What You Need To Know About Iowa Caucus 2016

On March 23 of last year, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz officially declared his candidacy for the presidency of the United States. He was the first major candidate to formally announce his campaign, and his announcement marked the beginning of one of the most unpredictable and polarizing elections in history.

Ten months later, voters will finally have a chance to voice their opinions in the Iowa caucuses on Monday. While Iowa is only the first state in the primary process, the results of the Iowa caucuses have long played a definitive role in presidential politics.

Cruz, the man who got it all started and one of the most intriguing phenomenons of the campaign, is still standing strong and has a chance to take home a crucial victory in Iowa. In his way, however, is Donald J. Trump — the greatest shock of the cycle and, arguably, the face of the political turmoil facing the nation 11 months before Election Day.

According to polling averages on Real Clear Politics, Trump has a slim six-point lead over Cruz in Iowa. The two frontrunners have exchanged the lead several times in recent weeks and are likely the only two who can actually win in the state. Nevertheless, Monday’s caucuses could be the latest surprise in what has been an incredibly unpredictable race for the Republican nomination.

One name to watch out for on the Republican side is Sen. Marco Rubio. Rubio, whom many consider to be the most talented candidate on the GOP side, has struggled to gain traction in a race dominated by the angry, populist message of Trump and Cruz. But Rubio has emerged as the establishment favorite for the Republican Party, and after a strong performance in every GOP debate thus far, Rubio could come away with a strong finish in Iowa.

The more likely scenario, however, is that Cruz and Trump will dominate the caucuses. The stakes are especially high for Cruz, whose campaign could be dealt a near-fatal blow if he can’t win in Iowa. Trump has a commanding 15.6-point lead in national polling averages and will also likely win the New Hampshire Primary in a week — a contest which he currently leads by nearly 20 points, according to polling averages.

What’s left of the race for the GOP nomination will be shaped in large part by what happens in Iowa on Monday. A win for Trump — followed by an almost certain victory in New Hampshire — would further cement his status as the unquestionable frontrunner in the race and could give him a relatively clear path to the nomination. A win for Cruz, on the other hand, would likely open up the race for the Texas senator and give his campaign momentum going into later-voting state primaries. An unexpectedly strong finish by an establishment candidate such as Rubio could hurt Trump’s surge heading into South Carolina and beyond.

Will Hillary Feel A Burn From Bern?

While the campaign has always been far more complex and turbulent on the GOP side, the race for the Democratic nomination is just as unpredictable at this point — at least in Iowa.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whom many considered the overwhelming favorite to win the nomination going into the race, still holds a strong national lead over rival Sen. Bernie Sanders. But the race is neck-and-neck in Iowa, and a win by either candidate could have a major impact on the remainder of the campaign.

A win for Clinton in Iowa would offset a likely Sanders win in New Hampshire and could give her an easy path to the nomination. A win for Sanders, on the other hand, would give his insurgent campaign some much needed momentum heading into South Carolina and Nevada.

Junior government and politics major Christopher Walkup, who has been in Iowa for the last month volunteering for the Sanders campaign, understands the impact that the state can have on the rest of the race.

“If Clinton wins Iowa, she will likely go on to win the Democratic nomination,” Walkup said. “Barring a criminal indictment for the email scandal, I can’t see anything stopping her from winning the nomination if she wins Iowa. If she wins Iowa, she wins Nevada, South Carolina, and just about every state, and Sanders will probably only take a few states in the Northeast and Northwest.”

A win for Sanders in Iowa would likely turn a once simple race into a long, drawn-out nominating process. And while the Senator would still face an uphill battle for the nomination, a victory in the Hawkeye State could make things much more interesting for Democrats.

“Basically, if Bernie loses Iowa, he loses the primary,” Walkup said. “If Bernie wins Iowa, he has a path to victory.”

The 2016 presidential election has been long, intense and unpredictable — and Barack Obama’s successor won’t be determined for another 11 months. But after nearly a year of bickering, debating and campaigning, voters will finally have their say Monday night in Iowa.