Bernie Sanders may very well be the Democratic Party’s candidate for President in 2016, and Donald Trump is increasingly likely to be his Republican opponent.
And you could change that.
Interested yet? Thought you might be. Let me tell you what’s up and why it matters.
New polls come out all the time; major media outlets run them constantly, and every campaign does its own polling as well. The results of a recent CNN poll were just announced, and it shows that Bernie Sanders has a clear lead for his party’s nomination in New Hampshire. It’s not the only one; dozens of polls show him in the lead for likely voters. On the Republican side, Donald Trump has an excellent chance for victory.
So Why Is New Hampshire Important?
Historically, the New Hampshire primary is an excellent indicator of what will happen later on. While the winner historically has had an excellent chance of winning their party’s nomination, candidates whose results are extreme or unexpected usually experience drastic parallel changes in their campaigns. There are several examples of candidates withdrawing after doing poorly; it’s worthy of note, however, that the past three successful presidents, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama all lost New Hampshire but did better than had been previously predicted. The resulting media hype catapulted each to prominence in news reports, giving them success in later primaries.
But native popularity alone doesn’t win elections. All things being equal, a well-financed, well-organized campaign generates more votes than one with a smaller budget, and many of the large campaign donors often wait to allot their money until the results from New Hampshire are in. As a result, campaigns with an early success here usually continue, drawing hordes of eager volunteers, while candidates who fail in New Hampshire usually run out of money and staff long before they can gain any ground in other states.
So New Hampshire, despite the small number of delegates awarded to the winner, can make or break a campaign at the outset.
Wait. Doesn’t Iowa Come Before New Hampshire?
The Iowa caucuses are held much earlier than the New Hampshire primaries. In point of fact, they are the earliest election event in the country, and have been since the 70s. However, the difference between a primary and a caucus is… well, primaries are simple votes whereas caucuses are more a cross between a town meeting, a shouting match between neighbors, and some sort of ritualized dance. Caucuses are complicated.
In the past, Iowa’s caucus results have been non-binding on the delegates; this has led to a perception of the event as one of less importance by donors and pundits alike. This year, the results are more binding than in the past, but this is unlikely to have a great deal of impact, particularly on potential donors.
But it’s also true that, in the past, candidates at this point in their campaigns had rarely raised anywhere near as much money as has been done during this cycle. Both Clinton and Sanders have substantial war chests, and it’s unlikely that either will drop out of the race any time soon. The Trump, Rubio, Bush, Carson, and Cruz campaigns all have significant funds at their disposal as well.
Given That, Why Does New Hampshire Still Matter?
At the moment, there are three, not two, major candidates on the Democratic ticket. Unlikely as it seems, Martin O’Malley, former governor of Maryland, may well get a boost to his campaign from either New Hampshire or Iowa. Current polling gives him microscopic numbers, but that just means that getting any results at all will give him an unexpected boost. Given that his positions are far closer to Clinton’s than Sanders, likely O’Malley voters would be drawn largely from her power base, weakening her disproportionately. Then too, if a scandal were to remove Clinton from contention — possible, considering the ongoing investigation of her tenure at State — O’Malley is seen as the establishment’s alternative.
On the Republican side, there is a huge field of viable candidates, any of whom could either be dropped or have their moment to shine in New Hampshire. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump both have large followings, but both are equally disliked by the majority of independent voters — voters essential for winning an election campaign. And yet there is no clear alternative among their rivals. Marco Rubio is quite popular, but Jeb Bush is likely to carry Florida (former governor) and John Kasich to carry Ohio (current, and very popular, governor) if either is still in the race at that point. As a result, the winners in New Hampshire and Iowa are likely to be less significant than those who poll well enough to continue or poorly enough to drop. It is the droppers in particular who will determine which names will oppose Trump or Cruz later in the race, and those names will become all-important.
Wait. Ohio? Florida? Where Did Those Come From?
The thing is, there’s a lot of other primaries that will happen in a very short amount of time following New Hampshire, including thirteen all on the first of March (“Super Tuesday”) and five big ones (including Florida and Ohio) on the fifteenth. Any candidate that can scrape together enough funds to continue through the first — and has decent results — can count on a solid war chest of donations to keep them in the race all the way through to the convention. At that point, it could be anyone’s game.
You see, it’s quite possible that, if a third viable Democrat should emerge or if several Republicans remain, no candidate will have been chosen in time for the party conventions. In each case, if no consensus can easily be reached, delegates will be relieved of earlier primary or caucus commitments. This will give them power to choose freely, and any candidate whose name remains on the state ballots could gain their party’s nomination — even people who had conceded.
So I’m Confused. What Does All This Mean?
Put simply, it’s a wide open field for the elections this time around. There’s a decent chance that Democrats or Republicans will choose a person from outside their core party establishments as their presidential nominee. This means that we could see candidates with few political debts, with no predetermined agenda, outsiders from the Washington partisan squabbles that have characterized recent political debate.
On the other hand, the party establishments control the organizers and party funds for the elections, and a well-organized campaign will usually beat one that’s chaotic or underfunded. So perhaps it’s too early to be optimistic; there’s a very good chance that each nominee will end up being the one chosen by the party bosses in back room deals. And that means four more years of the same mismanagement and divisiveness that we’ve had for a decade and more.
Which is why it’s important for you — yes, you — to get out and participate in the democratic process for once. This time, you can actually make a difference.
Wait. What? Me? What Can I Do?
Remember how I was talking about donations? Money talks, and in campaigns — especially Presidential campaigns — it talks big. In a sense, it’s the truest form of capitalism; one dollar equals one vote (out of hundreds of millions, true, but it’s something). So if you’ve got some extra money that you want to donate to something tax-deductible, think about donating to a campaign. Five bucks is a help; five hundred is more of a help.
Most of us don’t have thousands of dollars to spare for influencing elections, though. For us, I recommend a more direct approach: Volunteer. Every campaign runs on volunteer staffing, people who answer phones and make coffee and go out to organize rallies and drive the buses that bring people to the primaries. Without a vast volunteer staff, any campaign will founder. And even a week or two can be a big help.
Are you one of the millions of Americans that shudders at the words “President Trump” or “President Cruz”? If so, go volunteer for one of the eight zillion other Republican candidates. They can use you. Pick one you actually like.
Do you belong to the 55% of Americans that are convinced that Hillary Clinton is untrustworthy? Go volunteer for Bernie Sanders or Martin O’Malley. Bernie’s got a ton of volunteers, but O’Malley’s campaign really needs the assistance.
Eight weeks. That’s how much time there is to make a difference in the early primaries, folks. Eight weeks between now and the fifteenth of March, after which things will be back in the hands of the big donors, the money men, the influence peddlers and the power brokers.
And make no mistake: During these eight weeks, you actually can make a difference.
That’s how America — how we, the people — can win. For once.