How a Big Winter Storm Could Give Clinton and Cruz an Edge in Iowa
Policy + Politics

How a Big Winter Storm Could Give Clinton and Cruz an Edge in Iowa

REUTERS/Randall Hill

With a winter storm looming in the Midwest, all eyes will be on the turnout in the Iowa presidential caucuses that begin at 8 p.m. (ET) tonight.

It’s a battle of political outsiders versus more established figures. And if there is a tidal wave of turnout with many newcomers in the Hawkeye State’s 1,681 precincts, then political experts are predicting it will be a very big night for the two quintessential anti-establish figures, Republican billionaire Donald Trump and democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

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Angry white men and conservative Christians are chomping at the bit to cast their votes for Trump, with his tough anti-illegal immigration policies and vow to make American great again. Meanwhile, fresh-faced students and other liberal Democrats are eager to support Sanders in his crusade against Wall Street and the “billionaire class.”

But if there’s bad weather and turnout suffers, it could turn out to be a much better night for Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, the champion of the tea party and many evangelical Christian voters, and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is locked in a tight race with Sanders for the Democratic presidential nomination.

That’s because Trump and Sanders do far better among prospective first-time caucus goers than Cruz and Clinton, while Cruz and Clinton do far better among prior caucus goers in their respective parties, and older people who are more inclined to vote, according to a new survey by Quinnipiac University.

Out of the 2.25 million voters in the state, just 147,255 took part in the caucuses in 2012. This time around, turnout is expected to be between 160,000 and 250,000 Republican and Democratic voters.

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“The size of the turnout tonight will likely be the key factor, especially on the Democratic side,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University poll.  “High turnouts with lots of new caucus participants likely would mean a good night for Sen. Bernie Sanders, and for Donald Trump.”

Trump runs ahead of Cruz, 40 percent to 22 percent, among first-time GOP caucus goes, while Republicans who have attended prior caucuses narrowly favor Cruz over Trump, 26 percent to 25 percent, according to the poll. The difference is far more pronounced on the Democratic side, with Sanders pounding Clinton among first-timers, 62 percent to 35 percent, while the former secretary of state leads the Vermont senator 52 percent to 41 percent among voters who attended caucuses in 2012 or before.

Notably, 44 percent of Republicans interviewed in the past week and 38 percent of the Democrats say this will be their first caucus. And right now, barring a major turn of events or early evening snow and ice, Quinnipiac University pollsters and other analysts are anticipating a strong turnout.

Blessed with a solid lead among prospective first-time GOP caucus participants, Trump has jumped to a 31 percent to 24 percent over Cruz, according to the Quinnipiac poll, with Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida running third with 17 percent.

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Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, Sanders now has 49 percent of the likely caucus goers, compared to 46 percent for Clinton and three percent for former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley.

A new Des Moines Register-Bloomberg poll released over the weekend tells a slightly different story, with Trump leading Cruz 28 percent to 23 percent, and Clinton holding a modest lead over Sanders, 45 percent to 42 percent.

According to one weather report, a winter storm is headed towards the region from Colorado and could unleash a blizzard into early Wednesday. Cruz and Clinton may be hoping the bad weather strikes sooner rather than later.