Release Date: February 2, 2016
BUFFALO, N.Y. — There’s a theory in political circles that the party truly controls the candidate selection process, says Jacob Neiheisel, University at Buffalo assistant professor of political science.
Then 2016 happened.
“This is the real test for how much power a party really has and if they even want to at this point,” says Neiheisel, whose research focuses on political parties and religion and politics. “The party usually decides, but this is shaping up to turn that back a little bit. This election defies expectations and the question after Iowa is if the GOP will bolt for Rubio.”
After Ted Cruz and Donald Trump finished first and second in Iowa, the outsider candidates continue to thrive, he says. The Republicans favored most by the party elite – Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and Rand Paul – struggled mightily.
But Marco Rubio outperformed expectations, Neiheisel says, and made somewhat of a victory speech for good reason.
“This was more of a win for Rubio than anyone else,” he says. “Even though the prize in Iowa is not great, he became the very clear establishment front-runner at this point. The question is whether voters go with the establishment or the outsider, but Rubio is becoming the preference for those who want an establishment candidate.
“That will serve him well in New Hampshire where we will see a different kind of Republican base that is very establishment. How will the party respond? We might just see them bolt for Rubio after Iowa.”
The Democrats are having the same kind of soul searching after Iowa, Neiheisel says.
Iowa taught the party that Bernie Sanders supporters are very fervent Sanders supporters.
“The party has to ask themselves after Iowa, ‘if Sanders doesn’t win, will those supporters stay home to punish the party?’” Neiheisel says. “One of the clear surprises was the closeness on the Democratic side in Iowa. You would expect Sanders to go on and win in New Hampshire, making South Carolina the true test.”
Both sides had a very high turnout in Iowa and that points to enthusiasm all around, Neiheisel says. That is likely foreshadowing for what the general election will be like, he added.
“The high participation is likely a product of polarization,” he says. “The public is really enthused about the contest because they believe the parties are no longer two sides of the same coin and they are engaged. As much as they talk about the fact that they don’t like contentious politics, it gets people participating.”