In a way, it seems almost peculiar that voters welcomed the results of the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries with sentiments of disbelief rather than expectation. As one of the most gripping and engaging election races in the nation’s history featuring some of the most controversial and questionable candidates that the country has seen, one is not mistaken in seeing it to be ironically fitting that the first tests of voting seemed surprising.
On 1 Feb., fiercely unpopular Texan senator, Ted Cruz, astoundingly lead the Republican nominees with the most number of Iowa Caucus votes received by a single candidate, while anticipated Democratic pick, Hillary Clinton, beat wild-card favorite, Bernie Sanders, by an almost negligible 0.3%. Eight days later at the New Hampshire presidential primary, projected favorites prevailed on both sides; Donald Trump won with 36% of the Republican votes while Sanders secured 60% of Democratic vote. What astonished many about the results was, in fact, the unpredicted voter confidence in the runner-ups. The conservative Ohio governor, John Kasich, seemingly an understated success in the Republican campaign, came up second in the polls with 16% of the votes, while in the Democratic corner; Clinton obtained only 38% of the vote
Although these outcomes dutifully follow the surprising nature of the run up to the 2016 presidency, they create doubt that questions the nature of the ignited trajectory, the ‘momentum effect’, if you will, which these initial voting processes and their conclusions bring rise to, and how it will affect traditional candidates in their race to the White House.
The Political Impetus, the Big Mo, and so on, all refer to a single hypothesis. Momentum is part of the jargon frequently included in political coverage, and with 4,710,000 hits when searched on Google, it’s easy to see why one would have difficulty in getting to the root definition. Familiar to those with an ounce of understanding of science, momentum broadly describes the thrust gained by an object in motion. In a colloquial political sense, it implies that a force or push applied to a candidate’s campaign will allow for advancement. Political pundits seem to be in two minds of the term’s validity. Editor-in-chief of ESPN’s FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver, put for his apprehension of the word’s use in a New York Times article back in 2012, stating, “this notion is a bit dubious… my research suggests that a candidate who gains ground in polls one month is no more likely to do so in the next month.” Most would note the cynicism of Silver’s conviction. Steven Brams is one to discount it without reluctance.
Game theorist and political scientist, Brams, is best known for his published works, such as “The Presidential Election Games” that delve into systems of choice theories to be applied to voting systems. The 75-year-old sits down in his office that is adorned up with impressive book collections and views of New York University’s Stern School of Business, to shed some light on the concept.
“There is no question of whether momentum exists,” he claims. “Momentum is created, and it slowly filters down. Chances are if you do badly in Iowa, it is very unlikely you’ll recover. We’ve seen instances like in 2008, with Clinton’s recovery and fighting Obama up until June, but those are simply exceptions. Caucasus and primaries bring a momentum which is important, however the momentum itself is not wholly decisive.”
The significance of the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire Primary is indisputable. As the initial two large-scale and integral electoral events that commence the run-up to the presidential nomination, the Caucuses and Primary are said to illuminate superior candidates by giving local voters a chance to interact with contenders, thus creating a mass sentiment surrounding the aspirants as to whether they indeed have political potential and executive substance, or not. Although the minor and seemingly unrepresentative states should feasibly not have the immense impact that they do on the election race, one can argue that, as the preliminary hurdles to presidency, history indicates that they do indeed build momentum that carries on with winners past the final stage of the official appointment.
For instance, Jimmy Carter secured a presidential win after a major Iowa Caucuses success that stemmed from his campaign spending a year appealing to voters in the state in 1976, and current POTUS, Barack Obama, won by a landslide with 80.91% of the vote in the 2012 New Hampshire Primary. The instances of this hypothesis in action go on, and serve as a reminder that the candidates whilst contesting for a favorable standing in the polls, are indeed struggling to acquire the historically elusive and advantageous momentum.
“People who do well in NH, to a lesser extent in Iowa, generally go on to win. But there are exceptions. Hillary won in NH [in 2008] and she lost! So it’s also the quality of candidates that matter,” Brams asserts.
However, it is fair to assume that the lack of conventionality of the current election race can give rise to a distinct departure from historical norms. Present leaders, Sanders and Trump, embody the impulse of radical principles and provocative promises, with one assuring free college education for all and the other guaranteeing national security through “bombing the sh*t out of ISIS”, and continuing to ride the wave of momentum, it is evident that voters are resonating with their ideologies. But where does that leave the traditional presidential candidate?
In considering what it means to be a ‘traditional candidate’, we can look at what it means to be presidential. Many would describe it simply as a qualified individual, with extensive experience in the line of work in question. They would, hopefully, appeal to the masses with their dignity, confidence, and willingness to cease, begin, and continue the policies and realities in favor of their constituency. Hillary Clinton, having already been the progressive selection with her campaign attempt to be the first female president in 2008, succeeds as being one of the most qualified candidates in the race. As the former first lady, United States Senator, and Secretary of State, Clinton entered the existing race with undeniable and unparalleled experience. John Kasich is another noteworthy candidate whose background speaks volumes of his capabilities. Incumbent Governor of Ohio and past Chairman of the House Budget Committee, Kasich served nine terms as a member of the United States House of Representatives. As the two accomplished contenders lag behind their controversial competitors in these early stages, the problem arises as to how Big Mo will impact them and how they can use it in their favor.
26-year-old college student, Travis Heppard, confirms his support for Clinton, claiming substance in her methods for speeding up economic recovery as well as her expertise in working with the Republican Party. “I support Hillary,” he begins. Attributing the momentum her opponent Sanders is benefiting from to the his likeness to the current POTUS, he continues, “I believe in everything Bernie wants to do, but I also believe in progress. Bernie’s Campaign reminds me of Obama in 2008, Obama was very positive, uplifting, and his policy proposals were very similar to Bernie. In my opinion Bernie is Obama 2.0.” Pointing a finger at the allure of the anti-establishment attitude that today’s front-runners hold, Heppard believes that the Caucuses and Primary have sought to lend assistance in helping White House hopefuls, like Clinton, figure out what is not working within her campaign. What can gain her some favorable momentum? Unrelenting assertion of her capacities. “Right now people think Bernie and Hillary have two completely different ideologies,” he clarifies, “Hillary needs to show the passion Bernie does, while proving she is the only one in the race that can actually get things done.”
“She doesn’t just want to carry on the Obama policies, she wants to improve on them and keep this country moving in the right direction,” Linda Tomasello asserts. With a belief that Sanders is making empty vows to young voters and that Benghazi was instrumental in smearing the Clinton name, Tomasello identifies what keeps Clinton from being a key front-runner in the early Caucuses and Primary but pays little heed to her performance in both events. “I think momentum says a lot when it comes to elections but I’ve never put much stock in the Iowa caucus or New Hampshire primary because there are too many white voters and not enough minorities,” says the outspoken democrat, “this country is a melting pot of cultures and areas like Iowa and New Hampshire do not represent that diversity.” The martial arts instructor who recently married her same-sex partner of 20 years trusts that the gaining momentum of Republican leaders will not falter her Democratic loyalties, saying, “I can’t imagine what will happen to all of Obama’s progress if a Republican wins the White House.”
The conviction in Kasich’s supporters is similarly steadfast and unfazed by the results in Iowa and New Hampshire. John Garcia admits that as a Cuban American, it is hard not to intuitively support like candidates (namely one Marco Rubio), but acknowledges that at the end of the day any serious American would want a leader with the best vision and experience required to lead the nation. The 44-year-old New Jersey native is touched by Kasich’s demeanor, and says, “I see John as a person with a heart and values that resonate with me. He puts the benefit of the country before party politics. He is also not blindly Republican and can move right or left enough without compromising beliefs.” His impassioned views of Kasich remained unchanged with his poor performance in Iowa, confirming, “What is revealed in polls will tend to sway votes and garner momentum. However, I am not one of those people influenced by that. I am much more impacted by debates and the candidate’s history and record. I don’t get caught up in anyone else’s opinion when it comes to electing a president. To me, it’s very personal and each person has his or her reason for voting for a particular candidate. Post Kasich’s New Hampshire accomplishment, Garcia’s disposition turned more impassioned, as he proudly asserted that the essence of political momentum has now made its way to Kasich’s campaign.
Whether or not we apply a technical term to reasoning the consistent increase in supporters, it’s evident why achievement in Iowa and New Hampshire is as critical as it is. Looking at the aftermath of both, Brams stresses, “I think it has already impacted campaign strategies. I think she’s become much more of a person telling her personal story, since she’s realized she cant coast on campaign rhetoric she has to appeal to voters individually as a person. She’s not doing the orchestrated small meetings; she’s trying to appeal to personally to voters, specifically women. We’ll see if that works.” He backtracks slightly to draw attention to how candidates approach either state, “They make calculations on which electorate to bet on. Kasich for example has put much more of an investment on New Hampshire.” With his New Hampshire scores in, it’s clear that Kasich played his cards right. But what pushes candidates to focus their efforts on one of the states rather than the other? Taking Republican favorite, Trump, as an example, Brams justifies why his lacking performance in Iowa was not only simply a minor bump, but also expected, “Trump’s not the kind of good Christian that many Iowa voters were looking for, why should he make a major effort if he’s not attractive to them in the first place? New Hampshire is a more liberal state. He should, as he’s doing, make more of an effort there and downplay Iowa.” Winning New Hampshire won him a little more credibility, he believes, and will sustain his political up thrust.
Voters echo this sentiment, claiming that educated voters consider the demographics of the two states and so place less importance to results arising from polling in them. Tomasello elaborates, “This country is a melting pot of cultures and areas like Iowa and New Hampshire do not represent that diversity. After Nevada and South Carolina votes, where the majority of voters are African American and Hispanic, I think whoever wins those primaries are truly going to have the momentum.”
Staunch supporters of the traditionalists have taken in the two election events and have strong thoughts on how their candidates of choice can seek to lock in of the political momentum effect. Kasich backers affirm that he must start increasing his presence in the public eye. Garcia asserts, “He has to do more media and advertising so he’s on top of people’s’ minds with his consistent messages.” 52-year-old online retail business owner, Lucy Salva, complains that bias in media coverage is to blame, “media coverage has been little for anyone but Trump.” Clinton’s enthusiasts maintain that unwarranted widespread questioning of her honesty with regards to the email leak and Benghazi, are keeping Clinton from accessing the push she needs to achieve a fair boost in the polls. Tomasello adds, “If Hillary begins to fall behind, I hope she keeps telling the truth, getting her message of equality out and doesn’t engage in negative campaigning. I think that’s all we as her supporters could ask of her.”
With no end in sight to the oddities of the nomination race, audiences and electors alike are will be spectating a race that is guaranteed to see established contenders vie with bewildering leaders of the poll tables, for a chance to claim a top spot to start them on a trail that will give them the ever-enticing driving force that’ll sustain them past the final lap. Meanwhile, we’re all in for ride.
Brams leans back slightly and folds his hands, and begins thinking aloud, “This election is a circus. And people like circuses! That’s what exciting. Even though there are favorites, there is not an overwhelming favorite. People are expecting interesting things, so that makes it more gripping. We still don’t know what will happen afterwards…Races usually come down to the top two. Frontrunners gobble up all the money. And things could become more interesting if Bloomberg enters…”