The 2024 Presidential Election is nearly upon us now, with the Republican Iowa Caucus set to kick start the process on Monday January 15th.
While the Democrats elected to bypass the Hawkeye State after their 2020 caucus catastrophe, the GOP is sticking by Iowa. Moreover, despite the caucus moniker, the Republican process is more like a simple straw poll than the infamously complex method Democrats used to use.
At this moment, the Decision Desk HQ/The Hill average of the Iowa polls shows Trump in the lead with 51.6%, Ron DeSantis a distant second at 18.0% and Nikki Haley gaining on him with 17.1%. Rounding out the rest of the major candidates are Vivek Ramaswamy (5.8%) and Chris Christie (3.8%).
One issue we’re dealing with, however, is that no new poll results have been announced since the holidays started. In fact, the latest survey in our average wrapped up on December 19, so we’re blind to any possible movement that’s taken place over the past three weeks or so.
Nevertheless, we’re still keeping an eye out for a last batch of polls over the campaign’s final weekend, especially the Des Moines Register/Selzer survey. This particular poll is closely watched by pundits as it accurately predicted Barack Obama’s 2008 caucus victory as well as Donald Trump’s overperformance in the 2016 and 2020 general elections (ironically, one of Selzer’s few misses was a final poll showing Trump winning the 2016 caucus over Ted Cruz).
Additionally, CNN will be holding one final debate on Wednesday, and since Vivek and Christie failed to qualify, Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley will be participating in the first 1-on-1 confrontation of this cycle. At the same time, however, Fox News is hosting their own town hall with Donald Trump, creating a classic cable news ratings battle.
Why all this commotion and effort for a state with just 40 out of 2,429 possible delegates? After all, in seven open contests, Iowa’s only selected the eventual GOP nominee twice (Bob Dole in 1996 and George W. Bush in 2000).
Yet Iowa still matters because, ever since 1976 – when a largely unknown candidate named Jimmy Carter broke out from the Democratic pack – the caucuses are the moment when casual voters actually begin to pay attention to the process.
For decades, the public only became aware of the dynamics of a Presidential race when their preferred broadcast TV network interrupted their prime-time schedule with a special news report on the Iowa results.
Today, of course, most Americans will likely learn about the outcome from notifications on their phones. Either way, the 2024 election is suddenly about to become real for millions of potential voters Monday night.
Now, when exactly can we expect the race to be called on Election Night? Well, barring some reporting fiasco like last year’s Democratic contest – or a surprise super-close result similar to the 2012 Republican or 2016 Democratic race – it shouldn’t take too long.
Speaking of 2016, we’ll also have the rare opportunity to compare Monday’s results to Trump’s performance from eight years ago. Back then, Trump competed with Cruz in the rural areas and with Rubio in the urban and suburban sections of the state. As a result, Trump tended to win counties along Iowa’s border, with Cruz generally doing better in the interior.
Finally, let’s consider just what the expected Trump victory would mean going forward.
First of all, it would give Trump one of the few prizes he couldn’t capture in 2016. Furthermore, a win here would fortify Trump ahead of a potential showdown with Haley in New Hampshire. Our DDHQ New Hampshire average puts Haley just under twelve points behind Trump, and the most recent survey shows her trailing by just four.
Since Trump’s primary strategy is essentially based around invincibility, he’ll need to avoid any stumbles as he seeks to wrap up this nomination as quickly as possible.
As for Haley, she’s depending on an impressive second-place finish in Iowa to give her enough momentum to pull off an upset in New Hampshire. Conversely, should she disappoint, observers will begin to wonder whether her campaign’s already peaked.
Although arguably the candidate most desperate for a strong showing is Ron DeSantis. After betting everything on the Hawkeye State, the Florida Governor has to at least finish ahead of Haley if he wants any hope of continuing his campaign. To wit, some reporters are already speculating on what DeSantis will do once he drops out, a prospect that could come as soon as Monday night if Iowa breaks his heart.
Make sure to spend your Monday night at Decision Desk HQ, as we’ll have live election results out of Iowa. Then keep an eye out for my day-after recap on the Iowa returns and what they’ll mean for New Hampshire and beyond!