The Countdown To Iowa Is On, And Bernie Sanders May Have A Big Problem.

I recently called Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders the Democratic Party’s new front-runner. I got the usual ribbing from my friends in the Democratic Party, most of whom like Bernie but can’t imagine he’ll beat Clinton come February 1. Admittedly, so-called front-runner status is subjective. Anyone placing greater importance on national polling and establishment support sees a clear path to victory for Clinton. Those of us who gamble on grassroots movements are more optimistic about Sanders. With sixteen days until Iowa and twenty-four until New Hampshire, we’ll find out who’s right soon enough.

I still believe Sanders will take the nomination, but there’s a hitch few have considered: Iowa’s college semester begins before the caucus. This is a serious problem that should deeply concern the Sanders campaign. College-aged voters helped give Obama an edge in 2008. This year, however, that same demographic—a core group of support for the Sanders’ campaign—may be too displaced to give Sanders the same advantage.

The issue is deceptive: it isn’t that college students will neglect to show up on Feb. 1 because they’re busy with classes. That’s a lazy stereotype about the college voter demographic—they’re vapid, fickle, and more committed to tee-shirts and bumper stickers than going to the polls.

No, the real problem is two-fold: it isn’t economically feasible for all out-of-state students to travel back to Iowa for the caucus. Worse: the concentration of college-aged voters in urban areas and college towns may lose Sanders delegates in other precincts. In other words, all of those students will be concentrated in the few precincts where they attend school, rather than voting in their home district, where their vote might be more useful in convincing delegates to vote for Sanders at the Democratic National Convention.

The Des Moines Register sums up the situation like this:

“Here’s the potential problem for Sanders: Success on caucus night isn’t judged by how many Iowans back a candidate. It’s based on how many ‘delegate equivalents’ those supporters garner at their precinct caucuses. Each precinct elects only a certain number of delegates. So if a candidate’s supporters are concentrated in a few precincts, they could wind up translating into fewer delegates than if supporters were spread evenly across the state.”

A large percentage of Sanders’ support comes from young people, many of them college students. If they’re prevented from caucusing for Sanders because they’re out of state, or if they congregate disproportionately in certain precincts, it could lose Sanders his most significant asset for defeating Hillary Clinton in Iowa.

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