In a backyard at night somewhere in Iowa, a large illuminated sign is towering above the property's fence. The sign is carrying a large photograph of Donald Trump.

What Iowa Tells us About Trump's Chances in the Presidential Election

The United States' ongoing trade war could be President Donald Trump's biggest liability in the 2020 elections. Many of those bearing the brunt of the conflict are Trump supporters, especially in swing states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Iowa, which could impact his chance of reelection later this year. But also the Democrats struggle to convince voters in those states. Emily Hruban, Manager for Transatlantic Relations at the Bertelsmann Foundation in Washington, D.C., reports.

In the United States, the presidential election is a long, drawn out process. For over a year, over two dozen Democratic hopefuls have campaigned across the country, trying to win votes, media attention, and fundraising dollars. Candidates must first beat out their fellow Democrats in a four-month process called the primaries, in order to face off against President Trump in the general elections in November.

Following a decades-old tradition, the first state to participate in the process is Iowa. When Iowans gathered in school gymnasiums and community centers on February third, Senator Bernie Sanders and Mayor Pete Buttigieg came out as clear front-runners.

Sanders won big again on Tuesday night in the New Hampshire primary, with Pete Buttigieg coming in a close second. These early wins give Sanders and Buttigieg a strong start in the race to the White House.

The Importance of the First Primary States

Although all states participate in the primary process, Iowa and New Hampshire have particularly strong voices, as success in early states leads to more donations, media coverage, and support from voters in the later primaries.

Given Iowa's importance, candidates log hundreds of hours zigzagging across the state, attempting to woo voters at rallies, cookouts, and other events. This year, Democratic candidates collectively spent $45 million dollars on advertising in the state. Candidates travel to the most remote and rural corners of the state, with some visiting all of Iowa's 99 counties, like Senator Amy Klobuchar.

However, despite their efforts, the candidates failed to get Iowans to caucus in large numbers. Low turnout suggests that the Democratic nominee may have problems igniting the party's base in the general election.

A Democratic Alternative?

Democratic candidates have struggled to capitalize on Trump’s Achilles heel – the ongoing trade war – in order to win these voters back. Iowa is 90 percent farmland and has been particularly affected by China’s retaliatory tariffs on soybeans. Despite the financial impact on their own businesses, many farmers remain supportive of the president and his trade war. "For years, it's gone the other way and [China has] had the upper hand," says corn and soybean farmer Roger Elmore, who thinks "we should [not] sit idle and just be walked all over."

However, as supportive as many farmers have been of the trade war, farmers are being impacted by the tariffs. For those frustrated with the pace and uncertainty of the trade negotiations, many in rural Iowa do not see a viable alternative to Trump in the Democratic field.

Instead, candidates are emphasizing how important it is for them to beat Trump, a sentiment that plays well in more urban and left-leaning areas, but is a concern for some farmers. "I don't really hear of issues except that they don't want the guy that's in office," says Andy Michaels. "If you look across the board, the only thing they're going to say is they don't like the guy in office, they want him out. I mean, they aren’t really addressing any issues."

Four More Years?

From the outside, the trade conflict might appear to be President Trump's greatest vulnerability, especially in swing states impacted, like Iowa, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

However, the candidates' inability to change the minds of well-informed farmers directly impacted by the trade war suggests that they may have similar troubles in other swing states needed to win the presidential election this fall.

You can read Emily Hruban's entire analysis here.