Category Archives: 2020

There can be only one… (leaving Iowa, on to New Hampshire edition)

2020_new_hampshire_primary

Well, Iowa is past us. Not as far past us as we might like since, quite possibly, it will never be officially called. But, in any case, past. Twelve candidates went in to Iowa. And, due to the prolonged results roll-out and the resulting lack of traditional winnowing from the media buzz on winners and losers, all twelve are still kicking. But, sooner or later…

there-can-be-only-one

Previous editions of this blog series, including last week’s, have focused on our leading indicators-national polling, fundraising, and endorsements. Which is what you have to do before anyone anywhere has actually voted. From this point forward, they become lagging indicators in a sense. That is, they start to follow individual election results, rather than predict them. And (I am about to reveal a great, little-known secret here)…

The DNC does not actually choose the nominee! The nominee is chosen based on the results of 57 separate primary and caucus elections!

So how do things look based on the first one of these? Well, to start with Pete Buttigieg won Iowa. And so did Bernie Sanders! That’s what you get when you have three different ways of determining the winner.

“First Alignment” is who Iowa caucus-goers voted for in their first round of voting of the evening. Here, Sanders is a narrow winner:

first alignement

But wait, there’s more! According to the rules of the caucus, everyone voting for candidates who didn’t clear 15% in the first round gets a chance to re-vote for candidates who did. This gives us “Final Alignment”, in which Sanders had a more narrow lead:

final alignement

But neither of those state-wide totals, per se, is what determines who gets delegates. That’s determined by the accumulation of who was above 15%, and by how much, in individual precincts. So, for example, Sanders might get 90% of a college town’s vote, but Buttigieg meanwhile got 51% of several rural precincts, thus giving him an edge in what are called State Delegate Equivalents. And, in fact:

SDEs

Technically, in what matters for actually handing out delegates, you could say Buttigieg won. You would also have to then observe that the margin was razor-thin. So thin, in fact, that he and Sanders will both walk out of Iowa with the same number of delegates. I’d call that a “draw” myself.

And no, these confusing layers of results and convoluted methods of tallying weren’t the result of the big bad DNC “fixing” things. This is how the Iowa caucus has always worked. And even more ironically, it was the Sanders campaign that pushed for this triple-reporting after 2016, and it was the new requirements of the triple-reporting, along with a horridly botched tracking app roll-out, that resulted in The Caucus That Will Never Be Called. (TM)

amok

While it may never be called, we can observe a few things:

  • Biden had a very rough night, finishing a distant fourth and is likely to end up with single-digit delegates as a result.
  • Sanders did well, but was expected to do well, and so in a sense it was a bit of a wash, especially because…
  • Buttigieg exceeded expectations and tied? Won? Both. Any which way you slice it, a boost for his campaign

And, indeed, Mayor Pete seems to be on the climb in New Hampshire since last week, with Uncle Joe taking a plunge toward fourth:

NH

Two fourths in a row is not good for a “front runner”, which Biden will no longer be if that happens. Two wins in a row is good for Sanders. Buttigieg is surprisingly strong, and Warren and even Klobuchar definitely still in the mix. There’s a school of though that says Biden is so strong with African-American voters that he’s going to roar back in South Carolina, and clean up in the Southern Primaries on Super Tuesday.

Maybe. On the other hand, these poor early finishes aren’t a good sign- there’s no precedent for a fourth in Iowa and NH coming back to be the nominee. And, with Pete having gotten a shot in the arm, Joe may have significant competition for the “moderate” wing vote on Super Tuesday. And not just from Pete:

Mike

I think it remains likely that Biden gets a plurality of votes and delegates on Super Tuesday, but by a much lower margin than he would have if he had done better earlier, if Buttigieg wasn’t coming on strong, and if Bloomberg and to a lesser extent Steyer, weren’t sinking huge amounts of money into those contests. Because of this, there may be no clear result that day. And for a good while after, quite possibly all the way to the convention.

Tune in next week to see if New Hampshire changes this outlook!

 

 

There can be only one… (one week to Iowa edition)

 

iowa

Some things have happened since our October update. Multiple candidates have admitted the inevitable and dropped, including once-strong contenders Kamala Harris and Cory Booker. Michael Bloomberg, against all good sense, has joined, and proven that unlimited money to spend can buy you a seat at the table without all that boring year-long prep-work. And most importantly, time has passed, to the extent that our 11 remaining candidates (down from a high of 25!) are now only one week from Iowa.

There are eleven remaining. But…

there-can-be-only-one

This series has been arguing since its inception in April of last year that three key indicators helped us sort out who was an even vaguely likely candidate, enabling us to ignore the other dozen+. (The “real” candidates were already only eight in April, down to five in October.) We also said that, by the eve of Iowa, those indicators would have a very high reliability in indicating who the eventual nominee would be. So here we are. What are they showing us?

At this point, who’s leading in national polls has about a 60% correlation with who will win the nomination. The polling currently shows:

polls

Advantage Biden!

Fundraising is another key indicator, and the early fundraiser leader ends up being the nominee 62% of the time. The Q4 fundraising totals looked like this:

funds

Advantage Sanders! Wuh-oh, this is a split decision. We’ll look more closely at that shortly. But first…

The final of the three leading indicators is party endorsements. This measure does in fact call the winner 63% of the time. The endorsements primary currently looks like this:

endorsements

Another advantage Biden! But with a different second place than the other two!

It’s actually a little unusual to have the indicators pointing in different directions like this at this stage, and particularly to have the polls and endorsements leader running third in fundraising. Sorry Joe! To try to get a handle on this, I did a weighted average, giving the percentage for each indicator to the leader in that category, and then allocating the remaining percentage to second place. When you do that, you get this:

weughted

When looked at this way, Biden remains the most likely nominee, but Sanders is not terribly far behind him. To put it another way, Biden is clearly the front-runner, but also clearly a weak front-runner historically speaking. And you can’t entirely count Liz and Pete out- there’s a 25% chance it might be one of the two of them instead. This thing remains extremely live! Exciting for political junkies, perhaps less so for those hoping for a clear and early verdict.

Everything will be tossed up in the air by Iowa, and then New Hampshire eight days later, which may help us sort out further. But as of right now, one would have to say that there are only four candidates who have a shot, and two of them, Biden or Sanders, are 75% likely to be the nominee.

We’ll tune in again next week!

 

 

 

Four more Years? One Year out edition!

2020

As of yesterday, we were officially one year out to the 2020 election. You may have been following my series on the Democratic candidates, if not you can find the latest edition here. And a few months back I did a first look at Trump’s chances for re-election. At that time, I concluded that, while he can quite possible win and we have to act with all due seriousness, the paralyzing fear that it’s already over and done for is- BALDERDASH!

I also said we’d revisit the issue in November, with one year left to go. So, here we are. How do things look now?

One quick way to get a ballpark on it is to look at the President’s popularity numbers. They currently aren’t great:

popularity

In fact, they’ve never even been what might be termed “good”. When you compare his position to other post-war Presidents at this same point in their first term, this quickly becomes apparent:

comp

Obama and Clinton were widely thought to be in potential trouble at this point in their first terms. Trump is below either of their positions. He’s actually below every post-war President at this point in their first term except Carter. And you may recall how the 1980 election went for Carter.

Another way to think about it is to look at polling versus potential opponents, now that the probable Democratic field is clearer. The three leading contenders all have a more than five-point lead at this time. Even the Mayor of South Bend Indiana has a lead, for Pete’s Sake:

leads

It’s worth noting that at this same point, Clinton’s lead was 3.2%, not far off at all from where it actually ended up being. Another quick note on percentages. President Trump’s popularity rating is currently 5% below the level he “won” with in 2016. If you subtract 5% from his state-by-state 2016 margins, this is the electoral map you get (with Georgia a fraction of a percent away from flipping too):

evnov2019

Do not get me wrong. I’m not saying at all it’s a sure thing. A friend of mine posted this yesterday, and I could not agree more with both sides of what she’s saying:

“Trump can win–I will never again doubt that. And there are a ton of unknowns and things outside our control. But I also have to believe that if we step up, if we reach out and talk to our neighbors and listen to our fellow citizens, if enough of us demand a government based on our fundamental values–decency, honesty, fairness, equity, accountability–we can achieve it”

Looking at things a year out, there is every sign that we can do this. So let’s get going!

There can be only one… (October 2019 update)

3rd debate

Well, we’ve lost a few since our July update. And we’ve even managed not to gain any! Hopefully rumors of Michael Bloomberg re-considering getting in are just that, because even with several drop-outs, we’ve still only just made it back to the teens. 19 candidates for the Democratic nomination, to be precise, down from a high of 25.

Not to worry, though! The good news is that there are, in fact, only five potential candidates for the nomination! That’s down from seven last time, and eight when we first looked at it in April. Progress!

How do we know this? As it happens, there are three measures that each, individually, have about a 60-65% reliability in indicating who the eventual nominee will be: Lead in national polls, fundraising, and insider endorsements. No one of them is full-proof, but taken together they give a pretty clear indication. So let’s look at each in turn.

The polling at this point is pretty unambiguous. There are three candidates that are leaps and bounds above everyone else:

polls

With only a little over three months to go until the Iowa caucuses at this point, it is very likely that the eventual nominee will be, if not the lead person in the polls, at least one of these three.

Over on the fundraising side, there’s also a pretty clear leading group of three at this point, albeit not exactly the same one as in polling:

Q3fundraising

Most party insiders are still sitting on their endorsements, as they typically do until late in the game. But the ones that have announced so far also separate out three clear leaders:

Endorse

So there you have it. At this late stage in the pre-primary, the chances that the nominee isn’t someone in the top three in at least one of these measures is pretty slim. It is overwhelmingly likely that the Democratic nominee will be one of Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, or Pete Buttigieg. Some of these are more likely than others, but there’s about a 0% chance it will be one of the 14 not on this list.

Tune in once more in January, for a final pre-Iowa check-in. At that time, we should be able to narrow things even further!

 

 

There can be only one… (July 2019 update!)

Dems first

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.

Julypolls

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. July funds

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.

julyendorse

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!

Four More Years?

I recently kicked-off my absurdly early coverage of the 2020 Democratic primary, necessitated by the absurdly large field. (It reached 22 candidates as of yesterday!) Since today is officially 18 months until 11/3/20, it seemed absurdly early/fair to give the other side its share. Don’t worry, this will be quick!

What I primarily want to touch base on is the perception/paralyzing fear that Trump will be reelected. I hear this among Left/Progressive friends even from people I consider to be very politically savvy. This puzzles me. Because, while we definitely shouldn’t lull ourselves into a false sense that beating him will be easy, or a sure thing, the alternate idea that he’s an inevitable victor is BAL-DER-DASH!!!!!!

Exhibit one, Trump’s approval rating compared to other recent Presidents at the same point in their first term (courtesy of 538):

pop

He’s below Obama and Clinton, who were popularly thought to be in potential trouble at this point. He’s much more like Carter and Ford, who were in fact going on to lose. He’s the ONLY President in 70 years who’s NEVER been above 50% approval. About his only glimmer of hope above is Reagan, but Reagan was mired in a recession at the time, and rebounded sharply when the economy improved. Trump has these numbers in a (however shallowly spread the gains are) expansion.

Somewhere right now someone is starting in with the “Oh yeah, the polls were so accurate in 2016, weren’t they?” Stop. Because they actually were, as much as one could expect them to be. RCP’s final average was Clinton +3, actual was Clinton +2:

polls2016

They polls, en-mass were nowhere near off enough to make one think that two years-plus of multiple polling firms consistently showing Trump having the worst approval ratings of any postwar President is wrong. It isn’t. He does.

Also consider that the real problem in 2016 was not that polls everywhere were off. It was polls in the Midwest being off. And even there, we see this:

difference

The entire difference was 77,744 votes in three states. Put another way, if 38,873 voters out of 13.9 million total in those states (also know as 0.56%) had changed their minds, it would have gone differently. Now consider. Everything was this close with:

  • A massive, and largely unknown, counterintelligence operation by a hostile foreign power.
  • A Democratic candidate who had historically unprecedented net unfavorability numbers. Yes, largely as a result of decades of bullshit targeting by the Right, but still.
  • A massive news story 11 days before the election that reactivated all the worst narratives/concerns about the Democratic candidate. (That James Comey. What a rascal!)

It’s not too hard to imagine that, being on the lookout for the election interference this time, and if the Democratic nominee is someone who hasn’t had literal decades of Right Wing negative messaging directed against them, and isn’t in the midst of a current FBI investigation, Trump’s extremely narrow 2016 margin is in trouble. Especially considering his approval has never been above 43%, 3% lower than the 46% he “won” 2016 with.

If you assume just a 1.5% difference in 2020 through whatever combination of means (a few more disgruntled Republicans sit it out, a few more energized Democrats show up, a few more now thoroughly disgusted Independents break the other way) the map looks like this:

map2020

So, for those who imagine an easy victory for Democrats in 2020, I scream, “No! Did you learn nothing from last time? Start organizing now! Organize like your lives are on the line!” But to those who are convinced we’re doomed before we start, I again say:

BALDERDASH!

There can be only one…

candidatessss.PNG

I hadn’t expected to begin my regular coverage of the 2020 Presidential campaign so early, but I better get started sooner rather than later because, as you may have heard, there are currently 19 candidates for the Democratic nomination. Or 20 if you believe that Mike Gravel is actually running, and not being held captive in a basement by a bunch of 4Chan teenagers who are impersonating him on social media. And with the inevitable Biden still pending, it will soon be 21.

How on Earth can anyone keep track of 21 candidates? Well the good news that I’m here to deliver is that you don’t have to because, in reality, there aren’t 21 candidates. There are really only eight candidates. I’ll explain in a moment.

First, let’s address the issue of analyst bias. Specifically, mine. Like anyone, I have some candidates I like more than others. In the interests of full disclosure: In the 2016 primary I supported Sanders, and made contributions to his campaign through the final primary. So far this year, I have made at least one contribution (sometimes more) to Pete Buttigieg, Julian Castro, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Wayne Messam, Beto O’Rourke, Elizabeth Warren, William Weld, and Marianne Williamson.

In fact, I have a color-coded classification of my preference for all the declared candidates. If you correctly decipher the coding, you’ll know exactly what I think:

color code

So, I have opinions, leanings, etc. Those are entirely irrelevant to this exercise though, because what I’m actually going to look at is three measures that have a high degree of correlation to who the eventual nominee will be. It’s a little early for all of them yet, but by the eve of Iowa, they’ll give a pretty solid indication of which way the nomination will go. Already, certain patterns can be seen.

First up, rather straightforwardly, is polling. It seems a little silly on the face of it to look at national polling for what is in fact 50-something individual caucuses and primaries, but it turns out that, by the time you get to Iowa, who’s leading in national polls has about a 60% correlation with who will win the nomination.

If you look at current rankings (courtesy of Real Clear Politics), you can easily spot a top tier of two front-runners, a second tier, and then a third tier I might name “well, at least he’s not dead in the water”. All told, seven candidates who appear to be contenders:

polls

Another leading indicator is fundraising. The early fundraiser leader ends up being the nominee 62% of the time. We have a ways to go before this measure becomes predictive at that level, but already based on the Q1 fundraising numbers, we can spot a similar three-tier structure. There’s a clear front-runner, a strong second tier, and a third-tier who are around $5 million:

fundssss

Finally, there’s a theory in political science circles known as “The Party Decides”. The basic idea is that institutional support from party elites is the key indicator of who the nominee will be. Once you reach the eve of Iowa, this measure does in fact call the winner 63% of the time.

Most potential endorsers are staying on the sidelines until things develop further, but with the party leaders who have committed so far, you’ll see a familiar three-tier structure. Two front-runners on top, a strong second tier placer, and then a third tier clustered within 10 points or so of each other:

endorsements

You would naturally suspect these three measures have a lot of correlation with each other, and aren’t really totally independent variables. Like, of course, somebody doing well in the polls is probably also doing well in fundraising, and is thus attracting potential endorsements. But they probably also aren’t perfectly correlated. So, if they’re 60% accurate individually, collectively they might be 2/3? 75%? accurate.

Keeping that in mind, looking at the three measures together, each is calling out pretty much the same set of people, albeit in different order. Put together, the candidates who seem to have any shot at all are:

Biden, Booker, Buttigieg, Harris, Klobuchar, O’Rourke, Sanders, Warren

That’s it. You may dispense with the other thirteen!

The necessary caveat at this point is that it’s still very early. To give two examples, Bernie Sanders at this point in ’16 was polling around 4%, and Rudy Giuliani at this point in ’08 was the clear Republican front-runner. That being said, I was pretty generous with my tiers, and while somebody on the lower end now might well be in the upper tier by the end of the year, I’d be pretty surprised if the eventual nominee isn’t in this group at all.

But, hey, if I’m wrong, you’ll see! Tune in again in mid-July for further refinement following the first debates and Q2 fundraising numbers!