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Donald Trump walking and waving.
Donald Trump is hoping to be reelected as US president this November.

Iowa grabs attention because it goes first, but the historical record also shows that it has only predicted the eventual winner six times since it took on this role in 1972. This is partly because Iowa, with just over 3 million inhabitants represents less than one percent of the wider US population. It is also much older, more rural, whiter (90%), more evangelical and less college-educated than the US at large. Those turning out to vote for Trump were also a smaller, self-selecting subset of even that tiny population.

Trump’s 50% share of the vote and margin of victory over DeSantis of 30%, are unprecedented, but so is the fact of a former President standing in the primary and caucus process. This has not happened since Herbert Hoover ran, and lost, in 1940. Still styling himself “President Trump” and turning up with his Secret Service detail in full view makes Trump unlike any of the other candidates. Similarly, his reputation and name recognition have contributed to his success in Iowa.

While Trump leaves Iowa in a strong position there remains the possibility that Nikki Haley could do sufficiently well in New Hampshire and South Carolina to carry on throughout the primary process as an alternative to Trump. To do so, however, would require her to match Trump’s attacks on her with a more critical response to the record and reputation of the former president. Her reluctance to do so suggests to some that Haley is running for the number two spot to be picked as a potential vice-presidential nominee.

The Iowa caucus result should not be confused with the support that Trump has on a national basis. Trump’s national unfavorability ratings currently stand at 57%, a very different picture than the one that the news coverage from Iowa paints. The media needs to be careful not to over-trumpet Trump’s success and contribute to the idea that his political resurrection, and eventual electoral triumph, are in some way inevitable.