Six Lessons from the 2016 Iowa Caucus

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We keep hearing that 2016 is shaping up to be the most unusual presidential contest in modern times.  Who would have thought one year ago that a billionaire, reality TV and social media star or a back-bench Independent-turned-Democratic-Socialist senator would even be mentioned in the same sentence as “Iowa Caucus?”  But here we are on the day after the first-in-the-nation presidential caucus with six important lessons learned about the state of American politics.

Retail Politics Still Wins

Donald Trump had the potential to turn traditional politics on its head in Iowa, but instead proved that an organized ground game still matters.  The voters of Iowa and New Hampshire, and to a certain extent South Carolina, expect that candidates show up, look them in the eye, gain their trust and earn their vote.  Trump’s brand of politics (what I call the Hollywoodization of politics) — flying in for a couple of massive rallies, tweeting out barbs, skipping the Iowa debate, spending more on hats than field staff — doesn’t turn people out to vote. There were reports on Monday that Trump’s precinct captains didn’t receive basic identified-voter lists to track if their supporters were showing up, and many precincts didn’t have a Trump surrogate identified to give a speech on his behalf on caucus night. Ted Cruz won because he took the time to travel to all 99 counties, shake the hands of voters and identify supporters in every precinct that his organization then turned out. He married traditional retail politics with effective use of new technology, using data analytics to target audiences most interested in his message, continually communicating with them about those issues and making sure they showed up.

Spending Millions on TV is Wasting Millions

For all the energy spent worrying about the influence of super PACs in presidential elections, Jeb Bush proved that the tired tactic of relying on millions of dollars in outside ad spending can’t buy you votes. It is estimated that Bush and his super PAC spent over $14 million on ads in Iowa, and he received less than 3 percent of the vote, which translates to approximately $2,800 per vote.  Money has always had an impact on elections and always will, but campaigns need to be smart about how they spend that money, and saturating a state with TV ads is becoming a thing of the past.  Now that so many Americans — 46 percent of millennials — watch TV on demand and not at scheduled times, and many watch solely online, effective ad campaigns must reach viewers where they are, on the devices they are watching, when they are watching.

Tweeting Alone Doesn’t Get People to Vote

While effective use of social media and manipulation of traditional media might generate enthusiasm, it doesn’t always translate into votes.  Young voters, who use social media the most, voted for Cruz (26%) and Rubio (23%) over Trump (20%).  And Bernie Sanders who said, “What is this Snapshot thing?” overwhelmingly won the youth vote with 84%. Voters want to understand a presidential candidate’s positions on the complicated issues facing our country and that can’t be communicated in 140 characters.

Character Counts

Trust is an important factor. Voters need to know that a candidate believes what they say and that their word is good. The typical pandering to particular voter groups failed in Iowa. Donald Trump’s last minute online ad in which he holds his Bible and says he appreciates the support of “the evangelicals” did not assure voters that he understood their values — he lost to Cruz by 13 points among this large group of voters. Hillary Clinton touting that she started to use Snapchat did not let young voters know that she’ll have their back or understands their concerns about economic inequality. And the conventional wisdom that a candidate has to support ethanol subsidies to win Iowa burned up in the gas tank. Even while the sitting Republican governor came out strongly against Cruz over that issue, Cruz stuck to his position and was rewarded for keeping with his convictions.

It’s Good that Iowa is First 

Many Americans question the rationale of Iowa’s position in the presidential nominating contests.  I think it’s a good way to kick off a vital part of our democratic process.  Iowans take their responsibility very seriously — they pay attention, they do their homework to learn a candidate’s positions, they go to events to meet the candidates and ask important questions.  Hundreds of thousands of them take the time that most voters in others states may not bother to take.  If a large state went first, the only way for candidates to get their message across would be ads and media appearances — they would not be able to knock on doors and go to diners to actually meet voters. In this time of diminished face-to-face communication, personalized retail politics is the best way for voters to make informed decisions.

As Iowa Goes…The Nation Does Not Always Follow

Iowa is unique, as is every state in this primary process.  As we begin the long road to November media-hype and conventional wisdom can’t always be counted on to pick the winners and losers.  Earning the support of voters who will show up has always — and will always — matter the most, no matter how unusual the 2016 presidential race may be.

 

 

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Six Lessons from the 2016 Iowa Caucus

iStock_000006407990_Large

We keep hearing that 2016 is shaping up to be the most unusual presidential contest in modern times.  Who would have thought one year ago that a billionaire, reality TV and social media star or a back-bench Independent-turned-Democratic-Socialist senator would even be mentioned in the same sentence as “Iowa Caucus?”  But here we are on the day after the first-in-the-nation presidential caucus with six important lessons learned about the state of American politics.
Retail Politics Still Wins
Donald Trump had the potential to turn traditional politics on its head in Iowa, but instead proved that an organized ground game still matters.  The voters of Iowa and New Hampshire, and to a certain extent South Carolina, expect that candidates show up, look them …

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Grassroots

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