The time has come. By the time you read this, they’ll have already begun voting in Dixville Notch, NH. As they continue reviewing precincts in Iowa, we’re almost guaranteed to know who won New Hampshire before there’s an undisputed winner of the Iowa State Delegate Equivalents (SDEs.) Nevada is fixing to have a lot of the same problems Iowa did, so enjoy this one opportunity for a clean election night, and the usual fun of watching the results roll in without delay, as is the norm since the telegraph was invented.
As usual, I figure I know best. Here’s what’s really going to happen:
Bernie Sanders: 27.7%
He’s leading or tied in the most recent survey from every pollster. FiveThirtyEight is showing him up 4.5 points, Real Clear Politics up 7.4. He’s an 80% plus favorite in the betting markets. I’d need to have a good reason to assume he won’t win. It should be close though. While Sanders has an edge with the big name pollsters and the daily tracking polls from Suffolk and Emerson, Buttigieg did get favorable results from AtlasIntel and Data for Progress.
I’ll confess I’d heard of neither until a couple hours ago, but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Both surveys were taken mostly or entirely post-debate. They’ve taken into account the attacks he got on stage and in ads over the weekend. These two surveys did influence me into thinking the gap between the top two is small. Most importantly, Sanders is in the mid-high twenties, not the low thirties. So he’s not completely safe. Given his tenure on the political stage and super high name recognition, you shouldn’t expect Bernie to pick up many late deciders. His base is there. No candidate has a higher percentage of supporters that are sure they’re staying.
You won’t see a surprise 19% finish for him. He’ll probably win. But Sanders is in the same polling range he’s been in for the past few weeks. He didn’t get an Iowa bounce, and he’s not getting a closing kick either. There are a few points separating a win, and nomination odds in excess of 50%, and a narrow loss, with him still being the most likely human to get a delegate majority, but perhaps less likely than a brokered convention.
Yes, it’s reasonable to question whether New Hampshire should have this much influence. Historically it does though.
Pete Buttigieg: 24.8%
In Iowa, Mayor Pete closed strong, but fell just a little short of Sanders. The caucus format and SDE system saved him. He picked up voters on the final alignment and played the delegate allocation better than Donald Trump managed the 2016 Electoral College. If New Hampshire were operating under Iowa’s rules (ideally with better counting practices), I’d pick Buttigieg to win. Biden would fail viability in many precincts, Klobuchar and Warren in a few/some, and he’d regularly benefit.
Buttigieg’s poll ceilings in Iowa and New Hampshire were similar. His rise/fall in each state mirrored too. I haven’t seen anything yet that indicates he’s likely to get 30% here, and think he’d need to get pretty close to win. FiveThirtyEight is giving him almost 1 in 3 odds of winning the state. That seems reasonable. I won’t be shocked if he wins. Finishing third would surprise me more. He’ll have a good night. How good is why we need to wait for the voters instead of just sifting through poll numbers.
He could have eliminated himself with a poor Iowa finish. That didn’t happen. Anything lower than second in New Hampshire would also finish him. We’ll find out if he’s got a real chance at becoming the nominee in Nevada. Where he’s likely to arrive with some momentum, but a large deficit to overcome.
Amy Klobuchar: 16.5%
For the first couple days post-Iowa, Klobuchar’s numbers here were flat. Then the debate. Then a mini-surge. It’s too little. It’s too late for her to win. But I think she will finish ahead of her closest female competitor and the establishment moderate who has led her by 20+ points in national polls for most of the past year or so. While Buttigieg isn’t scoring with African American voters, he doesn’t have that many other clear weaknesses.
He does better than his norm with Asian voters, not that much worse than his median with Latinos. Buttigieg isn’t super popular with the 18-34 crowd, but Sanders has them on lockdown for now anyway. There’s a big difference with voters between 35 and 49. Buttigieg does pretty well, Klobuchar poorly. You can compete (if not win) in Iowa and New Hampshire with affluent white voters over 50 and not much else. This won’t work elsewhere, and partially explains why she’s at 4% in the Quinnipiac national poll.
Klobuchar won’t drop out if she finishes ahead of Biden. And she shouldn’t. Voters in upcoming states will give her a closer look after a decent to strong finish in New Hampshire. But even New Hampshire voters outside her preferred demographic are going elsewhere. Until she fixes this, Klobuchar is a threat to split the anti-Bernie vote, not a true nomination prospect.
Elizabeth Warren: 13.3%
Warren has a higher floor than Biden. She beat her poll numbers in Iowa and I expect her to (narrowly) do the same here. A ground game doesn’t guarantee victory, but it does usually lead to over performing by a bit. It’s pretty clear she won’t win, so a few voters will leak to Bernie, Buttigieg, or Klobuchar. But Warren will get the people who are sure to vote for her out to do so.
And it’s likely Biden’s collapse will be the big story, not her inability to place near the top in a state where most voters are part of the Boston media market, the one she’s been on TV constantly in for the past decade. This was always going to be a problem. Sanders is a fixture in the region. Buttigieg and Klobuchar are ideal New Hampshire candidates. They too appeal to educated white voters, and both are easier fits for independents.
Warren and her campaign are both setting up the narrative that she’ll continue forward no matter what happens in New Hampshire. Given that Biden is unlikely to withdraw and she’ll have beaten him two states in a row (if I’m correct), there’s no reason for her to do so either. I just can’t figure out how and where (except for Massachusetts) she wins.
Joe Biden: 8.8%
The reckoning is here. All indicators are bad. A new Quinnipiac national survey had him down to 17%, trailing Sanders by 8 points. This info was all over the tv and radio news, internet, pretty much anywhere New Hampshire voters are checking in before they cast their ballots. It’s not a good look for someone who began last Friday’s debate by predicting he’d do poorly in New Hampshire.
Not saying he had to follow my advice on closing, but this was the worst possible gambit. Biden was always destined to trail his national numbers here. When he was cruising at 25-30%, that meant he’d wind up in the upper teens, low 20s, which wasn’t likely enough to win, but plenty to avoid embarrassment. Now, we have several new polls showing him in high single digits, low double digits.
With Buttigieg and now Klobuchar ahead of him, his less dedicated voters have even more reason to waver. His ground game is clearly worse than Sanders, Warren, and Buttigieg. His crowds are smaller. The momentum is going the wrong way. He missed his poll numbers badly in Iowa. Here, the gap from his polls won’t be quite as big, if only because the support was already gone by the time surveys were taken.
It’s technically possible for Biden to survive this. Bloomberg, who will regularly be ahead of Biden in national surveys by next week is not participating in South Carolina. It doesn’t make sense for voters there to ding Biden for poor early performances while ignoring Tom Steyer’s inability to even register. Buttigieg hasn’t shown anything there. Warren is a poor fit. If I had to bet, I’d guess the Sanders-Biden battle in South Carolina is Uncle Joe’s last stand.
Andrew Yang: 3.2%
Quinnipiac is showing three candidates with net favorable ratings with the entire electorate. Buttigieg (+4), Klobuchar (+10), and Yang (+8.) In all three cases, many voters don’t have an opinion yet. There’s no guarantee this would hold with further exposure. But more than any other candidate, the more voters see of Yang, the more have opinions and the more likely those opinions are positive.
Yang is drawing good crowds. It’s likely curiosity more than first choice support, but all of this will help him in the future. In the short run, his New Hampshire numbers have dropped over the past week, as have Gabbard’s and Steyer’s. This is normal for low-mid single digit candidates. Either you catch fire and surge into double digits, or fall back. Next time will be different.
Tulsi Gabbard: 2.9%
Her numbers have dropped in half in the past week. I don’t see any reason not to trust the polls. She has her true adherents. Anyone else is going to vote for someone who can make an impact inside the Democratic primary.
Tom Steyer: 1.7%
See above two candidates. His Nevada numbers were stronger than Iowa or New Hampshire. Will be interesting to see if he has similar leakage there when new numbers are out. Steyer should qualify for the Nevada debates based on his polling there and in South Carolina. But he was in the Iowa and New Hampshire debates, neither of which appeared to help him. After having the Nevada airwaves mostly to himself for months, it’s going to get a lot more crowded.
Between them, Michael Bennet and Deval Patrick should be good for a point or so. They’re the last of the candidates who would in other cycles seem like solid, if not insanely inspired choices. When they withdraw from the race by Wednesday morning, they’ll join the other semi-moderate governors and senators who lacked the branding to compete. In 2024 and/or 2028 we’ll see if this model becomes popular again, or if the resume that used to say contender now says don’t bother.