This is perhaps one of the most difficult elections to predict. Not only are there more candidates in the race than I can recall off the top of my head, the frontrunner (Trump) is perhaps the most unique presidential candidate the nation has seen in more than 50 years. To top it all off, Iowa is as quirky as it gets when it comes to polling, and let’s be honest, the caucus system is pure insanity. In the end, I don’t expect to be right, but I have solid reasons for the predictions below.
Prediction #1: Trump Wins, But Just Barely
According to Real Clear Politics, all of the past five polls conducted in Iowa show Trump is the clear frontrunner, beating out the second place Cruz by about 6 points (on average). The most recent poll, conducted by The Des Moines Register/Bloomberg, shows Trump is ahead of Cruz by 5 points, which isn’t saying much given the very small sample size (602 likely voters).
My prediction is Trump will edge out Sen. Ted Cruz by 1-2 points, winning 25-27 percent of the total vote. Cruz, who I predict will fall just short of surprising the political world with an upset victory, will end up in the 24-26 percent neighborhood.
It has been widely reported many Trump supporters have Cruz listed as their second choice, and it’s my belief some of these voters will get cold feet when it comes time to final cast a ballot, going with the safer pick (Cruz). I also believe that Trump’s numbers could be slightly inflated because of how vocal his supporters are. I also think the voter turnout numbers will not be as high as many people predict, which could hurt Trump.
Would I be surprised if Cruz pulls off the upset? Nope. Would I be shocked if Trump wins 35 percent of the vote and wins in a landslide? Nope. It’s really tough to predict the winner of this race, but I think Cruz will do better than most think.
Prediction #2: Rubio Finishes in Third, With More Support than People Expect
I do not think Sen. Marco Rubio has a chance of beating out Trump or Cruz, but I do think he’ll end up with about 18 percent of the vote, gaining greater-than-expected levels of support from some of the lesser moderate candidates, such as Carly Fiorina, John Kasich, and Jeb Bush. The Iowa Caucuses are set up in a strange way; people have the opportunity to see where things are lining up and then have the power to change support before anything is locked in. Voters supporting candidates with dwindling levels of support may end up jumping ship at the last minute under this system, and if this happens, it’s most likely to occur with candidate such as Bush and Fiorina, which is great news for Rubio.
Prediction #3: Jeb’s Days Are Numbered
As I mentioned in “Prediction #2,” the Iowa Caucuses can be quite harsh for candidates such as Bush. He’s either going to do better than we all think, or he’s going to be in the 2-3 percent range, which I think means it’s unlikely he’ll make it past New Hampshire. The sooner Bush leaves the race, the happier fellow Floridian Rubio will be. Most analysts believe he’ll end up with many of the Bush supporters/donors.
Prediction #4: Rand Paul’s Support Will Stay Strong
Like his father, Sen. Paul has a passionate, albeit small, following of libertarian supporters. It’s unlikely this group will leave Paul at this point in the race, so it’s very likely in my view Paul’s support will hold steady at around 4-5 percent. Of all the candidates who appear to be on the outside looking in, Paul is the least likely to lose supporters at this point in the race. He’s also incredibly unlikely to gain any supporters, barring some significant or chaotic development.
Prediction #5: Ben Carson Finishes Close to 10 percent
The large number of evangelicals in Iowa will help keep Carson’s campaign afloat. I predict he’ll receive 8-10 percent of the vote. However, I think it’s unlikely Carson’s campaign will make it past Nevada. In fact, he may very well drop out after New Hampshire, depending on how well/poorly he does there. This will likely help Cruz and Rubio in future primaries.
Photo: Photo by Gage Skidmore. Donald Trump at 2011 CPAC.