Tag Archives: Democratic Primary

Four more years? (5 months to go edition!)

mappie

About 6 weeks ago, I did my latest update on the election outlook. At the time, I concluded that Biden seemed to have a pretty strong chance based on prevailing indications, and there were plenty of signs that Trump was in trouble. Today marks five months out. Is there anything to add to our previous examination? I think so!

Let’s start with the basics. Yes, Biden is still the all-but-certain nominee. Not only have all rivals dropped out, all endorsed him including chief rival Bernie Sanders, the prior nominee endorsed him, and the last Democratic President endorsed him, as of last night’s Super Tuesday, he is sitting less than 100 delegates off of making it official:

StX

Basics number two- an average of recent polls gives Biden a healthy lead:

rcp

More than that, year-to-date Biden has always had a healthy lead. It’s instructive in this regard to compare his numbers to Clinton’s 2016 numbers for the same time period. A key thing to note is that she was rarely above 48% (where she ultimately finished) and spent only a single day above 50%:

clinton 16

In contrast, Biden has mostly been above 48%, and has spent significant time over 50%:

bidenover50

Of course, as 2016 painfully demonstrated, the popular vote isn’t what ultimately matters. The election is determined by that cute little antiquated Constitutional mechanism, the Electoral College. To do an initial “face value” analysis of that, Clinton “lost” in 2016 by being at +2% nationally, and Biden’s average is currently +8%. If you add 6% to Clinton’s state-by-state 2016 margins, you get this map:

Clintonplus six

An interesting ballpark, but I’ll grant you, things are not that straightforward. 2016 really came down to a handful of swing states, and the dynamics of those swing states will be different in 2020 than they were in 2016. What do current polling averages of these states currently show?

swing

That’s a Biden lead in 5 out of 6, and Trump’s lead in the 6th is razor-thin. If we just take only the states where Biden’s lead is outside of a 3 -point margin of error, we get the following map:

MOEplus3

If we took the “no toss-ups” approach for all current state polling averages, the map looks like this:

notoss

The other way to look at this is to consider the President’s approval rating according to an average of recent polls. It’s currently more than ten percent net negative, which is where it’s been for much of his Presidency:

approval

More than that, except for literally the first few days of his term, he’s never had a net-positive rating. Comparing his net approval to other recent administrations reveals the stark difference. The only recent Presidents who his net numbers are similar to at the moment are Carter and Bush I, who of course were both first term Presidents who were about to be defeated:

net

My final appeal is to common sense. Consider the following:

  • The Libertarian and Green parties had well-known candidates who had previously run nationally in 2016. This time they have comparatively unknown newcomers.
  • The 2016 nominee had been the target of decades of character attacks. Literal generations of Conservatives hated her. This campaign will get very nasty, but there just isn’t that kind of base of animosity to activate in regards to Biden.
  • Clinton was the subject of active investigations which continued to dog her as late as 10 days before the election. The attempts of the Administration to stir up something similar for Biden have fizzled out, and their most concrete result so far was to get Trump impeached.
  • A national crisis has killed 100,000 of us and counting in just a few months, and the  widespread perception is that the current administration has badly mishandled it.
  • The economy is in recession, and unemployment is higher than it’s been at any time since the Great Depression. That’s never good for an incumbent.
  • The country is, actually, on fire. It’s true that “law and order” issues often rebound to the Republican candidate’s favor, but more than that, they almost always come to the detriment of the party in power.

So, has the outlook changed since our last check in? Yes, in that it’s gotten better for Biden and worse for Trump. It could be that the current crisis reverses this trend, but my instinct is that it won’t. More than anything, the thing that most stands out is how durable the dynamics of the race have been year-to-date no matter what external events have been in play.

I’m not saying take it as a sure thing. Not even remotely. I am saying be very encouraged as you go out to do the work that needs to be done over the next five months to make it so.  Tune in some time in early July to see if it’s looking different with four months to go!

 

There can be only one… (Superb Tuesday in the Time of Plague edition)

1920px-Democratic_Party_presidential_primaries_results_by_county,_2020.svg

In last week’s preview of “Swell Tuesday” I wrote:

“Unless Sanders draws in a significantly larger share than the Progressive candidates in total have so far this cycle, and than he did last cycle, it could be very difficult for him to overtake the “Moderate” block that has coalesced around Biden.

Tune in next week to see if this outlook has changed after tomorrow!”

The very short answer is: This outlook has not changed. And, though there is a significant external variable we must discuss, things are not liable to change after tomorrow either. First, a quick look at the March 10th results:

March 10th

Biden nearly swept the field, and, crucially, easily won Michigan, the site of Sanders’ surprise victory in 2016. Washington still has not been finalized due to the number of outstanding mail-in ballots, but indications are that Biden is headed toward a narrow victory there too (Washington, in caucus form, was another state Sanders had won in 2016). Following these races, this is where overall results to date currently stand:

results3

On the face of it, a 150 delegate lead might not seem insurmountable. As we know from previous years though, it often is. Obama came out of February 2008 with about a 100 delegate lead over Clinton, for example, and she was never able to overcome that despite staying competitive to the end. To do so, the trailing campaign has to be getting more than 50% every election day from then on. And not all election days are created equal…

If two Tuesdays ago was “Super”, and one Tuesday ago was “Swell”, I’d say tomorrow is “Superb”. 577 delegates are at stake in Arizona, Florida, Illinois, and Ohio. Once Wednesday morning dawns, 62% of the total delegates will have been chosen. So it’s a big day, and it will rapidly move things along. Could Sanders catch up? Current indications are not promising:

March 17th

Right now, at 892 to 741, Biden would need to capture 52% of the remaining delegates to clinch the nomination, while Sanders would need 59%. A quick look at national polling indicates that this is very in-range for Biden, and very difficult to foresee for Sanders:

national2

Examining the overall popular vote totals to date for the “Moderate” vs. “Progressive” candidate blocks reinforces this notion:

blocks

As the only remaining “Moderate”, one can easily picture Biden winning 50-something percent of the remaining delegates. As the almost only remaining “Progressive” (sorry, Tulsi), Sanders would have to be doing about 1/3 better than that entire block has done to date to get the 59% of delegates he needs.  After tomorrow, if the above-mentioned state polling indications hold, this number is liable to be even more formidable for Sanders, and even more achievable for Biden.

There is a caveat: The one thing even the best forecast can’t totally control for is major unexpected external events.

Because of concerns about safety around COVID-19, Georgia has cancelled its March 24th primary, and will instead hold it in May. Louisiana likewise is moving  its April 4th primary to June. This is unlikely to change the overall result, which will be pretty much set in stone by Wednesday morning. But it could certainly prolong how long it takes to become official. And the longer a campaign lingers, the more unexpected things may occur…

There can be only one… (“Swell Tuesday” Preview edition)

super-tuesday-2020-results-promo-1583316015941-superJumbo-v2

Well that was really something!

A lot has happened since last we tuned in, one short week ago. It was inevitable that Super Tuesday was going to knock a few things loose in the race. Indeed, even before it happened, as I was hitting “publish” last Monday, Buttigieg and Klobuchar both dropped out, endorsing Biden to boot. Following Tuesday’s results, Elizabeth (this world does not deserve you) Warren and Mike (we’re glad your money is still around) Bloomberg both dropped out as well.

This leaves us with only three candidates remaining: Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, and Tulsi “she still exists” Gabbard. From 28 that we have had at one point or another to three, bringing us ever closer to the point at which…

there-can-be-only-one

In this regard, Tuesday’s results certainly may give us a clue which way the wind is blowing. As predicted here, Biden had a very good day. Following wins in 10 out of 14 contests last Tuesday, he is now sitting on leads in both the popular vote and total delegates:

results2

It’s also immediately clear what effect Tuesday’s wins, and the endorsements (Bloomberg also endorsed him after dropping out, and former candidates Cory Booker and Kamala Harris have now done the same) have had on Biden’s national polling numbers:

polling

For those not well versed in math, that’s a thirty point gain in one week! Both the establishment, and voters, seem to be quickly coalescing around Biden.

“Ah-ah!” you say. “Not so fast! It’s the vote still to come that matters.”

Indeed it is, and that vote will matter very rapidly. For better or for worse, we’ll have an almost definitive read on how things are looking by Wednesday of next week.  As of now, around 38% of total delegates have been chosen. By the end of the day tomorrow, this will be at around 47% (which is nearly half in most parts of the world). And then after Tuesday next week, it will be almost 62%:

totes

But first up, tomorrow. It’s not a “Super” Tuesday, but it’s pretty good. 365 delegates are at stake, including the electorally key state of Michigan. I’m calling it “Swell Tuesday”.

Sanders’ surprise narrow win in Michigan in 2016 was a major turning point for him, and what should have been an indicator that the state could be a problem in the Fall. With due humility for how far off the polls there were last time, they are pointing in an easy-to-spot direction at the moment:

Michigan

Sanders also did very well in Washington in 2016, but with the key difference that it was a caucus then, and is a primary this time. Allowing for the likelihood that many of Warren’s voters will swing toward Sanders, he looks to be on a path to a win there, but not an overwhelming one like he had in the 2016 caucus:

Wa

Another sizable state up tomorrow is Missouri. It was a virtual tie last time, with Sanders finishing less than 600 votes behind Clinton. One would not bet on it being that close this time:

Mo

Based on his Southern results so far, Biden can be expected to crush it in the remaining large state up tomorrow, Mississippi. He’s also currently favored in both Idaho and North Dakota. What this all adds up to is a likely narrow Sanders win in a state he won big in last time (Washington), a loss in the surprise win state that garnered so much attention for him in 2016 (Michigan), and Biden going four for four on the other states up tomorrow.

If so, and given a March 17th that looks like very fertile territory for Biden, Sanders could run out of room very quickly. Are surprises possible? Certainly. But the fundamental problem I see is this. If you take the grossly simplified view that the candidates can be grouped together into two blocks, this is the popular vote so far:

math

For reference, the 2016 total came out as Clinton 55.2%, Sanders 43.1%. Unless Sanders draws in a significantly larger share than the Progressive candidates in total have so far this cycle, and than he did last cycle, it could be very difficult for him to overtake the “Moderate” block that has coalesced around Biden.

Tune in next week to see if this outlook has changed after tomorrow!

There can be only one… (“Have yourself a Super little Tuesday…” edition)

<Breaking News! Mere moments after I pressed “publish” the news came through that Amy Klobuchar is dropping out, and endorsing Biden. To adjust for this, take everything I say below, and make it more so.>

<And still more breaking news! Buttigieg has come out saying he plans to endorse Biden in a joint appearance. Take what I say below, and make it even more so more so.>

St2

As promised in last week’s pre-South Carolina check-in, now that we have South Carolina results, we’re back for a quick check-in today, before tomorrow’s nation-wide electoral hoe-down.

First to note: In the wake of South Carolina, Tom Steyer and Pete Buttigieg have dropped out of the race. From 28 total and as many as 25 at once, we’re now down to just six candidates! We see you, Biden, Bloomberg, Gabbard, Klobuchar, Sanders, and Warren. You’re a plucky bunch, but, sooner or later…

there-can-be-only-one

Do we have more of a sense who that one will be? One thing we can observe in South Carolina is that Biden won big, even bigger than many expected:

SC3

One consequence of this final member of the first four elections weighing in is that, literally overnight, Biden has shot to the lead in the popular vote, and a close second to Sanders in total delegates:

state of states

Of course, this is based on a very narrow slice of the overall electorate so far. Tomorrow, in a shot, will take us to more than a  third of the total delegates having been chosen. So what’s the outlook? As recently as two weeks ago, it seemed quite possible that Super Tuesday would be an extinction level event for Biden, and Sanders would sweep the field that day.

But then, as we discussed last week, Biden caught a couple of good breaks going in to South Carolina- a Nevada performance that was less dismal than his first two outings, his main rival Bloomberg being gutted by Warren in his first debate, and strong support in South Carolina itself. You can see the results both in national polling and polls of a few of the major Super Tuesday states, all of which show Biden’s numbers spiking:

polssss

Keep in mind that these are polling averages, and have limited effect so far from his South Carolina win, or possible benefit from Buttigieg dropping out.

Considering where his trendlines were already going, how many southern states with similar electorates to South Carolina are voting tomorrow, and the general momentum from his recent win and a “moderate” rival dropping out, it’s not unreasonable to expect Biden to do much better tomorrow than it seemed just a few weeks ago. Indeed, the number-crunchy folks at 538 now give him odds on winning Alabama, Arkansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Virginia tomorrow, and a roughly even shot at carrying Texas.

St3

If you put all this together, I’m smelling a very good day for Biden tomorrow. Sanders probably comes out of this with a plurality of the popular vote and delegates, but Biden will also likely be racking up enough votes and delegates to be nipping right at his heels. Time shall tell, but not much of it, so we won’t have to wait long to see!

There can be only one… (“First South Carolina, then the World!” edition)

2020_south_carolina_primary

Since last we checked in, there have been two more contests, the New Hampshire primary and the Nevada caucuses.

New Hampshire continued Iowa’s theme of “near photo finish” but advantage Sanders, and also featured a dismal fifth place by Joe Biden that opened up the question of whether he’s in complete free-fall:

NH2

Nevada featured a strong win by Sanders across multiple demographics, and his third popular vote victory of the first three. Which, following on the heels of his coming in to the lead in national polling, caused some to wonder whether he might deliver a de facto knockout punch on Super Tuesday:

Nevada

Oh, and we’ve also had some further attrition due to New Hampshire! Goodbye Bennet, Patrick, and Yang! Delaney, I didn’t even notice you’d dropped out back in January! Of the 28(!) candidates we’ve had at one time or another, with a simultaneous field as large as 25, there are now only eight remaining. Eight is fewer than 28, but…

there-can-be-only-one

What does how things are looking going in to South Carolina tell us about who that one is likely to be?

After placing fourth in Iowa and fifth in New Hampshire, once front-runner Biden began to look like he might totally collapse. But, three (from his campaign’s perspective) useful things in a row happened. First, his Nevada showing, while not great, was a step up from the “on life support” numbers of Iowa and New Hampshire.

Second, the “moderate/establishment” vote had clearly started to flee from Biden to Michael Bloomberg, who isn’t on the ballot in South Carolina, but does serve as a kind of anti-barometer of how Biden is doing overall:

National1

However, as his star rose, rumblings also rose about whether Bloomberg’s past association with racially troubling policies and statements, sexual harassment allegations, and, well, actually having been a Republican, might make him unacceptable to too wide a portion of the Democratic base. I can testify that on my personal social media feed, many people who are not at all the “usual suspects” for this kind of thing were saying that he could be their exception to “I will vote for whoever the nominee is”.

This came to a head on 2/19, with Warren brutally and effectively taking Bloomberg to task during his first debate appearance. It was so effective that, as some online pranksters put it:

COD

Third, Biden has attracted the support of one of the most influential endorsements there is in South Carolina, third-ranking House member Jim Clyburn:

clyburn

Was it that Nevada stopped the bleeding? Bloomberg being rapidly discredited as an alternative caused some of the nervous voters in search of a moderate to flock back to Biden? The networking and attention Biden has sunk into South Carolina paying off? Whatever the cause, he seem to be having a resurgence there just when he needs it most:

SC1

While just a few days ago it seemed like Biden might be headed for an embarrassing single-digit win or even a devastating surprise loss, I think he’s probably back on track for a strong double-digit win in South Carolina. And, of course, the real significance of South Carolina has always been momentum going in to Super Tuesday, and especially what it tells us about how well Biden is doing with the African-American voters he’s counting on to win Southern Primaries that day.

In which regard, if a big win in South Carolina does presage Southern strength for him, he could pick up as many as six states that day:

ST

This doesn’t change the fact that Sanders remains in a very strong position to also pick up a lot of delegates that day, quite probably even more than Biden. But South Carolina’s results this weekend may tell us a lot about whether we’re likely to see a “knockout punch” by Sanders on Tuesday of next week, or more like an almost-draw that keeps us all slogging through for a while to come.

Let’s check in again on Monday!

 

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… (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!

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!