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Political science professors Bert Johnson and Matt Dickinson provide regular commentary on the presidential campaign.

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Professor Pundits: The Iowa Takeaway [video]

February 2, 2016

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. -- They sometimes refer to themselves as "campaign tourists" as they bounce around to campaign rallies around the country. Middlebury political science professors Matt Dickinson and Bert Johnson, both experts in electoral politics, have seen a lot already and the primary season is just heating up.

Following the highly anticipated Iowa caucuses, Dickinson and Johnson talk about some of the particular challenges that pollsters face now, and how polling differs between a caucus and a primary. And, with New Hampshire hotly contested in both parties, they look at what lies ahead for the candidates as they move east.

Dickinson authors the blog Presidential Power and is frequently quoted in the national media. He often live tweets political events at @MattDickinson44. Johnson, also a regular in the national media, tweets at @bnjohns.

4 Comments

Professors, I very much enjoyed listening to your insight on the Iowa caucus. I would like to ask you a couple of questions that arose in my mind while I was watching the video, if possible, and hear your opinions on them if I could. How much do you think, the Iowa caucus holds in actual importance? Based on the facts of this state being overwhemlingly white (disproportional representation is what I am getting at) and with the small percent of population compared to the whole nation's voter turnout, I personally feel like it shouldn't be that important but
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in reality it does weed out the candidates and give fairly important 'boost' to those who win, at least going into New Hampshire as you talked about momentum. Is it fair that the people in Iowa hold this amount of power, or is it actually not that much? Thank you, Shimin Park
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by Shimin Park (not verified)

Hi Shimin, Your are right that in many ways - demographics, the fact that it is a caucus state, geographically - Iowa is not particularly representative of the electorate more generally. In particular, those who participate in the caucus tend to have more ideologically extreme views (either conservative or liberal, depending on party) than the mainstream partisan holds. However, because it is traditionally the first state that actually has a vote in the nominating process, it gets a disproportionate amount of news coverage and, as a result, while the caucus winner does not always go on to win the
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nomination, those who finish down in the pack are frequently forced to drop out of the race. Is that "fair"? Defenders of the process argue that candidates must engage in door-to-door retail politics to win votes, so it is the quintessential democratic process. But critics argue that because the state is not very representative of voters more generally, it does not deserve the importance the media places on it. There are merits to both arguments. It is a reminder that almost any selection process will have biases of some type - the key is balancing them against its virtues, and deciding what is most important in a nominating process. Not everyone is going to agree on the answer.
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by Matt Dickinson (not verified)

Thank you, Professor Dickinson, for your reply. I appreciate it. The biggest point that I got out of your reply is that I guess it is not just Iowa but any place else has its biases and 'unfair' aspect of it. Also, yes, I believe winners in fact seldom make it to the general. If I may ask you one more question, Senator Sanders did very well in Iowa but what would you say of his chance of winning a general election at this point? Thank you very much again.

by Shimin Park (not verified)

Shimin, I can't speak for my colleague Bert, but while it is not impossible, my sense is that Senator Sanders has a very steep road ahead to climb if he is to win his party's nomination, never mind the general election. In important ways, both Iowa and New Hampshire were tailored made to his candidacy because of the large number of white, liberal voters. The real test of his support will come in Nevada, and in South Carolina, which have significantly more non-white and more moderate voters. Let see how the Senator does in those two states before discussing
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his general election chances!
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by Matt Dickinson (not verified)

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