Iowa Caucus Confusion Puts The New Hampshire Primary in Bigger Spotlight

After Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses melted down earlier this week, all eyes are on the New Hampshire primary to give some clarity to the crowded and chaotic Democratic presidential race.

Voters in the New England state will head to the polls on February 11 to pick the Democrat they want to see nominated. The contest is the second stop after the all-important Iowa caucuses, which normally help cut down the field of candidates.

But issues in the Midwestern state have left the race more open-ended than usual. Historically, the two or three candidates who come out on top in Iowa see increased momentum for the rest of the early-voting season. Now, the muddled results have left the primary race in slight disarray.

"The people who expected to come out of Iowa on a speeding freight train are still waiting for the train to leave the station," Joe Trippi, a veteran Democratic strategist, told Newsweek.

By midafternoon Wednesday, Iowa had still not declared an official winner in Monday's caucuses. But with 75 percent of precincts reporting, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg was leading the field with 26.9 percent of the state delegate equivalents. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders wasn't too far behind, with 25.2 percent.

The delay stemmed from a "coding issue" in a new voting application that party officials had hoped would streamline the reporting of results. Instead, the opposite happened. As the app failed, backup reporting methods also experienced problems. Derek Eadon, a former Iowa Democratic Party chairman, called the situation a "systemwide disaster."

It's unlikely such a breakdown will happen in New Hampshire. The Granite State uses a traditional primary system, with residents going into a voting booth and selecting one candidate using a paper ballot.

Even when the final Iowa results are released, they may not hold as much weight because of the voting process trouble. While party officials said the results will be accurate, the problem-plagued caucuses are likely to add to increasing public doubts about the integrity of the nation's election process.

Trippi also noted that the delayed results could easily cut down on the historic surge a winning candidate usually experiences after coming out on top in Iowa.

"Sanders and Buttigieg might not get the boost that they each expected or wanted out of how strongly they finished in the state," he said. "Finding out the results at 5 p.m. on Tuesday or later isn't the same as a prime-time speech on caucus night."

Andrew Smith, a pollster and political scientist at the University of New Hampshire, agreed that the results of next week's primary will be big for the Democratic contest because of the chaos in Iowa.

"New Hampshire will be important because we won't see any impact of Iowa," Smith told Newsweek. "There's no press coverage of who won and who lost. The press coverage is how it got so screwed up."

klobuchar supporters new hampshire primary
Supports of Democratic presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar wave signs and flags at a February 4 campaign event at Nashua Community College in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The state's primary is February 11. Scott Eisen/Getty

In addition, the Democratic candidates have already shifted their focus to the New Hampshire primary. Nearly all of them were campaigning in the Granite State early Tuesday morning after the polls closed in Iowa on Monday night.

For the past several months, New Hampshire polling has shown four Democratic front-runners: Joe Biden, Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren and Sanders. But the latest polls show Sanders, from neighboring Vermont, expanding his lead in New Hampshire.

An Emerson College survey released Tuesday found Sanders leading the pack, with 32 percent support among Democratic voters in New Hampshire. The senator had a nearly 20-point lead over his next closest rivals, Biden and Warren, who each had 13 percent support.

Sanders was also on top in a Boston Globe/Suffolk University survey released Monday. He had 24 percent support among likely primary voters. Biden and Warren rounded out the top three slots again, earning 18 percent and 13 percent support, respectively.

But Smith said to be wary of any surveys that come out of the state, because most people "just haven't made up their minds yet" and often don't do so until the very last moment.

"Any polling that we're seeing now is not really predictive of what will happen next week," Smith said.

New Hampshire is one of the most difficult early-voting states to poll or predict for a number of reasons. One is that it allows undeclared residents (who aren't registered with a political party) to cast ballots in either the Democratic or Republican primary. It also has one of the highest population turnover rates in the country, which means that the voting pool is significantly different from one presidential election to the next.

"I wouldn't make a prediction about New Hampshire right now," Trippi agreed. "It's not predictable, especially with the muddled picture coming out of Iowa."