Iowa Preview: Final Predictions

Greetings. It’s finally time. In less than 24 hours, the first real voting of the 2020 Presidential Season will happen. This year, I get to make three sets of predictions. Unlike past Iowa caucuses, where only the percentage and amount of State Delegate Equivalents (SDEs) was released, this time, we’ll get a head count of supporters for each candidate, then the count after supporters for the candidates who failed to reach 15% in their caucus precinct found a new home, and then the SDE count.

I can’t hazard a guess on which of these three numbers the media will care most about or the candidates can exploit the best. But I can project what will happen on each round. Though we never got the final CNN/Des Moines Register/Selzer poll, there’s still plenty to review:

Final FiveThirtyEight Iowa Odds

Final Real Clear Politics Iowa Average

Final FiveThirtyEight Iowa Poll Average

If you peruse, you’ll notice nobody is closing super strong. Bernie Sanders had a great first half of January. He’s in great shape overall. But he hasn’t gained in the past week. Amy Klobuchar’s mini-surge seems to have hit the wall. Elizabeth Warren hasn’t leapt forward after the last debate. Pete Buttigieg appears stalled. Andrew Yang’s 17 day bus tour helped his favorability ratings, but he’s still stuck in mid-single digits. Tom Steyer isn’t going anywhere. Tulsi Gabbard matters in New Hampshire, but not here.

So my guess is Yang only reaches viability in caucus precincts that are on or very near a college campus. And even then, not always. Klobuchar will get to viability in some rural areas, and some upscale suburbs, but not often enough to accomplish what she needs. The first of these is a plus for Sanders, the second a minus. If Klobuchar should reach 15% in the majority of precincts, it virtually guarantees a Sanders victory.

He’s the consensus polling leader. The way Biden, Buttigieg, or Warren catches him is by picking up an outsized chunk of Klobuchar support in round two. Well, looks like they’ll have that opportunity. However, Yang voters are most likely to go to Sanders, and he will have the chance to pick some up. There hasn’t been much polling on where Steyer voters might move. If this winds up very close, that couple/few percent could make the difference.

A few other quick notes. Biden has a disadvantage on the ground. Warren, Buttigieg, and Sanders have better teams, and more inspired voters. But older voters are the most reliable, and that’s Biden’s base. Where things might not balance out for him is trying to convince Klobuchar voters to go to him instead of Buttigieg, if Mayor Pete’s precinct teams and voters have more energy. Same issue if Warren is wooing Klobuchar voters who would like to support a female candidate and Biden’s team isn’t sharp and enthused.

On to the picks:

Round One: Initial Preferences

Sanders 28%

Biden 20%

Buttigieg 17%

Warren 16%

Klobuchar 9%

Yang 6%

Steyer 3%

Gabbard 1%

Bennet 0%

Patrick 0%

This is pretty close to what the poll averages are saying. I’m thinking Bernie gets a little spike because of general energy. Same for Yang on a smaller level. There is some persuading that happens before the first count is taken. When voters arrive, they find the group that is supporting their candidate. Speeches and lobbying happen too. I’m expecting a few Klobuchar voters to move elsewhere ahead of the first vote, as they realize they’ll need to re-assign anyway.

Round Two: Reassignment of Voters for candidates who missed 15% in a precinct

Sanders 33%

Biden 23%

Buttigieg 22%

Warren 17%

Klobuchar 4%

Yang 1%

Assuming Buttigieg doesn’t fade further than polls are indicating, and reaches viability in most precincts, he stands to pick up the most from other candidates. He’s a strong possibility for many Klobuchar voters, acceptable to some Warren voters–according to the final Emerson poll, Warren is struggling in the IA-4 congressional district, and is appealing to some Yang voters.

He benefits from being spread more evenly across the state than his competitors, and doesn’t have as drastic an age split as Sanders or Biden, or as much of an education split as Warren. Regardless of his viability after New Hampshire, Buttigieg is a very good Iowa candidate, and while I’m expecting him to fall short of winning, Iowans like him.

Round Three: Conversion of Round Two Votes to SDEs

Sanders 31%

Buttigieg 24%

Biden 23%

Warren 16%

Klobuchar 5%

Yang 1%

If 2016 is any indication, Sanders will lose a bit on the conversion. He very likely had more actual supporters after Round Two on Caucus Day than Hillary Clinton. But you can only get so many SDEs from a given precinct, so him overloading a caucus on a campus wasn’t efficient. If he wins all three measurements like I’m expecting, nobody will care this time. He’ll have plenty to celebrate.

But this helps Buttigieg. He, like Biden and Klobuchar is relatively strong in rural areas that are a bit over-represented in the SDEs. Unlike Biden, he should reach viability in many of the caucuses near colleges, so he’ll get something from those, where Biden will get nothing. A candidate would rather get 17% in 6 precincts (after round two) than 20% in 5 and 0% in the sixth.

If IA-4 functions for Warren like campuses do Biden, she’ll take a little hit in the conversion too. Buttigieg has the Goldilocks arrangement here. If this prediction is correct, we’ll see a Battle of the Spin. Buttigieg would be the second place finisher, first among non-Democratic Socialists, under the way results have been posted for the past few decades. But Biden would have received noticeably more votes than Buttigieg as a first choice, and a few more as a second choice. He could reasonably argue he was the most popular moderate candidate.

Yang and Klobuchar would obviously focus on the first round results, especially given that’s all that matters going forward. If the prediction holds, it’s the end of Klobuchar as a serious candidate though. Yang will need to hope he does well in the next debate and New Hampshire decides to make him a bit more of a factor. He’s operating in his own lane and has a dedicated group of small donors, so his calculus is a bit different.

Warren would have some real thinking to do about how to format herself for the debate on Friday. Should Sanders get almost double the final support she does, New Hampshire is potentially ugly for her.

Ok. Enough speculation for now. Let’s see how my picks do. More importantly, we get some real results soon.

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