How Herding in Iowa and in the Democratic Primary Has Shaped the Presidential Race

The 2016 Presidential Election is receiving more news and social media coverage than any in our nation’s history, which is resulting in an abundance of questions from first-time voters about the logistics of a caucus and the role of superdelegates in the Democratic Primary race. These two formalities of the United States election process have had a substantial impact in influencing both party’s races in 2016. The caucuses and superdelegates have been working effectively for two parties that have tried to cement the establishment candidate while fighting off the rise of their anti-establishment counterparts. This article written in early March as an effort to explain the importance of superdelegates to Bernie Sander’s supporters serves as an example of how systematic herding of would-be voters has influenced the 2016 election up to today. If you were to google the Presidential Primary Results for the Democratic Party sometime in February, this is what you would see:

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At first glance, it appears that Hillary Clinton is running away with the nomination and will win in a landslide. However, uninformed voters are not aware that the dark blue portion of the bar graph indicates the superdelegates that each candidate has garnered, instead of delegates awarded based on the popular vote. Superdelegates are individual who are free to support any candidate regardless of their results in each state’s primaries, many of which claim they will support whichever candidate wins the popular vote. So, while it appears that Bernie Sanders is at a nearly 450 vote disadvantage early in the race, he is, in reality, down by less than 50 delegates. This is, in effect, the democratic establishment using its authority to herd its voters even amidst the anonymous voting process.

Another interesting component of the 2016 primary elections is the presence of several caucuses. At a caucus, instead of voting anonymously in a private booth, members of a specific location deliberate the views of the candidates and share their beliefs, ultimately gathering in specific parts of the room to show their affiliation with a specific candidate. This introduces the possibility of herding and groupthink that could skew the results of individual locations. At the time of the Iowa caucus, there were candidates in both parties that appeared to be the de facto choice (Clinton and Cruz/Rubio) and candidates in both parties that appeared slightly too radical with which to be openly affiliated (Sanders and Trump). Interestingly, in the Republican side of the race, Trump appeared to be in line for a win in Iowa over Cruz and Rubio but ended up placing second to Cruz. This begged the question of whether or not the voting format herded people away from declaring their support of Trump due to the negative stigma attached to agreeing with his platform.

Both of these situations present different methods by which the established system of the Primary Presidential elections could have influenced the early voting results. One could argue that the existence of superdelegates is the catalyst that will eventually spur the nomination of Hillary Clinton as the candidate for the Democratic party. On the republican side, Donald Trump’s results improved dramatically when shifting from the caucus format to the conventional voting style in the following primaries. Though the primary elections are not completely over, these herding techniques undoubtedly played a significant role in manipulating the people’s votes in determining the candidates for the next President of the United States of America.

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