Tag Archives: iowa

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


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…


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:


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)


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:


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:


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)



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…


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:


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:


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:


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:


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!




Election 2016: Iowa (By the numbers)


Well, we have almost reached a momentous event in the 2016 election. Somebody, somewhere is about to actually vote, giving us meaningful data instead of all the flap-trapping that’s been going on so far! In the midst of all the flap-trapping, I tend to hew to the numbers anyway, since empirical data is handy at cutting through bullshit, spin and partisan bias. So here’s my take on Iowa, with 6 days to go.

The Democrats

If you look at the poll trend-lines over the past fourteen days, you can see that we’re at more or less a dead heat, with a very slight indication of a an up-trend for Bernie and down-trend for Hillary:


There are three cautions that need to be kept in mind about this:

1) Not all polls are equally high-quality, so adding them together without weighting them can mislead.

2) Even shortly before Iowa, the polls don’t have a great track record– they’ll show who’s in range, but can still be pretty variable compared to final results.

3) A caucus is not a primary. In a  primary, people show up, go in to a booth, vote, and leave. In a caucus they have to get to the caucus site, and stay and advocate for their candidate, sometimes hour after hour, until that site comes up with a winner. So caucus states tend to benefit those candidates who have highly motivated supporters, and a strong on-the-ground presence to do the logistics of getting those supporters to show up at the sites and stay.

Based on these additional factors (weighting polls according to reliability, and adding in factors like logistical strength, etc.), the folks at data-driven election site 538.com have produced a”polls only” and “polls plus” forecast for Iowa, both of which show Hillary as the favorite.



There’s one more thing we can look at, which is the betting markets. These aggregate the current bets of several thousand users who, extremely usefully to cutting down spin, have literally put their money where their mouth is. Those markets also have Hillary as a favorite to win:


My take? Bernie definitely has an enthusiasm edge over Hillary. His ground game, while quite strong, is not as strong as her’s, and nowhere near as strong as Obama’s when he pulled off an upset victory in Iowa in 2008. If you take the two as roughly cancelling each other out, it’s… more or less a toss-up. I know, way to waffle!

The thing that strikes me is that winning Iowa gives Bernie a shot at his best case- he wins Iowa, then New Hampshire, and does better than-expected in Nevada and South Carolina, and goes on to get a striking distance 40% or more of the states and delegates on Super Tuesday. A Sanders who does all that doesn’t have a lock, but he does have a competitive chance. A Sanders who doesn’t win Iowa probably still wins New Hampshire, but that’s discounted since it’s expected, and he then gets buried in South Carolina. He’s probably then mathematically finished on Super Tuesday by not winning any state except Vermont, and getting less than 40% of the delegates up for grabs. What he’d have to do to win the nomination from there would be prohibitive- it would have to be something like getting 65% of all the remaining delegates


The Republicans

Trump has actually had a bounce-back against Cruz over the past 14 days in a straight-poll setting:


Over at 538, their two models have actually diverged, with “polls-only” giving an edge to Trump, and “polls-plus” giving an edge to Cruz:



Meanwhile, the bettors are still picking Trump, but there’s some strong narrowing in the last few days:


I’d suspect Cruz will take it. While his perpetual-motion PR machine is second to none, Trump doesn’t have a good ground game most anywhere, and in Iowa that can really have an effect. Cruz also fits the profile of Republican caucus candidates who do well in Iowa- strong Evangelical backing is key there, and gave Huckabee a win in 2008 and Santorum in 2012. 538.com has a lively discussion on just how important winning Iowa is to Trump’s long game.  You could make a case that it could be the beginning of the end for him, showing that his strong poll numbers don’t necessarily translate to real registered and showing-up-at-the-polls voters. On the other hand, you could also say that caucuses aren’t his thing, but the divided field of more moderate candidates in New Hampshire allows him to walk away with that state, and then the more straight-up vote primary in South Carolina. He would then be in a very strong position through Super Tuesday.

What’s your take? Tune in on Tuesday and we shall see!