Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian is an honorary associate at the University of Melbourne. His work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.
Six days before the US February 3 Iowa Democratic caucus, the RealClearPolitics poll average has Bernie Sanders narrowly leading with 25.0%, followed by Joe Biden on 22.0%, Pete Buttigieg 17.0% and Elizabeth Warren 13.5%. Nationally, it’s 28.4% Biden, 23.0% Sanders, 14.9% Warren, 8.0% Michael Bloomberg and 6.9% Buttigieg. In the last two weeks, Biden and particularly Sanders have gained, mostly at Warren’s expense.
Iowa is important because it helps to winnow the field of candidates, and candidates who exceed expectations often get a surge in their national voting intentions. Three more contests are scheduled in February: New Hampshire (February 11), Nevada (February 22) and South Carolina (February 29).
The early states are important mainly to demonstrate strength; on “Super Tuesday” March 3, 36% of all pledged delegates will be awarded, and this could be decisive. Delegates are allocated proportional to vote share in each state and Congressional District (CD), but with a high threshold of 15%. That threshold applies to CDs, so any candidate who fails to break 15% in a CD gets zero delegates from that CD.
Biden has polled strongly with black voters, but not so well with whites. Iowa is a virtually all-white state. If, as some polls suggest, Biden nevertheless won Iowa, he would likely be the Democratic nominee to face Donald Trump in November. If he fails to win Iowa, Biden is still well-placed when the contest turns to more diverse states.
You can see my Conversation articles for more on the US elections. The strong US economy is Trump’s best asset.
Is Brexit over on January 31? No
After the Conservative landslide at the December 12 election, Boris Johnson easily passed his Brexit deal through the Commons, and Britain will Leave the European Union on January 31.
However, there will be no major changes until at least December 31, when the transition period expires. The transition period could be extended, but Johnson has ruled it out by legislation. The transition period is time to negotiate a UK/EU trade deal, and pass it through parliament.
While the Conservatives hold 365 of the 650 Commons seats, 118 Conservative MPs rejected Theresa May’s deal when first put to a vote in January last year, and 75 in March. Johnson would easily lose Commons divisions if those defections were repeated.
If Johnson agrees a soft trade deal with the EU, he is likely to anger hard Leave Conservative MPs. If no deal were agreed, there would be a “no deal” Brexit on December 31. With Brexit assured, there would be little incentive for hard Leavers to hold their noses and vote for a soft Brexit.
Also in Britain, there is a Labour leadership contest. This will be decided by a preferential postal vote among Labour members, with the result announced in early April. The main contenders appear to be the pro-Remain Keir Starmer and the pro-Corbyn Rebecca Long-Bailey. A mid-January YouGov poll of Labour members gave Starmer a 63-37 lead over Long-Bailey, from first preferences of Starmer 46%, Long-Bailey 32%.
A Starmer victory is unlikely to help Labour in Leave-voting regions. According to a YouGov post-election poll, the Conservatives won lower-income voters by a greater margin than higher-income voters. They won those with the lowest education level by 58-25.
Irish election: February 8
The Irish election will be held on a Saturday. Previous Irish elections have been held on weekdays, so this Saturday election may boost turnout. The 160 lower house seats are elected in 39 electorates that each have three to five members. Ireland uses Tasmania’s Hare-Clark system, so a quota for election is 25% in three-member electorates, 20% with four, and 16.7% with five.
Irish politics has been dominated by two conservative parties: Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Currently there is a minority Fine Gael government. Polls suggest Fianna Fáil will narrowly win the most seats, but there will be a large increase for the far-left Sinn Féin and the Greens.
Spain’s Socialists win confidence vote after election
I wrote for my personal website on January 8 that the left-wing Spanish government won its investiture vote by just two votes, 167 to 165. Also covered: the left won the Croatian presidential election, a conservative/green government was formed in Austria, and Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu easily won a primary for leadership of his Likud party.