The Iowa caucuses tend to have a profound impact on all the presidential campaigns of all running candidates – and 2016 was no different.
In just one night, we watched a number of noteworthy things happen:
- Record-breaking turnout for Republican voters: more than 180,000 Iowans, compared to 121,000 in 2012.
- “Outsider” Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders virtually tying with Hillary Clinton, who was once considered to be the most formidable candidate in the party’s history.
- Delegates being awarded by coin tosses.
- Martin O’Malley and Mike Huckabee each suspending their campaigns.
- Donald Trump nearly placing third in a tight race with Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
But what can other political candidates, at the state, city and local levels, learn from Iowa 2016? Aside from the headlines above, there are a few crucial takeaways that all candidates can use to organize a winning a campaign.
Here are three big ones:
1) Polls are important, but not always reliable
So many factors go into the reliability of poll data, including even the way they’re conducted (over phone / cell phone, size of the sample and so on). Virtually every Iowa GOP poll over the week before the caucus showed Donald Trump with the most support – by as much as 8 percentage points in some cases. On the Democratic side, most polls showed Clinton winning by a relatively large margin.
Poll data is useful as a broad survey of voter sentiment, but remember that everything can change on Election Day.
Suggested reading: Focusing your campaign through polling and focus groups
2) Groundwork is key
How did Ted Cruz defy the polls? By having a massive ground operation that the New York Times quoted supporters as calling “the best they have seen for a presidential campaign here.” Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, supporters praised Clinton’s own impressive ground game, with campaign offices spread throughout the state. Because of how tight the race ended up, some analysts questioned whether Hillary would have had a chance without flooding so much effort (and money) into on-the-ground canvassing in Iowa.
At the end of the day, to garner voters you need to get out there, meet with people, listen, engage, follow up, and remind them to vote for you on Election Day.
Suggested reading: Victory Lab: The Science of Winning Campaigns
3) Support can fluctuate greatly by precinct / ward
It’s important to remember that Iowa is only one state, and the results are generally not representative of the entire nation. Not only that, but each county in Iowa, and indeed each precinct can have its own results, vastly different from the rest of the state.
The same is true in every community. No matter what office you’re running for, it’s important to conduct voter identification to determine where your supporters are – and where they aren’t. This enables you to rally and build the communities that support you and focus more awareness-building in the areas where your competitors have more support.
Suggested reading: Targeting and Voter Identification