As of 10:45 pm, Hillary Clinton maintains a slim lead over Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Iowa Caucus. In terms of absolute performance, Sanders fans should be happy. When all votes are tallied, Sanders will either win the caucus or lose by a very slim margin. That means that Sanders will continue. He’ll win New Hampshire and make it to Super Tuesday and probably win a few more states.
However, in terms of winning the nomination, this is tough for Sanders. The reason is that Clinton is the party’s candidate and about 45% of voters in the Democratic party are extremely comfortable with her. They will only defect in sufficiently large numbers if they see that she is indeed crumbling and they need an unambiguous signal. If 2008 is any guide, Hilary can reliably depend on 40% – no matter what happens. Even after it was abundantly clear in 2008 that Clinton did not have a reasonable chance at catching Obama in the delegate count, she still kept winning big states like California, Pennsylvania and Ohio – by large margins (but not enough to make up for earlier losses).
Adding to the problem for Sanders is that Obama’s strategy – maxing out caucus states – only works once. Clinton’s campaign simply wasn’t prepared for it and they weren’t prepared for a campaign that went beyond Super Tuesday. They are prepared this time, poorly perhaps, but prepared. The close race in Iowa shows it.
Here’s the bottom line. When you fight the party’s candidate, you need to seriously knock them down to break the view that they are invincible. Obama did that with a completely unexpected 8% victory. A near miss or narrow victory by Sanders does not do that, so it will be very, very hard to trigger a mass migration that needs to happen over the next month for a Sanders win.