The Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary have enough problems in their own right. The screwy format in Iowa means the results are always a mess (more so this year than usual). And the mostly white, largely non-urban makeup of the two states means that the results tell us little about who’s going to be the nominee anyway. But the real problem is that the media spends February steadfastly pretending that these two states mean everything, because it’s an easy way to drum up ratings.
This leads to massive confusion about who’s actually the frontrunner, who’s in trouble, and who has momentum. The only thing you ever need to look at in February is whether the national polling averages are shifting, but of course the media never covers that – and even if they do, they usually just put one wacky outlier poll on the screen that fits their premise that whoever didn’t win Iowa and New Hampshire is in “trouble.”
This also forces the media to go even further down the rabbit hole when other storylines come into play. For instance, Donald Trump got impeached for trying to promote a phony scandal about Joe Biden. This has led to the question of whether Trump’s scheme got him anywhere, in terms of damaging Biden. Because Biden finished poorly in the Iowa caucus, numerous pundits are now insisting that Trump has succeeded in taking out the guy who had been the frontrunner. But this easily disproven fiction.
Back when Trump first started promoting the phony Biden scandal, Joe Biden was polling in the high twenties in the national polling averages. As of today, he’s still polling in the high twenties (source: RealClearPolitics). He hasn’t moved at all. Biden has lost zero votes as a result of the phony scandal. It’s just that he’s the kind of candidate who doesn’t resonate in Iowa and New Hampshire but resonates strongly in the more diverse South Carolina and Super Tuesday contests, so of course he did poorly in Iowa.
I could have told you a year ago that Biden wouldn’t do well in Iowa. He won’t come within ten points in New Hampshire next week either. But Biden is ahead in the South Carolina polling averages by double digits. If that proves accurate, three weeks from now the media will be talking about Biden’s “miracle” comeback. Whether he’s your candidate or not, Biden is still the frontrunner. It’ll remain that way for as long as Biden remains atop the national polling averages. That doesn’t stop being true, just because the talking heads on TV have found a convenient narrative to keep people tuned in.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report