Amidst an increasingly unpredictable political season, tonight the Iowa caucuses will finally cast the first votes of the 2016 presidential campaign. It's an outsider vs. establishment war in both parties, as Republican leaders struggle to dislodge Donald Trump and Ted Cruz from the top while Hillary Clinton marshalls her endorsements and long résumé against the populist zeal of democratic socialist Bernie Sanders. The best guesses of FiveThirtyEight, BetFair, and Ann Selzer's gold-standard Des Moines Register poll all favor Trump and Clinton, but the race remains very close, and turnout in the demanding and complicated caucus events will be key. Vox provides a helpful video explainer on the process [previously]. Pass the time with FiveThirtyEight's 40-minute elections podcast, and keep an eye on the New York Times live blog of the caucuses for real-time updates once voting starts at 8:00 PM Eastern -- and don't forget to leave your two cents in the MeFi election prediction contest!
Iowa's caucus system, explained. [YouTube] [Vox] Each US primary election season kicks off in Iowa. Learn the process behind one of the pivotal events of the general election. [more inside]
After interminable months of campaigning, debates, and roller-coaster polling, the first official vote of the 2012 presidential race is in -- and boy, is it a doozy. Ames straw poll winner Michele Bachmann placed second-to-last, while former juggernaut Rick Perry performed so badly he's canceled upcoming events and is said to be on the verge of dropping out. Meanwhile, perennial laughingstock Rick Santorum, consolidating the support hemorrhaging from Perry, Bachmann, and an ad-blitzed Newt Gingrich, rocketed past the youth- and independent-backed Ron Paul and, with 99% of the vote counted, is separated from Mitt Romney by four votes out of ~120,000 -- by far the closest result in caucus history. As the shaken field contemplates the path ahead through Romney firewall New Hampshire, conservative South Carolina, Florida, Super Tuesday, and beyond, President Obama staged a quiet redux of his own dramatic caucus win four years ago, a dry run for the looming general election. And as for powerhouse Buddy Roemer? Don't worry -- his team is ready to do battle with evil.