Measuring for Nevada

As we figured, it’s going to take some alchemy to turn the limited poll numbers (we have one current survey at the moment) in to any sort of Nevada prediction. But we’re now less than a week from Caucus Day, and early caucusing began yesterday, so damn the consequences of guessing. It’s time to start reaching a few preliminary conclusions.

The survey says:

Sanders 25%

Biden 18%

Warren 13%

Steyer 11%

Buttigieg 10%

Klobuchar 10%

Another 13% are either undecided or would have supported Andrew Yang. While I really wish we had more data, and didn’t need to treat this one survey as our only basis, we can see what’s going on in some other states, mostly post-New Hampshire (Texas was before), as a bit of a benchmark. Keep in mind, these surveys, unlike Nevada, usually include Mike Bloomberg. So not apples to apples, but even an orange will help.

Bernie Sanders:

SC: 20%

FL: 10%

TX: 24%

GA: 14%

Bernie is running stronger among Latinos than African Americans. So he should do better in Nevada and Texas than Georgia and South Carolina. He does far better among younger voters than older, so Florida should be difficult for him (Hillary clobbered Sanders there in 2016.) That particular pollster tends to find poor results for him compared to others surveying Florida, so you can round up a few points if you’d like. Regardless, this is consistent with what 25% in Nevada would convert to. Also, Sanders was just over 25% in both Iowa and New Hampshire.

Until we see some numbers to the contrary, I have no reason to believe Bernie isn’t somewhere very close to 25%. If the trends from the first two states hold, he should not expect historically high turnout among his target age demographic. He also won’t get a ton of late deciders, being one of the best known candidates in the race. While he would pick up some Warren supporters if she falls short of viability in various precincts, Iowa and New Hampshire suggest Buttigieg and Klobuchar could benefit just as much, provided they can get to the threshold themselves.

Barring a stroke on the debate stage, it’s hard to picture Sanders finishing worse than second. But if the moderate side can pick a candidate, even if it’s on final alignment inside the caucus precincts, his seeming inability to reach 30% leaves him very vulnerable for a repeat of the Iowa experience when the State Delegate Equivalents are passed out.

Joe Biden:

SC: 28%

FL: 26%

TX: 22%

GA: 32%

Not exactly the impenetrable wall Biden hoped for, but he’s clearly not dead yet. Bloomberg was included in each survey, even though he’s not actually on the ballot in South Carolina. Texas is the youngest, and least African American of the four states, so makes sense Biden is least strong there. Again, these numbers are consistent with Biden being somewhere near the 18% shown in the Nevada poll. If we believe this, he’s right on the precipice.

Hang in, have a pretty solid debate, and he could actually win. Or at least get close enough for a moral victory. Should Biden wind up within 2-3% of winning, that will count as momentum, and would instantly make him the favorite in South Carolina. He was helped by the SDE allocation in Iowa, and with Buttigieg and Klobuchar both polling below the viability line, has more opportunities to pick up final alignment support than Sanders. It does not take a lot of fairy dust to picture a scenario where Biden is calling himself the Comeback Uncle.

But he was polling about here in Iowa too. And lost just enough when it was actually time to show up that he missed viability in some key precincts. And ceded the role of Bernie challenger to Buttigieg. Do we really want to bet Biden will do better (or even as well) than his direct competitors in the debate? He was on Meet the Press today. Chuck Todd interviewed Biden and Klobuchar back-to-back. If anyone was watching and attempting to decide between the two, Amy got their votes. One of them sounded like they had the energy to beat Trump. And it wasn’t Joe.

We know Biden doesn’t have the ground team that Warren, Sanders, and Mayor Pete do. We know he fell a little to a bit short of his final poll averages in Iowa and New Hampshire. It’s similarly easy to see a scenario where he loses 2 to 3 points over the next week, and then turns out his voters a little worse than his opponents, gets 13% overall, clearing the necessary line about half the time, and finishing fourth, with either Klobuchar or Buttigieg challenging Sanders for the prize. Total coin flip which version happens until we know more.

Elizabeth Warren:

SC: 7%

FL: 5%

TX: 15%

GA: 4%

OOF! The good news is Texas is the state most similar to Nevada demographically. So I don’t question her truly being in the neighborhood of 13% here. But if she doesn’t finish strong, there’s no reason for her to continue. Her future consists of electoral land mines. YouGov is publishing a series of head-to-head national polls with various Democrats. Warren does well on these, finishing well ahead of Klobuchar (50/31), Buttigieg (52/34), Bloomberg (52/38), Biden (49/41), and close to Sanders (42/44.) She’s nearest to beating Bernie, and dominates the others.

This is what her team points to when they say she can unify the party more easily than any opponent. The far left will accept her way before any of the moderates. And the moderates are at least somewhat more comfortable with her than Sanders. But Marco Rubio won a lot of these comparisons in February 2016 also. And he was polling a lot better in individual states than Warren was. The primary system simply doesn’t reward this type of candidate.

Two main possibilities here. The “she persists” option looks like this. Taking advantage of her team, full of veterans from the Clinton Nevada caucus popular vote victories in 2008 and 2016, along with an infusion of talent from Julian Castro’s squad (he’d prepped very well for Nevada, figuring it was his best early state prospect), Warren gets her voters out and barely clears the viability barrier in far more precincts than not.

An amazing 59% of poll respondents said they were going to caucus early. I don’t believe this for a second. I’m sure it’s their intention to get out early, ideally this weekend, and beat the rush. But some won’t, and will wind up needing to participate next Saturday anyway. Let’s say 35-40% really do caucus between the 15th and 18th. There are a couple of factors benefitting Warren. There’s no visible gap yet between Buttigieg and Klobuchar. They won’t have an extra chance to debate until after the early caucusers do their thing.

She’s got a decent chance of staying ahead of them during the early phase. And, unlike the regular caucus, where voters and campaign precinct captains can lobby voters to join them on the final alignment, here, voters will list their top five in order. If the first person doesn’t reach viability in the precinct after tabulating all early votes and all day of votes, the #2 candidate is selected. If that person isn’t viable, then #3, and so on. In the live, main caucus, voters could see a pile of Bernie voters and find themselves horse trading to pick the candidate most able to surpass him. That won’t often be Warren. In the early caucus, this isn’t visible yet, and a lot of voters have her as a backup.

If she has a very strong debate, perhaps because Bloomberg gets the final poll he needs to qualify for it, shows up, and presents himself as the perfect foil for her, that would shove her from 13% now to 16 to 18%. That’s where she sat in Iowa, when she was frequently viable, and picked up more votes on final alignment than she lost. With Buttigieg not yet where he was in Iowa, she’d be able to gain supporters from him too. If Biden doesn’t rally, and Klobuchar stays fairly strong, the division on the moderate side would leave Warren second. Good enough to persist for a long while. Or at least until Massachusetts voters decide on Super Tuesday whether she gets embarrassed or can keep going.

Call the good scenario, Iowa, but with a weaker Buttigieg. Then there’s doomsday. This is the New Hampshire repetition. Twenty to thirty percent of her currently committed voters decide they like her but that she’s just not likely to win. And move to Pete or Amy at the caucus. That makes her viable in very few precincts. Something like a 10-11% first alignment result, falling away to 4-6% on final alignment. This would lead to an early evening concession speech and withdrawal before South Carolina. The big intrigue would be if she would endorse Sanders, Klobuchar, or neither, and if either would offer her the VP slot in exchange.

Tom Steyer:

SC: 14%

FL: 1%

TX: 3%

GA: 2%

Once again, the Nevada poll is plausible. He’s run better in South Carolina for weeks. Steyer has also consistently failed to register anywhere outside of those two states. The Florida, Texas, and Georgia results are no surprise. Having done poorly in Iowa and New Hampshire, there’s no momentum pushing him forward in Nevada. Steyer also hasn’t qualified for the debate on Wednesday yet. And he likely won’t. He’s not going to qualify via the national poll route (4 surveys over 10%–has zero). Two surveys over 12% in either Nevada or South Carolina would do it. But the DNC only counts very specific pollsters.

He’d need two of them to release South Carolina polls very fast to sneak in. So we have a candidate who has a ceiling below the 15% needed for viability. If you were betting, it’s safer to expect him to lose ground over the next few days than hold/expand it. Most of his strength was based on advertising in Nevada well in excess of the other candidates. Now everyone is flooding the airwaves and Facebook. This makes Steyer a key pivot point for the caucus. He’s likely to retain enough support that it matters where those voters go next. But he probably won’t clear 15% in enough precincts to hold most of them.

Because he finished so poorly in Iowa, and isn’t among the polling leaders anywhere outside Nevada and South Carolina, we have a shortage of data (anecdotal or real numbers) to indicate which other candidates Steyer supporters would opt for. The most logical alternative, Bloomberg, isn’t on the ballot here. If one candidate can grab a large share, it will ratchet them up the standings.

Pete Buttigieg:

SC: 8%

FL: 11%

TX: 7%

GA: 5%

In the previous two states, Mayor Pete did unusually well at collecting last-minute deciders, enabling him to beat his final poll numbers both times. I have no clue if this only works on people deciding on the final day, or if it will also work on people who caucus early. It needs to in order to give him a shot. He’s a natural second or third choice for supporters of Warren, Biden, and Klobuchar, so there are paths here.

But you can see what he’s up against. The other states are showing that the 10% in Nevada isn’t a fluke, and not understating his strength. It would also lead us to believe Klobuchar got more of a push from New Hampshire than he did. She was the news story, and he didn’t win, so it kinda makes sense. Buttigieg debates well, but hasn’t regularly found himself the big winner. He needs it this time.

When Klobuchar bested him in the last one, it merely prevented him from finishing just ahead of Sanders instead of just behind. Here, he’ll need it to make sure he’s viable in most places, at which point he can take advantage of even more opportunity to increase his numbers through the various stages than he had in Iowa. But there, polls showed him consistently above the threshold. In Nevada, he hasn’t reached it yet.

If he makes no progress between now and Saturday, he’s done. In Nevada. As a contender anywhere. But he’s close enough that a little improvement will go a tremendously long way.

Amy Klobuchar:

SC: 7%

FL: 9%

TX: 3%

GA: 3%

You can excuse the Texas number as being before New Hampshire. A section was even pre-Iowa. The Georgia survey was entirely post-New Hampshire. Her worst demographic right now is African Americans. This is impacting that number. Bloomberg’s heavy advertising is blunting her opportunity with older white suburbanites. She’s doing better in South Carolina where he’s less of a factor. Florida looks relatively good because she does best with the most senior voters.

Ten percent for her in Nevada is a strong number if you’re looking at it next to these others. Assuming it’s accurate, she’s surged forward over the past few days. In New Hampshire, she got one bump after doing ok in Iowa, and a much larger one after winning the debate. Here, she’s got the problem of a lot of pre-debate caucusers. Unless she’s everyone’s second choice on the preference list for early caucuses, or way fewer people go early than they told their poll interviewer, it’s hard to see the math falling into place.

In Iowa, she cost Buttigieg a win on the final popular vote. In New Hampshire, she cost him a win. Here, she’s likely to do well enough to block him again, though he has much more work to do before that’s a consideration. And their even poll numbers indicate you could say the same thing in reverse this time.

Mike Bloomberg:

SC: 6%

FL: 27%

TX: 10%

GA: 14%

He’s not on the ballot in Nevada, but is just as impacted by the result as the official contestants. It’s hard to know what to make of his South Carolina poll number, since he’s not advertising there and isn’t on the ballot. The Florida pollster tends to favor Bloomberg, so this number might be inflated. However, I’ve assumed for some time that Florida should be a strong state for him. Looking at all of these, I’d guess that Bloomberg would find himself in the cluster with Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Warren if he were competing in Nevada, while Steyer would be a casualty of having a bigger (if shorter) billionaire available.

His best result is a Sanders win, though without enough support (30% plus) to give him semi-unstoppable momentum. Warren’s continued presence likely helps, so he’d prefer her to do well. In a perfect world, finishing second. Then a muddle among the others, with none getting close to the lead. His worst outcome is having Buttigieg or Klobuchar consolidate the late deciders and final alignment at the various precincts and wind up winning the SDEs outright.

You hear that Biden is his most direct opponent. I disagree. He’s first competing with Klobuchar and Buttigieg as an alternative to the established names. Only with them vanquished, does the math work for him to put Biden out of his misery.

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