New Hampshire Debate Preview: Fighting for Their Political Lives

The 2020 Democratic debate cycle has, well, there’s no other way to put it, it’s sucked. Several of these in, and the biggest moment was Kamala Harris calling out Joe Biden on busing. It resonated so well that she’s been out of the race for two months. Maybe the next most memorable thing was Pete Buttigieg’s wine cave. He was so harmed by this exchange that he (unless you ask Bernie) won Iowa.

Every few weeks, I convince myself that this will be the debate with fireworks. The one they play clips of every four years in perpetuity. And then 20 to 30 minutes in start thinking I should use my time more wisely. Even the pre-Iowa debate wasn’t a big deal, with the Sanders-Warren non-handshake at the end more significant than anything that happened during. Oh, and it didn’t move many voters in a new direction.

If we don’t get excitement this time, it’s just not possible for this group. Not only do we still lack consensus on who won Iowa, but those same two, Bernie & Buttigieg are now the clear favorites in New Hampshire. Sanders has the advantage. They’re close in some polls, Sanders leads noticeably in others. Bernie won big in 2016. Buttigieg has the momentum. For each, there’s the question of where they will win next if they don’t win here.

That should create energy by itself. Then we have Elizabeth Warren needing to remain relevant. It will take a big debate moment to pull her above third place, but she also needs to make sure not to finish fourth or fifth while Sanders wins. If Amy Klobuchar doesn’t finish ahead of Joe Biden, she’ll be going home. If Biden isn’t a semi-strong third, he’s going to have an awful next week.

Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang have a chance to take advantage of Mike Bloomberg’s absence to draw attention to whatever it is their respective goals are. Neither can win the nomination, but in the permanent campaign we have now, 2024 has already begun. I don’t have any specific advice for either except to do what they do, and hope the others disqualify themselves over time. Again, they’re playing for some future campaign anyway.

But I will tell you what I would tell each of the other five if they asked me. Continue reading “New Hampshire Debate Preview: Fighting for Their Political Lives”

Too Close to Know

If anyone tells you they know who really won the 2000 Presidential Election, they’re lying to you, lying to themselves, or both. Technically, George W. Bush won Florida, and thus the presidency by 537 votes as per the final recount. But as anyone who was around for the comedy of errors and hanging chads remembers, that was a guess. Not only was it impossible to review punched ballots with any amount of consistency, but a controversial “butterfly” ballot design in Broward County led to a surprising amount of Jewish retirees voting for Pat Buchanan.

When an election is very, very, very close, we’re all just guessing. A combination of tabulation errors, questionable ballots, and odd ballot design will cause uncertainty. There’s the question of whether the certified votes were properly counted, whether the right votes were counted, and sometimes, whether, intentionally or not, ballots were designed in a way that hindered voters exercising their true preference.

We all agree to accept an eventual outcome because someone needs to win, and you can’t re-run a national election. Unless you’re in Israel, where they can apparently do this every couple of months. But they have fewer citizens than Los Angeles County. You definitely can’t have a re-do on a caucus or primary. There’s a schedule, and sending everyone back to Iowa would be ridiculous. Plus, it’s not the same on a re-do. The voters have a different set of information now. Continue reading “Too Close to Know”

The Delay Didn’t Hurt Pete

By the time you read this, Iowa may have finally reported all results from all precincts. At the moment I type this, 96% are in, and Pete Buttigieg is still leading Bernie Sanders by a narrow margin in State Delegate Equivalents, the official currency for declaring a caucus winner. He’s going to hold on. Neither his victory speech on Monday, nor my victory conclusion yesterday will prove false.

The conventional wisdom is another story. For near 48 hours, we’ve heard how the failures of caucus tabulation stole Buttigieg’s chance to make a traditional victory speech before much of America was asleep (though the past two Democratic caucus nights have had a self-declared winner jump the gun on waiting for official data, so maybe this is how it’s done now–neither were wrong) and how the confusion would prevent him from getting the much needed post-Iowa polling bounce.

Wrong. Continue reading “The Delay Didn’t Hurt Pete”

Iowa Recap (No, I’m Not Waiting for All Precincts)

Hi! Fun last 24 hours, eh? I have lots to say on the future of the Iowa Caucus, what recent disaster this mess reminds me of, and a pile of other things, but this can all wait until we take a look at the data we have and the immediate lessons from it as it relates to the candidates. For now, we have 62% of precincts reporting, with at least some results from all 99 counties. It’s my strong belief that nothing crucial will change between now and when everything is in.

Let’s start by comparing what happened to my pre-caucus assumptions. I didn’t think Mayor Pete would win the caucus, so can’t declare victory, but overall I’m proud of myself. Here’s what played out as expected:

Andrew Yang beat his poll numbers by a little, but couldn’t reach viability most of the time.

Bernie Sanders got the most first alignment votes, and added to that on the second round, winding up with the most votes overall.

Pete Buttigieg benefitted the most from how the caucus works, picking up a good amount of final alignment votes, distributing his support to State Delegate Equivalents (SDEs) better than any other candidate, passing someone who started out ahead of him. Continue reading “Iowa Recap (No, I’m Not Waiting for All Precincts)”

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: Continue reading “Iowa Preview: Final Predictions”

Candidate Heat Check: Pre-Iowa Edition

It’s time for another look at who’s hot and who’s not. These temperature readings are one part recent data, one part expectations, and one part alchemy. As was the case last time, no candidates are “on fire.” Bernie Sanders is climbing in the polls, and his odds are improving, but until he actually wins Iowa, he’ll have to settle for just being hot (I’m thinking he doesn’t hear that often.) On to the list:

On Fire: Nobody

Hot: Bernie Sanders, Mike Bloomberg, Joe Biden

Biden is holding serve. That’s not exciting. He’s not leaping forward at just the right time like Sanders. He’s not the favorite in either of the first two states (though Iowa is a coin flip between him and Bernie.) But FiveThirtyEight’s updated numbers have him at 45% to win the nomination before the convention. There are very few candidates who wouldn’t want those odds at this stage.

Sure, he could lose the first three states, slink in to South Carolina, and win by a disappointing margin. And if that happens, he may well not be the nominee. But if he wins Iowa, this is over. If he wins New Hampshire, it’s over. If he wins Nevada after finishing near the top in the first two, it’s over. There are just too many Super Tuesday states where he’s well ahead. Continue reading “Candidate Heat Check: Pre-Iowa Edition”

Which Score Counts?

Iowa winnows. We know this. Many candidates contest the caucus. A few survive. The coveted “tickets out of Iowa” always sell out quickly. This is usually extra true on the Democratic side. Where Republicans just add up the amount of supporters each candidate has, Democrats have a 15% viability test in each caucus precinct (Apologies if you’re tired of me mentioning this in every blog post this month.) This is how Joe Biden wound up with 0.9% there in 2008 and a direct pass to the vice presidential waiting room.

He’d polled higher in single digits, but failed the viability test at most precincts and lost his supporters to Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, or John (remember him?) Edwards. The top three finishers combined for 96.7% of the final score. This was a strong group. Edwards was the 2004 VP nominee, and the other two would combine for the next three nominations. But it’s not an outlier result.

In 2016, Hillary and Bernie Sanders combined for over 99%. Back in 2004, the top two garnered 69.4%, the top three 87.4%, and top four 98%. There were only two candidates in 2000. Bill Clinton ran unopposed in 1996, and Iowa wasn’t contested in 1992, with home state Senator Tom Harkin in the field. The trend continues in 1988 with the top three pulling 80.2%. Completing the investigation, here are the top three back to 1972 in years where there were more than three candidates:

1984: 75.7%

1976: 78.0%

1972: 93.9% Continue reading “Which Score Counts?”

How Long Will Warren Persist?

A few months ago, when Elizabeth Warren was challenging Joe Biden at the top of national polls, leading in Iowa and sometimes New Hampshire, and the darling of betting markets, the question was how long Bernie Sanders would stick around as a spoiler. It didn’t look like he could win, but he’d have money to continue as long as he chose, and in 2016 he waited for the delegate count to make nomination impossible before conceding.

Looks like rumors of Bernie’s demise were greatly exaggerated. In retrospect, the turning point was his post-heart attack debate performance, followed by a crucial endorsement from AOC. Meanwhile, Warren was beginning to struggle with her wobbling position on Medicare for All. At this point, they’ve effectively traded places. We shouldn’t count Warren out, but Sanders is in a much better position.

When momentum switched, it was months before anyone would vote. Sanders had time to catch and surpass Warren. She attempted to create a moment in the last debate, leaking a story ahead of time about Sanders telling her a woman couldn’t beat Trump, and then seizing on the topic during the debate to mention the superior electoral record of the female candidates on stage. Then there was the post-debate contretemps, when the two previously friendly progressive icons snarled at each other in lieu of shaking hands.

We’ve got enough data now to say neither the debate, nor the immediate aftermath changed the relative standing of Sanders and Warren. And Iowa votes in one week. Continue reading “How Long Will Warren Persist?”

How Bloomberg Wins

Now that he’s climbed to fourth place in the national poll averages, it’s time for the Michael Bloomberg, Democratic Nominee exercise. A few quick reminders. This isn’t likely to happen. Put your money on Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders if the odds for them are the same as Mike. Elizabeth Warren is more likely too. The FiveThirtyEight model figures she’s better than 50/50 if she can manage an Iowa victory. Pete Buttigieg is more of an underdog than he was a month ago, but unlike Bloomberg, there’s a mathematical path for him to get a majority of delegates before the convention.

Which is another thing. Bloomberg will not have won enough of the required delegates before the convention. The math doesn’t work. Not only is he not on the ballot in the first four states, but many of the delegate-rich Super Tuesday states will begin early voting long ahead of the March 3 official primary date. So even if Bloomberg gets the most votes on Super Tuesday, he still won’t get the most votes in those states. And unless the field narrows far quicker than I can imagine today, even winning many of those states wouldn’t get him near a majority of the delegates awarded.

March 10 and March 17 are big delegate days too. By St. Patrick’s Day, a majority of delegates will have been awarded, and Bloomberg will still have a ton of work to do. Any victory scenario is based on having a plurality of delegates and making a deal prior to or at the convention, not having control of his first ballot destiny based on delegates won through open primaries and caucuses. Continue reading “How Bloomberg Wins”

Do the Numbers Tell Us Who Won the Last Debate?

Earlier in the week, we got a couple of updated polls from Iowa, which I used as an excuse to jump to a few conclusions. Now we have enough post-debate national surveys to take another look. Reminder: Iowa looked favorable for Amy Klobuchar, negative for Bernie Sanders, and mostly neutral for everyone else. Though Bernie’s loss is Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden’s gain. Warren being his most direct competitor, and Biden whose odds were the most helped.

For purposes of measurement, I’m choosing the four national surveys, listed by Real Clear Politics, that were taken entirely after the most recent debate. Conveniently, each pollster also released a national survey taken on or around the second week of December. When we measure how much a candidate is up or down, we’re comparing them against a survey taken by the same pollster at almost exactly the same time.

The timing is extra fortuitous. By that point in December, Warren had already bottomed out and swapped places with Sanders, who was already considered the second most likely nominee by the betting markets. The most recent Buttigieg Boom had already peaked. Michael Bloomberg was in the race. Amy Klobuchar had started getting attention.

The pollsters we’re measuring are:

CNN

Monmouth

Economist/YouGov

Morning Consult

On to the math! Continue reading “Do the Numbers Tell Us Who Won the Last Debate?”