Now that Q2 fundraising numbers are in, we can update our April analysis of the Democratic Primary field. To quickly recap for those who don’t remember, at that time we quaked in analytical fear at the field of 19 (or 20 (or 21)) candidates, but were re-assured after careful consideration revealed that there were, in fact, only eight candidates for the nomination.
Some things have happened since then:
- Several more people got into the field, including, most notably, Joe Biden finally making it official. This brought us up to 25 candidates!
- We also had the first round of debates, with 10 candidates each on two consecutive nights.
- Following the debates, Eric Swalwell acknowledged that he may not yet be the voice of a new generation, and bowed out. Tim Ryan, despite seeming wired on something throughout his debate, mysteriously did not drop out.
- And, obeying the Law of Conservation of Middling White Guys, billionaire impeachment crusader Tom Steyer stepped in as Swalwell got out, preserving our count of 25.
25 candidates! Who can keep track of 25 candidates?!?!? Take a deep breath. It’s going to be okay. As you are about to see, there are, in fact, only seven candidates for the nomination. That’s right, we’ve actually gone down one since April!
How do we know this? A quick perusal of three measures that are each highly correlated to who the eventual nominee will be should make it more clear.
By the eve of the Iowa caucuses, the leader in national polling is about 60% likely to be the eventual nominee. We’re not there yet, but some clear patterns are emerging if you look at the polls. You’ll see below that there’s a front-runner, a second tier who are all within two percentage points of each-other, and a third tier with someone who is at least standing out from the bottom of the pack and shouldn’t be totally discounted.
Another very accurate indicator by the time voting kicks off is fundraising. At that point, about 62% of the time the fund-raising leader will eventually become the nominee. Q2 fundraising numbers are now wrapped-up, and are also showing pretty clear patterns. If you look at the top ten, you’ll find a leader, another three candidates who are in the +/- $20 million range, and one additional candidate who’s above $10 million.
The final measure that has a good amount of predictive value is endorsements by party insiders. The leader in endorsements by the time you get to Iowa ends up being the nominee about 63% of the time. The endorsement tracker currently has a clear leader, a second tier of three fairly high scorers, and two more candidates who have topped twenty points.
Assuming that, between them, the top three tiers of each of these indicators captures just about everyone who has an even vaguely serious shot, the real contenders for the nomination are:
Biden, Booker, Buttigieg, Harris, Klobuchar, Sanders, Warren
So rest assured, you don’t have to worry about tracking 25 people. There are only seven candidates for the nomination, and you can can entirely dispense with the other 18. (Also, sorry Beto O’Rourke, you’ve fallen off the list since last time. Alas!)
A final word about the fact that it’s still early, and the possibility of a relative unknown catching fire. Yes, it does happen. But it’s not as early as it used to be. To take polling as an example, Trump was not leading the Republican field at this point in 2015. But he was already second, at 15%. It wasn’t yet apparent at this point in 2015 how serious a contender Sanders would be. But he was already at 16%. Obama wasn’t yet competitive with Clinton at this point in 2007. But he was already in second place ahead of Edwards, and polling almost 23%.
It is very unlikely the eventual nominee isn’t captured in my short list above. And I expect that list will be shorter still by the time we do this again in October, following another two rounds of debates and Q3 fundraising.
Tune in and see!