If Bernie Sanders wins the Iowa caucus, it will be on the backs of Iowa men.
This is a group that, in recent Quinnipiac polls, favored Sanders by such a large margin that they brought him to within 5 points of Hillary Clinton. It's also a group that doesn't like Clinton — with about 33 percent saying they have an unfavorable opinion of her in the same poll. And it's a group that isn't representative of the rest of American men.
For now, though, national polls still have Clinton up by a wide margin — anywhere from 25 points to 7 points among likely primary voters. Sure, she's down a bit among male primary voters, but this pales in comparison to the 30-point lead she has among women. And women make up the majority of the Democratic Party.
The Iowa primary is different, though. Male voters there are more than 90 percent white and favor Sanders by such a wide margin that it has nearly overcome the lead Clinton has with women.
Iowa men like Sanders a lot. They dislike Clinton even more.
Among men who plan to caucus in Iowa, 61 percent said they favor Sanders, compared with 30 percent who favor Clinton, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll.
That's really different from the national picture, where Sanders has just an 8-point lead among all men who are likely primary voters. In fact, Quinnipiac polled all likely voters, which is a much larger segment, and men who are Democrats or lean Democrat favored Clinton.
In short, Iowan men who plan to caucus are not representative of the way male Democrats feel around the nation. One possible explanation: Only 8 percent of Iowans are minorities, compared with 23 percent nationwide — and minority voters have consistently favored Clinton by a large margin.
Iowa women favor Clinton, but not as much as Iowa men dislike her
Women who plan to caucus in Iowa favor Clinton by 16 points, according to the Quinnipiac poll. That's good news for the former secretary of state, but not quite the 30-point lead she has among nationwide primary-goers, or the 40-point lead among all registered female Democrats.
Maintaining this lead with women might be more crucial for Clinton than recruiting more male voters.
But during that primary, the large majority of men voted for someone else. Entrance polls outside the caucuses showed that among men, Clinton ended up trailing by 12 points to Barack Obama and 5 points to John Edwards. Yes, she finished third in Iowa.
This gender gap is also a topic of conversation on the Republican side, with Donald Trump polling poorly with women. About 26 percent of women who plan to caucus support Donald Trump, compared with 33 percent of men. He trails Ted Cruz among women — but only by 2 points.
In other words, Clinton has it way worse with men in Iowa than Trump does with women there.
Men and women are seeing the same thing. They're coming to different conclusions.
Men and women say they have similar priorities when it comes to issues: the economy and jobs, health care, and climate change.
But on virtually every issue, men think Sanders would fare better handling those issues; women think Clinton would. The only issue on which caucus-going men and women agree is that Clinton would deal better with foreign policy and terrorism, likely because of her experience as secretary of state.
Men and women are theoretically seeing the same campaign but are coming to different conclusions.
That underscores a deeper and more dispiriting truth about American elections: Poll numbers have consistently shown men not favoring women who run for office. In this case, men are typically more conservative than women, which favors Sanders. But more importantly, studies have shown women who succeed in male-dominated fields, like politics, are seen as unlikable — and that's exactly what Clinton is up against in Iowa. In fact, a third of men who plan to caucus in Iowa say they have an unfavorable opinion of her.
So if Sanders comes away with a surprise victory in Iowa, it won't just be because men there prefer Sanders. It'll also be because they dislike Clinton so much that it overcomes the plurality Clinton has with women.