not winnowed out the top-tier candidates as they usually do because the field is so big and many of the top-tier candidates believe that they have upcoming states that they think they can win and generate momentum.

Q: What happened to former frontrunners, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and former Vice President Joe Biden? 

A: This is a really good question.  It seems as though Ms. Warren peaked a little early and people and the media are focused on the next new thing. She also hurt herself with how she handled the issue of Medicare for All, which came off as backtracking if not convoluted. 

Mr. Biden is more difficult to explain. It seems as though the Democratic primary voters don't think he's the best candidate to defeat President Donald Trump, as he likes to say.

Q: Given that Iowa and New Hampshire are less diverse and smaller than most states, how likely is it that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg maintain their new frontrunner status?

A: They will have to broaden their appeal to minority voters. To date they haven't. They don't have much time to do it, and it could look like pandering to many voters.

Q: Given the state of polls in 2016, which incorrectly predicted a win for Hillary Clinton, can we trust polls going into the 2020 election cycle? 

A: This is not completely true. In all but a few cases, the most recent state polls in the 2016 swing states predicted the vote outcome within the poll's margin of error. The problem was, it was a very close election—especially in three states— and statewide polls generally have larger margins of error than national polls due to sample size. 

Still, polling is an inexact science, and the winds of political change can shift before polls can catch up.  

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