What's happening in Iowa

"Iowa shocks the world" : How did this happen, you Democrats?

The chaos in Iowa has occurred. All fears that the complicated system in the US Democrats' first primary election could lead to discrepancies and encourage several applicants to declare themselves the winners after the results have been announced have come true.

Only on Monday night there weren't even any official results in the Midwestern state to refer to. And yet five presidential candidates turned to their supporters with quasi-victory speeches - before they said goodbye to the next state: next Tuesday there will be elections again in New Hampshire. For the Democrats, who above all want to end the chaotic presidency of Donald Trump in November, the worst-case scenario has occurred. You have embarrassed yourself to the bone.

That did not change a day later either: On Tuesday afternoon (local time), the state chairman of the Democratic Party, Troy Price, appeared in front of the media, appeared contrite - and yet did not announce what everyone had hoped: a final result of the Iowa area code. So far, 62 percent of the votes have been counted, Price said.

At least then he announced an intermediate result. It's too close to declare a winner. In any case, it is a success for Pete Buttigieg, the just 38-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who has so far led with 26.9 percent just ahead of the left Senator Bernie Sanders with 25.1 percent. The other candidates are lagging behind.

What went wrong?

The "caucus" in Iowa is notorious. The massive concentration on this - with its predominantly white population - not at all representative agricultural state makes the start of the internal party candidate selection regularly a curious event.

Unlike in other states, the candidates are not determined by a simple election, but by a vote in a total of 1700 neighborhood assemblies. There is a 15 percent hurdle. Those who fail in the first round can choose one of the other applicants in a second round.

This year everything should be particularly transparent, after repeated criticism in previous elections. The party had therefore developed a complicated evaluation procedure for 2020: for the first time, not only the number of delegates was transmitted to the state party, but also the raw data from the first and second rounds of counting.

But there was a problem with this transmission, according to official information because of an app that had probably not been properly tested. Initially there was talk of “inconsistencies”, and a hacker attack was ruled out immediately. One thing is certain: the individual results could not be fully transmitted to the state party.

Several organizers of the meetings, who had studied everything so precisely and were so proud of their grassroots democratic process, then tried desperately to get through to headquarters by telephone or to send their photographed results slips in another way. But many also failed because of this.

Sometimes waiting times of up to 90 minutes on the phone were reported. On the night when the US media reported excitedly because of the hour-long delay, the decision was made to count again by hand. The count continued on Tuesday. One of the applicants summed up the disaster in drastic words that night: "Iowa, you shocked the world," said young star Buttigieg, who had already expected a strong result beforehand.

Why is Iowa so important?

In the days leading up to the election, Bernie Sanders, the left-wing Independent Senator from Vermont, had come out on top in polls. When he came to the election party of his enthusiastic supporters at the Holiday Inn at Des Moines Airport on Monday night, he was confident of victory: “At some point the results will be announced. And I have the feeling that we did very, very well, ”he called out to the cheering crowd. Not much later, his campaign team sent an email: In it, the campaign published its own results - and declared Sanders the winner.

Pete Buttigieg's team did not want to be left behind, after all, the 38-year-old, who is considered to be moderate ex-mayor, was also in first or second place in the last polls. Here, too, the candidate was proclaimed the winner, citing his own counts, without an official result. This is a dangerous development that further undermines the legitimacy of the election. Because when everyone announces their own results, this also opens the door to false reports and conspiracy theories.

This race for interpretative sovereignty is mainly due to the peculiarities of the caucus in Iowa: Actually without much relevance (only a good one percent of the delegates for the nomination party convention of the Democrats in July is determined here, Iowa has just three million inhabitants) is the main prize of the Traditionally the gigantic media attention in the evening.

Anyone who does well here is now considered a favorite. That's why the presidential candidates concentrate on Iowa months in advance, drive all over the country to hundreds of election campaigns, shake thousands of hands and test their messages for the next few months. The effort is enormous - physically and financially. If you can't keep up, you give up: Of the originally around two dozen applicants for the Democrats, only eleven are left.

Who is the chaos good for?

On the one hand, the research applicants who simply declared their victory. You will hold on to this message. Joe Biden probably also took advantage of the election chaos. The former Vice President, who was considered the candidate with the greatest chance of winning against Trump for months, had to reckon with a debacle, according to surveys.

In some cases he hadn't even made the 15 percent hurdle - even if the polls in Iowa should always be viewed with caution because the turnout is low and many voters were undecided to the end. Biden has now given respite from the chaos of Iowa.

In later primaries, for example in southern states such as South Carolina, he is assigned significantly better chances. In any case, many do not expect a preliminary decision until “Super Tuesday” (March 3rd) at the earliest, when 14 states vote at the same time, including as large as California.

Biden's team apparently tried to delay the announcement of the results further - the more distance, the better. The campaign was the first to write to the state party and criticize “significant shortcomings” in the counting process. It is now assumed that the opportunity to comment will be given before official results are published, it said in the letter, which was published in the US media.

And what is Trump doing?

The incumbent in the White House is arguably the greatest profiteer of all. Trump immediately tweeted with glee: "Nothing works." Only he himself could feel like the winner of the night.

The president won his party's Iowa primary, which was taking place at the same time, with an overwhelming majority. According to the New York Times, Trump received 97.1 percent of the Republican vote in Iowa. His two Iowa rivals - former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld, and conservative radio host and former Congressman Joe Walsh - fell below two percent.

Trump's campaign manager Brad Parscale sneered at the competition as a “meltdown of the Democrats”. He said on Twitter: “They can't even organize the primary and they want to run the government. No thanks."

Trump's son Eric Trump also tweeted, which is exactly why people didn't want the Democrats to rule the United States.

The fact that the Republicans had problems in Iowa in the past was simply kept quiet. In 2012, Mitt Romney was declared the winner on the evening of the election, before the party two weeks later put Rick Santorum in first place with a 34-vote lead.

For Trump, the election debacle with the Democrats was also the prelude to a week full of victory messages: on Tuesday evening (local time) he wanted to speak about the great successes of his government in his speech on the state of the nation, on Wednesday he will most likely be in the Senate in Impeachment proceedings acquitted. The election year could hardly have started worse for the Democrats.

What are the consequences of the debacle?

Much now depends on when the results are announced and how they are received. It is quite possible that the attention will now shift entirely to New Hampshire, where the applicants will be campaigning intensively for the next few days.

For the agricultural state of Iowa, which prided itself on receiving global attention, the chaos could have the most long-term consequences. The state could lose its status as the first pre-election state in the country. The US media already said that this was probably the last time for Iowa. The frustration over this renewed election failure is too great - and the embarrassment of the Democratic Party.

Now new: We give you 4 weeks of Tagesspiegel Plus! To home page