Swing State Pres

Sunday, February 9, 2020

BTRTN Iowa Caucuses Postmortem: Literally

Tom on the ill-fated Iowa caucuses.

The Iowa caucuses were an unmitigated disaster, of that there can be no doubt.  The famous failed reporting app, untested and backed up by…..nothing….will go down in political lore as “The App That Ate Iowa.”  The odds are quite high that the Iowa caucuses are dead, with a quaint and quirky legacy:  a strange, unwieldy and virtually incomprehensible process that, nevertheless, was almost unerringly correct in predicting the Democratic Party nominee.

How bad was the debacle?  There were no results at all available on Monday night, caucus night, leaving the on-ground reporters and the panel pundits with much airtime to fill and little to say.  As of this writing, one precinct has still not reported any results.  Worse, The New York Times documented over 100 precincts whose results revealed basic errors in math or clear rules violations.  Finally, there is a call for a “recanvass” that could mean final results would not be announced until after New Hampshire.

But, for all the angst and outrage, the outcomes are clear and unlikely to change.  Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders were the big winners, of the delegate count and the popular vote, respectively.  Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren the big losers.  Amy Klobuchar did not do well enough to support the underlying rationale for her campaign.   Mike Bloomberg was thrilled with the muddled outcome, which is just what his late-starting, Super Tuesday-driven campaign needed.  Tom Steyer was a non-factor in Iowa, but he too was helped by a split decision (rather than a clear winner), as he is polling well in Nevada and South Carolina.  Andrew Yang made no impact and, like everyone else, just plain lost big, although the rest of the field (Tulsi Gabbard, Michael Bennet and Deval Patrick) was campaigning harder in New Hampshire than Iowa.

These are the results as of now:


First Round Vote %
Final Round Vote %
State Delegate Equivalents %
Delegates
Buttigieg
21.3%
25.0%
26.2%
13
Sanders
24.8%
26.6%
26.1%
12
Warren
18.4%
20.2%
18.0%
8
Biden
15.0%
13.7%
15.8%
6
Klobuchar
12.7%
12.3%
12.3%
1
Yang
5.0%
1.0%
1.0%
0
Steyer
1.7%
0.2%
0.3%
0
Gabbard
0.2%
0.0%
0.0%
0
Bloomberg
0.1%
0.0%
0.0%
0
Bennet
0.1%
0.0%
0.0%
0
Patrick
0.0%
0.0%
0.0%
0
Uncom./Other
0.7%
0.9%
0.2%
0

Let’s go deeper into what these results mean for each candidate:

There has been much grumbling that the adverse publicity about the app debacle robbed Buttigieg and Sanders of their rightful headlines (and momentum fuel) for their respective victories.  But while that might be true in some measure, their victories hardly occurred in a vacuum.  Everyone noticed.  More importantly, the good citizens of New Hampshire noticed, and a plethora of post-Iowa polls there immediately aped the Iowa results, with Sanders and Buttigieg in the top tier, Warren, Biden and Klobuchar lagging a good deal behind, and the rest irrelevant. 

Buttigieg jumped six points in New Hampshire with the Iowa results, halving the gap between him and the leader, Sanders, who of course hails from neighboring Vermont and had been leading this race comfortably.  Sanders received no particular bounce in New Hampshire after the Iowa result.

Sanders and Buttigieg also each established frontrunner status in their respective ideological “lanes,” with Pete trouncing Biden, with Klobuchar in third among the centrist candidates, and Sanders doing the same to Warren among the two progressives.  Pete took those six points in New Hampshire directly from Biden.

Biden had been underplaying his chances in Iowa for quite some time, and he would have been very happy with the respectable number two finish that the polls indicated.  Iowa is a lily-white state, and Biden’s strongest support comes from the African-American community, which was a decent excuse for him.  But the “enthusiasm” factor is very important in Iowa and Biden, clearly, inspired zero enthusiasm there.  He was having trouble drawing at his events, his ground game was weaker than that of his foes, and his finances were (and are) not in great shape either.  All of this ultimately hurt Biden – who wants to spend the night in a gym for a candidate you may respect and support but for whom you have no passion?

It is convenient to say that Iowa was a “wake up call” for Biden (a “punch in the gut," as he termed it), but the difficult truth is, he is an uninspiring candidate and an uneven debater, at best, and no miracle strategy can change those facts (much less his backward looking rationale).  He had, for him, a relatively high-energy debate performance in New Hampshire on Friday night, but his candidacy, while still viable, is struggling, limping along to his “firewall,” South Carolina, which is a must win now for him, period.

Warren is simply being out-Bernie’d and she, too, has little room to maneuver.  She agrees with Sanders on almost every policy position, but, as facile and convincing as she is, she is flat out well behind Sanders with no logical passing lane.  New Hampshire is a neighbor of hers, too, but as of now he is crushing her there.  It is difficult to discern the path to a Warren nomination given that very large obstacle in front of her.

Amy Klobuchar needs to surprise in New Hampshire, and that seems unlikely as well.  She had an excellent debate, full of punch, humor and emotion, and she has hit her stride as a candidate.  Unfortunately, almost everyone had a good night on the stage, and her movement in the polls has only vaulted her to the 8% range in New Hampshire – not good enough.  And the money may stop after that.

Tom Steyer received an astonishing amount of airtime in the debate and used it to good effect.  He was shamelessly playing to Nevada and South Carolina with his endless pitches to minority voters and plugs for specific cities in those states.  He is doing well in the polls there, and top three finishes in both could vault him into the Super Tuesday conversation.  He sure has the resources to continue as long as he likes, and Bloomberg’s entry and stunning orgy of spending has positioned Steyer, as one wag called him, as “The Good Billionaire.”  But he will likely be a non-factor in New Hampshire (as in Iowa) and this could hurt him in Nevada and then South Carolina.

Andrew Yang’s off-beat candidacy is losing whatever steam it may have had.  He, Tulsi Gabbard, Michael Bennet and Deval Patrick may/should all exit after New Hampshire, getting the field down officially to the seven who have even a long-shot at the nomination.

The most troubling statistic for the night was the low caucus turnout for the Dems, only about 170,000 versus the 240,000 high mark in 2008.  If you needed any further evidence that there is no Barack Obama in the field, look no further.  One can only hope that when November rolls around, this intra-party contest apathy will give way to a turnout frenzy when Donald Trump is on the ballot, his presidency at stake.

As for BTRTN (and other predictors), it was a forgettable performance.  We may gently remind readers of the difficulty of predicting caucuses, with their unusual dynamics, and that is all valid.  But we crowed when we nailed the Iowa caucuses in 2016 (Clinton over Sanders, Cruz over Trump), so we must now eat crow in 2020.  The polls showed Sanders and Biden in the 1-2 slots at roughly 27% and 20%, respectively, with Buttigieg and Warren perilously close to the 15% mark (overall), which is the “viability” level in Iowa.  We assumed this meant that the latter two would be shut out in a number of precincts (failing to meet the 15% mark) and their supporters would find their way to the frontrunners.  But that did not turn out to be true, and essentially Buttigieg and Biden flipped their expected positions, and while Sanders “won,” he did not win outright as expected. 

Iowa
Final Polls (Momentum)
BTRTN Prediction
Actual (97% Reporting)
Delegates
Buttigieg
17 =
17
26
11
Sanders
27 +
35
26
11
Warren
17 =
16
18
5
Biden
20 =
26
16
0
Klobuchar
8 =
6
12
0
Yang
3 =
0
1
0
Steyer
1 -
0
0
0
Gabbard
1 =
0
0
0
Bloomberg
0
0
0
0
Bennet
0
0
0
0
Patrick
0
0
0
0
Delaney
0
0
0
0
Uncommitted/Other
6
0
0
0

We shall move bravely on to New Hampshire, bloodied but unbowed, and grateful for a primary to predict, rather than a caucus.

The only eulogy being written right now is for the Iowa caucuses themselves.  Long critiqued for both their quirkiness and ultra-whiteness, the debacle gives its enemies, and there are many, more than enough ammunition to bury the beast long before 2024.  That sound you heard in New Hampshire is not cheering throngs for Bernie or Pete, but rather for the demise of the Iowa pretender and the return of New Hampshire to first selector status in the next election cycle.





2 comments:

  1. Iowa caucus 1972-2020. RIP.

    On enthusiasm -- 2008 caucus was on Jan 3, with candidates who were interesting and different, an "open race" in both parties, and a diverse set of issues on people's minds. No competing school homework to supervise, or events to attend. No college classes. Iowa & Iowa State football seasons were long over, basketball was just warming up.

    2020 attendance was expected to be high by party insiders. Some early commitments were dashed by candidates dropping out. For a couple of weeks ahead, other events distracted (and 3 of the top 5 were stranded in DC. others were actively abandoning Iowa to spend time in NH). Lots of people uncertain of "electable" difference among several candidates. Lots more "vote blue, no matter who" comments than I recall from 2008.

    Add in the widely touted "new" elements of the caucus, with two popular vote tallies, a State Delegate Equivalent tally, a National Delegate Equivalent -- which from the outset seemed likely to cause local caucus confusion. And an expectation of multiple candidates getting some reason to say "we won." Why go if there is uncertainty about the impact of being in the caucus?

    We will have a much better gauge of voter interest from Super Tuesday's mix of primaries.

    ReplyDelete
  2. An Iowa woman whose neighbor gave her a lift to and from the caucus reported that the driver had politicked in the car for a candidate who was not the woman's first choice, but this woman felt she would have been openly disloyal to her benefactor (by standing there in a square for her candidate), so she supported the generous neighbor's candidate at the local caucus, which is far from the gold standard of secret voting.

    ReplyDelete

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