Iowa and New Hampshire aren’t important because of the delegates lost or won. Very few delegates are at stake. They matter because of the potential momentum strong performances can create for a candidate heading into the rest of the primary.
If Buttigieg’s poll numbers improve nationally out of these two contests, his campaign is very much alive. If they don’t, his Iowa performance may end up being nothing more than a happy footnote for Buttigieg.
Buttigieg is already seeing a strong bounce in New Hampshire thanks to how he did in Iowa. Our new CNN/University of New Hampshire Survey Center tracking poll puts Buttigieg at 21% from 15% last month. That brings him within seven points shy of the leader, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (28%).
Such a bounce is well inline with what’d we expect given how Buttigieg did in Iowa. By beating his Iowa polls by nearly 10 points (taking into account undecideds), Buttigieg would be expected to do seven points better in New Hampshire than his pre-Iowa New Hampshire polling average would indicate.
Buttigieg probably needs an even bigger bounce coming out of New Hampshire than he got coming out of Iowa.
Buttigieg was polling in the single digits nationally before Iowa. Additionally, Buttigieg was polling in the single digits in Nevada and South Carolina. By outperforming expectations in Iowa, Buttigieg probably helped himself out in these places. Buttigieg, though, needs more than a bump nationally and in the other early states to be competitive. He needs the equivalent of a rocketship.
The problem is it’s not clear at all that Buttigieg has solved his problem with nonwhite voters. They make up somewhere around 40% or more of potential primary voters nationwide. Nonwhite make up about that percentage in Nevada and a majority in South Carolina. Those will be good tests for Buttigieg’s appeal to nonwhite voters.
So what is the chance that Buttigieg actually gets that bounce? The chance is significantly greater if he were to win in New Hampshire.
Right now, an average of all the post-Iowa New Hampshire polls has Sanders up by a 26% to 22% margin on Buttigieg, while everyone else is way back.
History suggests this really is a two way race in New Hampshire. Polls are surprisingly very predictive for candidates below 20% (and certainly 15%) at this point.
For those at 20% or above, the polls aren’t all that predictive. Sanders should win a little more than 3/5s of the time, while Buttigieg should win a little less than 2/5s of the time. That is, Sanders is certainly the favorite, but it’s not as clear as you might think it is.
If Buttigieg does pull it off in New Hampshire, things become a lot more interesting. After winning Iowa and New Hampshire in competitive primaries, five of six candidates have won their party’s nomination. That’s a small sample size to be sure, but should be encouraging to Buttigieg.
Of course, we don’t even know yet if Buttigieg officially won Iowa. I think one thing we can all agree on is that we want New Hampshire to determine its outcome quicker.