Q&A on presidential politics post Iowa and New Hampshire

Associate Professor of Political Science Doug Roscoe discusses Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary aftermath.

Professor Roscoe's academic interests center upon Congress, the president, interest groups, and political parties.

Associate Professor of Political Science Doug Roscoe discusses the mood of the electorate following the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary and how the race amongst Democrats and Republicans continues to take shape.

What does New Hampshire and Iowa tell us about the mood of the electorate?

DR: The results in Iowa and New Hampshire, to some extent, tell us the public is becoming more polarized.  That two fairly extreme candidates--Sanders and Cruz--did so well testifies to the increasing power of the far right and left.  But it's important not to overstate this.  After all, Cruz did not perform as well in New Hampshire as in Iowa, and the success of Trump is hard to categorize as a right-wing victory.  In many ways, Trump is one of the more moderate Republicans running.  His success is a consequence of voter anger more than ideology, and the same could be said about Sanders to some extent (although his supporters are angry about different things than Trump supporters).

The race seems to be shaping into establishment candidates (Clinton, Bush) vs. anti-establishment (Trump, Sanders). Why do you think this is?

DR: This is not an unusual pattern in nomination battles.  The nominations are the place where parties work out what they stand for, and the anti-establishment, ideologically extreme candidates have always had a role in crafting the party platforms by pushing and pulling on the establishment candidates.  What is unusual this year is the tenacity of the outsiders.  Not only are they sticking around longer than usual, but they're winning.

How impactful were debates on the outcomes in New Hampshire and Iowa? How impactful will they be moving forward?

DR: The research on debates during the primaries suggests they have little impact on voters.  What matters more is the way they structure media coverage, and this coverage can affect voters.  Unfortunately, the media has its own dynamics in concocting narratives about who "won" a debate.  The need to create compelling news stories, with drama and intrigue, often determines the "winners and losers" in debates.  This can result in self-fulfilling prophecies.  

Who has the “momentum” right now?

DR: The notion of momentum is another media fabrication.  That's not to say it doesn't exist--rather, it exists only because the media creates it.  The bandwagon effect is an important psychological reaction.  So when the media (or a professor of political science interviewed by the media) says a candidate has momentum, people think "hey, this candidate has what it takes--I'm on board."  As a result, the candidate's numbers rise and this just confirms that the media was right about the candidate having momentum!  

So I'll make an anti-momentum point: the nomination is won by collecting a majority of the delegates to the national nominating conventions.  There are 2472 Republican delegates and 4763 Democratic delegates.  Trump has 17 and Cruz has 11.  Sanders has 36 and Clinton has 32.  So there's a long way to go.  In delegate terms, IA and NH mean very little.  More interesting than talking about momentum is to analyze what the other states look like and who is polling well in those places.  Will Trump and Sanders continue to collect delegates at the same rate in states that are more diverse and urbanized?  And on the Republican side, an even more interesting question is what will happen if Trump does keep getting the same share of delegates: he will have a plurality but not a majority.  So, there may be no winner on the first ballot of the convention, at which point the delegates are released from their candidate pledges and the bargaining and deal making will commence with gusto!

About Doug Roscoe 

Professor Roscoe's academic interests center upon Congress, the president, interest groups, and political parties. He is especially interested in the dynamics of the electoral process, and how interest groups and parties shape lawmaking and public policy through electoral politics. His research has been published in the Journal of Politics, Legislative Studies Quarterly, Social Science Quarterly, the American Review of Politics, and the Journal of Applied Social Psychology.  In 2011 Professor Roscoe was a Fulbright scholar at Lingnan University in Hong Kong, China.


College of Arts and Sciences, Research