With mere hours remaining until Iowans head to their caucus sites to cast the first votes* in the 2016 nominations process, the Political Saints blog is proud to bring you our first round of predictions in this election.

These posts were written by Friday afternoon, so we were unable to incorporate the much-celebrated – and much-anticipated – final Des Moines Register/Bloomberg/Selzer poll results. Those results showed Donald Trump with a 5-point lead over Ted Cruz, with Marco Rubio and Ben Carson 13 and 18 points back, respectively. According to the GOP’s 3.3% threshold to win delegates, only those candidates and Rand Paul (at 5%) would be eligible to win delegates, according to the poll’s estimates.

On the Democratic side, the Des Moines Register/Bloomberg/Selzer results show a slim Clinton lead (though it is within the poll’s margin of error, so the difference between Clinton’s support and Sanders’ support is not statistically distinguishable from zero). If the results are accurate, only Clinton and Sanders would be eligible for delegates, meaning Martin O’Malley’s caucus supporters may play the role of spoiler. A recent PPP poll suggests that his supporters are more likely to support Bernie Sanders than Hillary Clinton.

For our predictions, students worked in pairs to produce their projections for vote percentage and delegates awarded (note: delegates are allocated according to party rules – see this post for more details). This results in 8 separate predictions, which follow the break. At the end of the post is a summary of all our predictions.

[* Some voters in other states – including New Hampshire – have already started voting via absentee ballots.]

Amanda Knipple and Aubrey Kirsch

GOP Candidate Percentage Delegates Dem Candidate Percentage Delegates
Trump 28% 10 Clinton 48% 23
Cruz 26% 8 Sanders 44% 21
Rubio 17% 4 O'Malley 8% 0
Carson 7% 3
Bush 5% 2
Christie 4% 1
Paul 3.5% 1
Kasich 3.5% 1
Fiorina 2% 0
Santorum 2% 0
Huckabee 2% 0

Cruz and Trump have strong leads in Iowa with Rubio following along at a distance. In almost every poll from 538 and Huffington Post, Trump and Cruz are neck and neck. Looking at the polls we used the average percent to make our prediction in addition to news articles that would lower their support. Though Cruz has more endorsements than Trump, he is still fairly unpopular with the GOP. Trump is better at keeping his momentum because he is a popular culture figure. Through our own observations at a Trump rally in Windham, NH, it is clear that Trump’s voters are a dedicated group and will show up on caucus night, therefore we expect he will pull out on top. Rubio certainly isn’t out of the race – a decent showing will keep give him momentum and it is possible that he could come in second.

On the Democratic side, Clinton and Sanders are still fighting for the top spot, with Clinton barely pulling ahead. With the labor unions standing beside Clinton, Sanders will have to continue to rely on his college student following. It has been said that Iowa is “not a great fit” for the Clintons but she still has widespread support from Iowa unions, which can create a great mobilizing force.  Sanders has been showing well in the polls but he will have “to convert raw enthusiasm into caucus votes” because “young adult voters…have consistently voted at lower rates them all other age groups” according to an article in USA Today.  Poor O’Malley just doesn’t make it – he has a fan based but his best performance in polls has been around 10%. Requiring 15% to get any delegates, O’Malley will fall out of the race unless he becomes a “comeback kid.” But that is a long shot.


Brianna Russo and Kaitlyn Krolik

GOP Candidate Percentage Delegates Dem Candidate Percentage Delegates
Cruz 36% 12 Sanders 47% 24
Rubio 15% 5 Clinton 39% 20
Trump 14% 5 O'Malley 11% 0
Bush 10% 3
Carson 8% 2
Kasich 6% 2
Huckabee 4% 1
Christie 3% 0
Fiorina 2% 0
Paul 2% 0

For both predictions, we have used an average of many polls in addition to our own individual predictions. Even though Trump has been polling very high numbers, we predict that Cruz will ultimately come out on top at the Iowa caucus. We think this primarily because of Cruz’s relationship to evangelical voters as well as his ground game in Iowa, as he catches the attention of a large number of voters in Iowa through social media. Assuming that Trump’s support base consists primarily of those who aren’t usually politically involved, we expect a low turnout for the caucus, relative to some projections. We expect Rubio to come in second primarily because he seems to be the strongest “mainstream” choice and expect that moderate voters who do not necessarily align with the extreme ideologies associated with Cruz and Trump may be more inclined to vote for Rubio, especially because of his strong performance in the most recent Republican debate.

We predict that Sen. Bernie Sanders will emerge as a frontrunner in Iowa due to his strong ground game. Much like the 2008 election, we see Sec. Hillary Clinton’s poll and expectations higher than the results. This stems from the fact that much of her platform is built upon adapting Sanders’ platform and making it more moderate. The responsibility then will fall to the caucus precinct captains, who will try to influence undecided or O’Malley voters to support Sanders, whose more openly liberal platform may appeal to those voters.


Cody Ingraham and McKenzie Franck

GOP Candidate Percentage Delegates Dem Candidate Percentage Delegates
Trump 34% 11 Clinton 52% 23
Cruz 25% 8 Sanders 43% 21
Rubio 14% 5 O'Malley 5% 0
Carson 9% 3
Bush 5% 2
Paul 4% 1
Huckabee 3% 0
Christie 3% 0
Kasich 2% 0
Fiorina 1% 0

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton will likely top the Democratic field. Besides being the establishment favorite, Clinton has collected some big endorsements – including an important Iowa one from the Des Moines Register – both of which will help bump her to the lead. On Bernie Sanders’ front, his momentum in Iowa could lead to a make or break moment for his ability to go head to head with Clinton in future primaries. While Martin O’Malley has been polling consistently below the threshold for delegates, his frequent campaign stops should reward him a few votes. According to recent polls, more O’Malley supporters will likely caucus with Sanders over Clinton as their second choice. The momentum of the race will likely accrue higher voter turnout than previous caucuses, despite the winter storm brewing to blanket Iowa’s amber waves of grain.

According to polls, Donald Trump is most probable to win Iowa. Trump appeals to conservative, moderate and undecided voters. From Trump’s celebrity as a famous, well off businessman, this will also help his polls. These are advantages over Ted Cruz, whose campaign is only focusing on conservatives and not on undecided or moderate voters. Rubio is likely to come in third because his campaign is focused more on New Hampshire and South Carolina rather than Iowa. Rubio has a greater advantage compared to everyone else who is trailing behind him in the polls because of his recent endorsement from the Des Moines Register.


Emily Radigan and Jack Massaroni

GOP Candidate Percentage Delegates Dem Candidate Percentage Delegates
Trump 32% 12 Clinton 46% 22
Cruz 28% 10 Sanders 45% 22
Rubio 12% 4 O'Malley 5% 0
Carson 7% 2
Paul 4% 1
Bush 4% 1
Christie 3% 0
Huckabee 2% 0
Kasich 1% 0
Fiorina 1% 0
Santorum 1% 0

As of the polls right now, Clinton and Sanders are relatively close, with one leading the other depending on the poll source. However, Clinton polled consistently higher in 2015, perhaps because of name recognition, and while Sanders has closed the gap in recent months, Clinton’s overall performance gives her the edge. O’Malley will garner some support but will fail to acquire delegates. We expect his support to split between Clinton and Sanders fairly evenly.

We predict Trump will get a plurality of the Iowa vote because he has surged and has frontrunner status. He has not dropped below 20% since late August, while Cruz did not reach this threshold until December. Cruz will come in a close second; he has been dropping in the polls and is trailing Trump, according to every major poll, even ones which weight for previous caucus/primary participation, which Trump supporters may be lacking. Cruz may pull an unexpected victory, as he’s a polestar for Iowan Evangelical voters and he embodies many of the values that these voters hold dear. While Rubio has polled at consistent numbers for the cycle,even experiencing a slight increase recently, his numbers are not threatening to Trump or Cruz. Carson reached his peak in late October, but still retains some support. Paul’s support in polls has dropped by over 50% since last May. Bush has underwhelmed and his numbers have steadily decreased. Christie, while improving since the fall, will not earn any delegates. Kasich, a moderate candidate, has had consistently low numbers in Iowa.


Eric Brower and Nicholas Pozzi

GOP Candidate Percentage Delegates Dem Candidate Percentage Delegates
Cruz 31% 10 Clinton 50.75% 24
Trump 26% 8 Sanders 44.25% 20
Rubio 12% 4 O'Malley 5% 0
Carson 8% 2
Paul 6% 2
Bush 5% 2
Kasich 4% 1
Christie 3.5% 1
Huckabee 2% 0
Fiorina 1.5% 0
Santorum 1% 0

The polls indicate that the race for victory in Iowa is between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. We believe that Cruz will prevail in Iowa due the following advantages: In the ground game, Trump has little to no infrastructure set up in Iowa. Cruz, on the other hand, is running a retail politics campaign that has been employed by the winning candidate in Iowa in pasts caucuses. Furthermore, Cruz’s support among Evangelical voters, who make up a significant portion of the electorate, have helped to give him momentum, which will increase voter turnout for Cruz on caucus day. Also, Cruz has more precinct captains, who can speak on his behalf at caucuses, than Trump. This will help persuade undecided and leeway voter to vote for Cruz.

Though Bernie Sanders has risen through the polls, Hillary Clinton will likely be the winner of Iowa on the Democratic side. Clinton will return to the Iowa caucuses as a familiar face after her loss to Barack Obama in 2008 and this familiarity, coupled with her long, well-known tenure in the public eye, will likely aid her in victory. Additionally, Iowa features an older demographic; Sanders, drawing support from younger voters, will likely not be aided by this fact. Probably about 2% of O’Malley support will go to Sanders and 3% to Clinton. Clinton will draw the most of O’Malley’s support because both are relatively moderate candidates, though a portion of O’Malley supporters are anti-Clinton and will flock to Sanders as a second choice.


JaiCe Stinton and Keshawn Langhorn

GOP Candidate Percentage Delegates Dem Candidate Percentage Delegates
Cruz 36.3% 11 Clinton 49% 23
Trump 24.2% 8 Sanders 46% 21
Rubio 18% 6 O'Malley 4% 0
Carson 7.5% 2
Paul 5% 2
Christie 4% 1
Bush 1% 0
Fiorina 1% 0
Kasich 1% 0
Huckabee 1% 0
Santorum 1% 0

Clinton has been hitting the campaign trail hard, suggesting this won’t be a repeat of 2008, when Obama’s stronger ground game likely gave him the edge in Iowa. Sanders is relying on young voters to bring home his campaign in Iowa, but Obama’s 2008 success with that tactic required unprecedented turnout and it is unclear to what extent these voters are “Feeling the Bern” in Iowa. Clinton has been riding a wave of endorsements from unions and newspapers, which further increases her support.

The top two Republican candidates, Trump and Cruz, have been fighting for the top spot in recent weeks with Cruz barely beating Trump in polls. However, Cruz has the religious groups supporting him in Iowa through leader’s endorsements. Trump and Rubio’s focus on the national picture will come back to hurt them in grassroots Iowa. Rubio will come in third, based on his standing in most recent polls. Carson has spent a good amount of time in Iowa but lost his momentum in recent weeks. Paul and Christie have both spent some time in Iowa however neither gained a strong foothold thus giving them just a small percentage.


Samantha Coons and Marlena Mareno

GOP Candidate Percentage Delegates Dem Candidate Percentage Delegates
Cruz 29% 11 Sanders 46% 22
Trump 25% 9 Clinton 44% 22
Rubio 15% 6 O'Malley 5% 0
Carson 8% 3
Paul 4% 1
Bush 3% 0
Christie 2% 0
Huckabee 2% 0
Kasich 1% 0

With a close tie between Clinton and Sanders, why will Sanders squeeze past Clinton for a win in Iowa? Based on previous presidential caucuses, the Democratic electorate in Iowa is 93% white and 54% liberal. This is Sanders’ electorate or target group, as he appeals to more liberal Democrats. Sanders’ high favorability among college students and younger voters is another boost as voters aged 18-44 favor Sanders 78%-21% over Clinton. More Democratic voters are also starting to consider Sanders as an electable candidate, sending Sanders’ support knocking on Clinton’s door. Since Martin O’Malley does not reach the 15% threshold, his voters will have to disperse between Sanders and Clinton. We predict that a slightly greater amount of voters will side with Sanders due to the distrust associated with Clinton’s past.

So why will Cruz beat Trump in Iowa with a lead of 4%? Putting it simply, Trump has no ground game, whereas, Cruz has contacted twice as many Iowan voters as Trump. Trump’s supporters are ones who typically have not participated in the process before and are less likely to actually head out to the polls on Monday night, giving Cruz another 1% lead. Along with a lack of ground game, Trump has seemed to struggle with obtaining representation for each precinct where Cruz has been more successful, to which we allocated another 1% to Cruz. Trump’s decision not to participate in Thursday’s GOP debate defied 56% of Twitter voters who wanted to see him compete. Lastly, Cruz can beat Trump due to his connections to Evangelical voters who make up 60% of Iowa Republican voters, giving him the final addition of 1% to put him in the lead, ahead of Trump by 4%. All other candidates have been positioned where they have previously been falling on a multitude of polls.


Kevin Callanan and Stella Pabis

GOP Candidate Percentage Delegates Dem Candidate Percentage Delegates
Cruz 30% 10 Clinton 56% 27
Trump 26% 9 Sanders 39% 17
Rubio 13% 5 O'Malley 5% 0
Paul 6% 2
Carson 5% 2
Bush 4.6% 1
Christie 4% 1
Kasich 3% 0
Fiorina 2.9% 0
Santorum 2.5% 0
Huckabee 2.5% 0

On the Republican side, there are some disparities that need to be addressed. First, Donald Trump is leading Ted Cruz in the Iowa polls. However, Cruz leads the field with the strongest ground game. He has raised more money than Trump and leads Trump in Iowa endorsements. Cruz has emphasized his role in Iowa more than Trump has arguably. Rubio has also had more events, has more money, and has more endorsements than Trump. However, the polls have shown Rubio in this third spot since mid-December without formidable gain in comparison to Trump.

We arrived at our prediction for the Iowa Democratic Caucus based on 5 factors: the most recent polls, hired staff, days on ground/ events held, cash on hand, and the endorsements the candidates have received. The most recent polls together Clinton have a slim lead of 2.1%, however polls that only look at people who caucused before show Clinton with a 25-30% lead. Secretary Clinton also has the advantage with cash on hand at $33 million, the most hired staff at 114, and far more big name Iowa endorsements at 73 State Senators, State Representatives, and Congressmen. Senator Sanders and Governor O’Malley have spent more time in the state and it will be interesting to see if that will help voters who do not usually caucus show up. We also predict that O’Malley’s voters will support Clinton in the second round of voting.




GOP Candidate Average Dem Candidate Average
Cruz 30.16% Clinton 48.09%
Trump 26.15% Sanders 44.28%
Rubio 14.5% O'Malley 6%
Carson 7.44%
Bush 4.7%
Paul 4.3%
Christie 3.31%
Kasich 2.69%
Huckabee 2.06%
Fiorina 1.43%
Santorum 0.94%

Our team remains bullish on Cruz’s chances, despite his setbacks in recent polls. Many groups cited Cruz’s strong ground game and Trump’s reliance on traditional non-participants. Cruz wins in 5 of the 8 predictions, while Trump takes the other 3. In 7 of the 8 predictions, Rubio takes third place (though he takes second in Brianna and Kaitlyn’s prediction).

On the Democratic side, Clinton wins 6 of 8 predictions, with some groups citing her strength among demographic groups which typically participate at higher rates (older voters, for instance). Others pointed to the lessons of the 2008, noting that Clinton has paid more attention to strengthening her ground game in Iowa to avoid a repeat of that cycle.


With the caucuses only a day away, considerable movement is still possible. The Des Moines Register/Bloomberg/Selzer poll cited above notes that 30% of Democratic respondents still have not made up their mind, while that figure is 45% for Republican respondents. Given the polls indicate a tight race in both parties, those participants who have not yet decided could turn the outcome and lead pundits scratching their heads. Regardless, tomorrow night’s Iowa caucuses should be interesting to watch and may reset the race heading into New Hampshire.

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