Buttigieg is up, Biden is down in post-Iowa polls — and that has big implications

And the winner of the Iowa Democratic caucuses is ... well, it's complicated.

But since Monday's counting debacle, the early indications are that Pete Buttigieg has emerged as the winner of what actually might be more valuable — the Iowa bump.

Though not everyone has been ready to declare a winner of the caucuses due to reported irregularities in the count, the official results from the Iowa Democratic Party give the victory to Buttigieg by the slimmest of margins. He edged out Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders by a tenth of a percentage point in "state delegate equivalents," the traditional measure of who wins the Iowa caucuses.

Even that win is a technicality. Sanders received the most votes, beating Buttigieg by a margin of 25 to 21 per cent. But because Buttigieg's support was broader in rural counties, which receive a disproportionate share of the delegates, he is credited with the victory.

Oh, and then there are the actual pledged delegates that will head to the Democratic National Convention in July. There are 41 of them for Iowa and, for all the controversy and commotion, Buttigieg might emerge with, at best, one more delegate than Sanders when all is said and done.

The baffling rules of the Iowa caucus were just one of the factors contributing to the screw-up.

Nevertheless, it does seem that the positive press for Buttigieg — the candidate who came closest to proclaiming victory on caucus night — has given him a boost. It could have significant repercussions for the rest of the Democratic primary.

Buttigieg bump in New Hampshire

The next act of the Democratic primaries will be held on Tuesday in New Hampshire.

As the sitting senator in a neighbouring state, Sanders was always considered the favourite. He beat Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire by a margin of 22.5 points in 2016 and was averaging a 7.5-point lead over former vice president Joe Biden in polls conducted in the two weeks before the Iowa caucuses.

Buttigieg was trailing in fourth behind Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. But the first indications are that the results of the Iowa caucuses (or, given the confusion, the perception of them) have increased Buttigieg's support in New Hampshire significantly.

Two polls conducted by Suffolk University and Emerson College on Feb. 5 and 6 gave Buttigieg 23 per cent support in New Hampshire, representing an increase of 12 and 10 points (respectively) compared to the two schools' pre-Iowa polling.

Another survey by Marist College, conducted between Feb. 4 and 6, awarded 21 per cent support to Buttigieg. That was up four points from a survey conducted between Jan. 20 and 23.

This sort of increase in a matter of days is enormous. Sanders still holds the advantage — of one point according to Suffolk, four according to Marist and nine according to Emerson — but his main challenger is now Buttigieg rather than Biden.

Mary Altaffer / Associated Press

The three surveys show some common trend lines. With 11 per cent support, Suffolk has Biden dropping seven points and Emerson has him down three points. Marist has Biden down two points to 13 per cent. All three polls put him in fourth behind Warren. They also show Sanders either holding (Suffolk) or rising by three points (Emerson and Marist).

This echoes the shifts that have been recorded at the national level in a poll by Morning Consult. Their Feb. 5 survey put Sanders in the lead with 25 per cent nationwide, placing him ahead of Biden by one point. But while Sanders increased by just one point compared to Morning Consult's Jan. 27-Feb. 2 poll, Biden fell by four points.

Buttigieg was the beneficiary, as he appears to be in New Hampshire. He increased six points to 12 per cent, putting him three points behind Warren in fourth.

Biden counting on later states - but will it be too late?

That Buttigieg is still well behind in national polling shows how far he still has to go if he is to mount a serious challenge for the nomination. One problem Buttigieg faces is his low support among African Americans; a recent YouGov survey gave him just four per cent support, while Biden held a gaping 29-point lead over his closest rival among these voters.

Biden's support in this segment of the electorate is the cornerstone of his strategy to win the Democratic nomination and go up against President Donald Trump in November's election.

Iowa might ruin those plans.

Heading into the caucuses, Sanders was considered the narrow favourite over Biden. But instead of winning or placing a close second to Sanders, Biden dropped to fourth with just 16 per cent of state delegate equivalents. That will make a defeat in New Hampshire — which always seemed likely — sting all the more, particularly if Buttigieg manages another strong performance.

The next circled date on the calendar is Feb. 22 — the Nevada caucuses. The most recent polls (conducted in early January) suggested a toss-up between Sanders and Biden. Considering where Biden's numbers have been going this week, it is unlikely he is still as competitive in the state.

A loss there would throw Biden's campaign strategy into disarray. The primaries in South Carolina on Feb. 29 were supposed to be where Biden solidified his position as the front runner. Polls in January suggested Biden held a lead of about 16 points in the state, and a big win there after respectable performances in Iowa and Nevada (along with an expected defeat in New Hampshire) would have set Biden up for the "Super Tuesday" primaries on Mar. 3, when a number of states — including big ones like North Carolina, Texas and Virginia, where Biden is favoured — hold their votes.

Elise Armendola / Associated Press

Instead, Biden's campaign could be limping along by then. Losses in Iowa and New Hampshire will not be easy to brush off. Since the modern primaries began in the 1970s, only Bill Clinton has won the Democratic nomination (in 1992) without a win in either Iowa or New Hampshire.

It's an aberration of American democracy that these two small, unrepresentative states hold so much sway in U.S. politics. Combined, Iowa and New Hampshire will make up only 1.6 per cent of pledged delegates at the Democratic National Convention.

But, as they have done so often, they could nevertheless set the pace for the rest of the campaign. That's good news for Sanders, who might emerge as the clear front runner by this time next week. It's also good news for Buttigieg, whose campaign is getting some much-needed momentum.

Biden's third attempt at the Democratic presidential nomination received a serious blow in its first test in Iowa. It's not clear if it can survive a second in New Hampshire.