After the outcome is announced, the next question about Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses usually is, “What do the results mean?”
If there are no results, is there any meaning?
Not so much — not even if most but not all results are reported.
There may be meaning in the full results whenever they are available, said University of Iowa political scientist Tim Hagle. But what the delay really means “is that the Iowa caucuses are hanging by a thread.”
“I think there would likely have been a message in the results. We just don’t know right now how strong it would have been,” Hagle said.
Out of an “abundance of caution” after caucus leaders repeatedly encountered difficulties reporting results from nearly 1,700 precincts across the state, the Iowa Democratic Party did not release results Monday night. It was only Tuesday afternoon that it started reporting results, and even then just for 62 percent of the caucuses.
The partial results showed former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg with 27 percent, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders at 25 percent, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren with 18 percent, former Vice President Joe Biden at 16 percent and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar at 13 percent.
The party has not said when additional results will be available.
The lack of complete results will keep the focus on Iowa a bit longer, “but not in a very good light,” said Linn County Democratic Party Chairman Bret Nilles.
“We have all become way too accustomed to immediate results,” Kurt Meyer of St. Ansgar, chairman of the Mitchel, Howard and Worth County Democrats, wrote in an email.
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But there were no immediate results, The state party didn’t release any until when “in a sense, the political caravan has moved on to New Hampshire,” said Drake University political scientist Dennis Goldford.
Steffen Schmidt, Iowa State University political science professor, was more succinct.
“Now no one cares anymore,” he said.
The partial results likely will give a lift to Buttigieg, who can claim victory and — based on partial results — did better than expected.
Klobuchar, who wasn’t predicted to win, claimed she was “punching above our weight.” That could give her a boost going into New Hampshire, which hosts the first-in-the-nation primary next Tuesday.
Nilles thought Klobuchar and Buttigieg “exceeded expectations” while Biden “didn’t do very well.”
In the end, Hagle said, “the delay means attention has turned elsewhere in large part, so it basically gives all five of them, and maybe six with (Andrew) Yang, the opportunity to live another day.”
It wasn’t all for nothing, said Des Moines lawyer Roxanne Conlin, who backed Klobuchar, because “Iowa has already winnowed the field by about two dozen people.”
Businessmen Tom Steyer and Yang should have been among them, “but they can continue on the basis on their own money. Nearly everyone else can go on. So five tickets based on the tiny bit of information we have,” Conlin said.
Gov. Kim Reynolds made a similar point to Statehouse reporters.
“You know, this is a pretty tight pack, and it has been throughout this whole process,” the Republican governor said about the Democratic field. “You’ve seen people, you know, start to move and then you’ve seen them kind of stabilize and resurge again.
“We did what we always do. We started to winnow the field,” Reynolds said.
Rep. Bruce Hunter, D-Des Moines, who backed Biden, expected a four-way race Monday night.
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But partial results mean that “instead of four tickets coming out, there might be 12 tickets coming out of this thing because nobody knows what happened.”
There’s more to the results than simple numbers, said Barbara Trish, Grinnell College political science professor.
“Even something that looks like a resounding win or failure in numeric terms is interpreted in the context of expectations,” she said. “What’s more, once those numbers are out — and even before — the politics shifts to each campaign constructing and peddling the narrative that seemingly works to their advantage.”
Even in the absence of complete data, Trish expects that to happen “though I expect it will tax the creativity of campaigns — and those commenting on the contest — a little more than the usual, ‘We’ve got some hard numbers’ situation.”
It’s not only the problem in reporting results that should trouble Democrats, Republican National Committee spokeswoman Prey Samsundar said. Turnout appears to be less than anticipated, she asserted.
“The opposite is true for the Republican Party heading into the general,” she said.
Hagle also noted that Democratic turnout appeared to be closer to 2016 levels than 2008 levels. Lower turnout might have helped Sanders, whose supporters were more energized.
“Biden would be hurt as his supporters were less so,” Hagle said. “Buttigieg is doing much better than expected. In looking at the realignment numbers, he gained the most and could be benefiting in those precincts where Biden and maybe Klobuchar weren’t viable. Warren is doing OK, but her current third place is more due to Biden’s drop. Klobuchar is doing OK too — strong enough, at least, to make a case for continuing.”
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Rod Boshart of The Gazette Des Moines Bureau contributed.