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Iowa caucus results aren’t as important as you think

Volunteers sort through commitment cards to caucus for

Volunteers sort through commitment cards to caucus for Hillary Clinton in Oskaloosa, Iowa, on Jan. 25, 2016. Credit: AP

It’s becoming clear the country could face a general election equivalent to a national vote over whether the New York Yankees or the Dallas Cowboys are “America’s Team.” A poll released today shows 60 percent of Americans view Donald Trump unfavorably. An average of polls finds Hillary Clinton is viewed unfavorably by 51 percent of voters. So we could end with a general election between two people most of us don’t like.

With that in mind we turn to today’s Iowa caucuses, knowing that if Iowans accurately represented Americans, more of us would live a mile from our neighbors, eat tuna hotdish and vote based on candidates’ views on ethanol and hog-penning.

Tonight, Iowans will gather at 1,681 polling places, lobby each other for their favorite candidates, and vote. For Republicans, votes for every candidate will be counted. For Democrats, candidates must get 15 percent support in a precinct to register, which means former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley . . . doesn’t matter.

Don’t be fooled: no meaningful perception on this race includes the words “Martin O’Malley.” His support is equal to poll margins of error.

Also, don’t be fooled by stories about snowfall tonight affecting turnout. Iowa caucuses are held in February. In Iowa. The Iowans call a February snowfall “Monday.”

One of the storylines post-Iowa may be the extent to which the media did, or did not, misunderstand the Donald Trump phenomenon. Anybody else with Trump’s numbers might well be a prohibitive favorite to sweep every primary and caucus. Yet, he is sometimes represented as the feverish dream of an angry electorate that might fade in the booth.

For the Democrats, tonight probably only matters if Bernie Sanders wins, and particularly only if he wins big. A Clinton win by a few points doesn’t change the storyline much. Barring something truly outlandish, he probably wins New Hampshire by a clear margin, and even South Carolina’s upcoming Democratic primary will only tell us which Democrat is most beloved in a GOP state. The Dems may not know much until Super Tuesday.

For the GOP, there are only a couple of potential storylines going forward: “Trump Support Real, Voters Not Just @#$%ing With Us.” Or something like “Trump Support Was Mirage, GOP Race An Anarchic Battle Royale, Cruz Hits Rubio Over Head With Chair In Spin Alley As Bush Does Dynastic Dance To Front.”

In which case . . . good times.

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