Donald Trump campaigns in Indianola, Iowa, January 14, 2024 (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Originally published by The Conversation:

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News headlines reporting Donald Trump’s victory in the Iowa caucuses on January 15 give the impression of a much larger victory than should sensibly be drawn from this first expression of American electoral opinion in 2024.

Iowa grabs attention because it is the first of the 2024 election primaries, but the historical record also shows that it has only predicted the eventual winner on six out of 13 occasions since it took on this role in 1972. The last successful GOP candidate who won the Iowa caucus was George W. Bush in 2000.

This is partly because Iowa, with just over 3 million inhabitants represents less than 1% of the wider US population. Its voters are also much older, more rural, whiter (90%), more evangelical and less college educated than the US at large. Although formerly a swing state Iowa has been solidly republican since 2016.

Those turning out for Trump, giving him 51% of the vote, were a smaller, self-selecting subset of even that tiny population. The registered Republicans who ventured to the caucuses on one of the coldest nights of the year amounted to just 110,298 Iowans.

Trump’s margin of victory also needs context. His share of the vote and 30% margin of victory over the Florida governor, Ron DeSantis are – as much of the press note – “unprecedented”. But so is a former President standing in the primary and caucus process. This has not happened since Herbert Hoover ran, and lost, in 1940.

Still styling himself “President Trump” and turning up with his secret service detail in full view makes Trump unlike any of the other candidates. Similarly, his reputation, name recognition, and constant presence in the news headlines over the past year contributed to his success in the mid-western state.

While Trump leaves Iowa in a strong position, there remains the possibility that former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley – who ran third in Iowa – could do sufficiently well in New Hampshire and South Carolina to carry on as an alternative to Trump. But she mustmatch Trump’s attacks on her with a more critical response to the record and reputation of the former President.

Haley’s reluctance to do so suggests to some that she is running for second place, enabling her selection as a the Vice-Presidential nominee. A more likely explanation is a desire not to alienate the fanatical Trumpist base in the hope that she inherits the Republican Party nomination with the slowing of Trump’s momentum, due to legal reasons (he presently faces 91 felony charges) or other unforeseen events.

Biden Wants Trump to Win

President Joe Biden’s response to the news from Iowa was conspicuously unflustered.

This is the preferred situation for Biden and his team. Trump’s electoral record in national polls is dismal. He lost the popular vote in 2016 and in 2020m and candidates backed by him performed poorly in the November 2018 and 2022 mid-term elections. Polls pitting Biden against either Haley or DeSantis show a marked improvement in the prospects for the Republican Party.

Not only has Trump proved to be the preference for a minority of Americans. The Democrats are banking on Trump’s legal woes having a negative impact on his national standing as the year progresses. As the New York Times notes “a mountain of public opinion data suggests voters would turn away from the former President” if he were actually convicted of a crime.

For this reason, Trump is employing every tactic possible to obstruct and delay any legal reckoning until after the primary process or ideally November’s general election. His hope is that by securing the Republican nomination, he will be able to portray all the legal cases against him as partisan interference in the American electoral process — thus avoiding legal accountability.

In contrast, the Democrats see such a process as their best chance of overcoming Biden’s own unpopularity with the electorate.

Negative ratings

However the Republican Party nomination process plays out, Iowa should not be confused with the support that Trump has on a national basis. Trump’s favorability ratings currently stand at 42%. While these are slightly better than Biden’s 41%, the likely two contenders for November’s election are closely matched in their lack of appeal for the US population.

This is a very different picture from that painted by the news coverage from the Iowa caucus. So the media needs to be careful not to oversell the idea of Trump’s success: it would be wrong to reach the conclusion from this one result that his political resurrection and eventual electoral triumph is in some way inevitable.The Conversation