As we enter the new year, so the phoney wars of the Republican and Democratic Party primaries are almost at an end - and what phoney wars they have been! The Republican contest has dominated headlines for months, largely thanks to the candidacy of Donald Trump, the candidate who, by now, needs no introduction. However, on both sides the favourites of the party mainstream have been losing ground to more radical campaigns of lesser-known candidates, leaving both races wide open. Here I will take on the unenviable task of trying to predict the unpredictable: the 44th person to be sworn in as President of the USA.
In terms of the Democratic primary, self-described socialist Bernie Sanders will no doubt give Clinton a run for her money, and looks likely to emerge victorious from at least one of the opening two contests, in Iowa and New Hampshire, if not both. Such a breakthrough for Sanders would put any final hopes of an easy ride to the nomination for Clinton to bed.
Clinton still must be considered the strong favourite to win
However, even in such a scenario Clinton will be confident that she can regain momentum as the campaign progresses. She currently holds the support of a strong majority of Democrats from African-American and Hispanic backgrounds, which will likely prove influential in many of the southern states. As the campaign moves away from the northeast, Sanders may find his core support base of young, white, educated voters will not be enough to bring him victory across the country. Ruling out Sanders is certainly premature - he still has the potential to spring a surprise upon the Democratic Party - but Clinton still must be considered the strong favourite to win.
The victor of the Republican nomination looks at this stage particularly difficult to call. The polls have Trump a long way ahead of any of his rivals, and the drop in support that many experts predicted would have hit his campaign by now is nowhere to be seen. It appears probable that he will dominate in Iowa and New Hampshire along with Ted Cruz, another candidate in the ascendency, who is ideologically more conservative than most of his Republican colleagues but not as far to the right as Trump.
Trump's support, which seems to become only more loyal with each growing controversy, will hold, securing him the nomination
After these first two contests, expect to see a wide range of candidates dropping out, leading the party mainstream to rally around whichever moderate candidate gives the best showing, most likely Marco Rubio. The narrowing of the field will in turn narrow Trump's lead, meaning this primary could go any of three ways, and the race could still be undecided by the time the Republican convention takes place. However, I'm going to stick my neck out and say that Trump's support, which seems to become only more loyal with each growing controversy, will hold, securing him the nomination.
Trump commands the unwavering loyalty of a significant minority of the population
If both my nomination predictions come true, meaning a presidential election showdown between Clinton and Trump, then Clinton would start as the favourite. Although not particularly popular nationwide, she nonetheless has the advantage of being a known quantity, with infinitely more political experience than her rival.
While Trump commands the unwavering loyalty of a significant minority of the population, the regular controversy in which he finds himself mired means he will struggle to expand beyond that support base towards undecided Americans, and may even alienate moderate Republicans concerned by the direction of their party.
As a result, I am predicting that when the USA goes to the polls on November 8, it will elect its inaugural female President. I may very well be wrong - the only thing I can say with any certainty is that there will be twists and turns aplenty.