U.S. Studies Online and the Centro Interuniversitario di Storia e Politica Euro-Americana (CISPEA) postgraduate group (www.ceraunavoltalamerica.it) are pleased to present a recurring summary of the key developments in the lead up to the US Presidential Election 2016. This update will appear fortnightly on U.S. Studies Online and we encourage responses and comments.
On the 1st of February, the American electoral machine was officially set in motion with caucuses in Iowa.
In the Republican camp, the only true winner was Ted Cruz, who has managed not only to get 28% of the vote but also question the idea that behind Donald Trump’s candidacy there is a solid base of support. The New York-based tycoon, who had to settle for second place with 24% of the votes, seems to be defeated in this first stage of the primary race: his aggressive, unconventional and politically incorrect style, in spite of polls that signaled his lead on the senator from Texas, did not pay in Iowa.
On the contrary, Cruz’s electoral strategy has been successful: he has meticulously planned his campaign, developing a vast network of grass-roots volunteers and managing to bring together different segments of the conservative base of the party, including evangelicals, libertarians and tea party members behind his candidacy. His strategy of appealing to the extremist wing of the Republican Party, however, could prove counterproductive, as it was for Mike Huckebee in 2008 and Rick Santorum in 2012, since it carries the risk of alienating the support of moderate conservatives.
The real surprise was the third place of Marco Rubio with 23%, only one point behind Donald Trump. The unexpected comeback of the Senator from Florida strengthens his position as the candidate of the Republican establishment, who could gather the support of the moderate conservative electorate.
On the democratic side instead, the Iowa caucus was closed by a virtual tie, to paraphrase Bernie Sanders. The Senator of Vermont has obtained 49.6 % of the votes against 49.9% of Hillary Clinton’s, turning the race for the Democratic primary into a real competition rather than a coronation of the party front- runner.
Many analysts believe that the result obtained by the former Secretary of State is equivalent to an almost defeat, especially in light of the powerful and expensive electoral machine set up by Clinton. She was not convincing, especially among the under 30s, unlike Sanders, whose radical message proved to be persuasive for that same demographic.
According to many analyses, even before the vote in Iowa, the Senator from Vermont prompted its main competitor to move her campaign to the left, determining a battle to prove which of the two candidates is the true bearer of progressive causes. Both the Cruz victory and the Sanders’s arguable success are indicators of a polarization inside the American electorate, characterized by anti-politics and anti-establishment trends.
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Many thanks to the Italian postgraduates of CISPEA for this update.