The Democratic Iowa Caucuses
I got Martin O’Malley in this one.
Okay, maybe I don’t. But his supporters? They might just be the most important Iowans in the state tomorrow. More on them later.
A week ago, I became sure Bernie Sanders was winning the Iowa caucuses. Check out the Iowa Huffington Post polling trendlines in the two month stretch from November 24 to January 24, with Clinton in dark blue and Sanders in light blue.
I’m no math expert, nor do I have a degree in cryptology, but I think I see a pattern. With a week to go until Iowa, Sanders had caught Clinton and had all the momentum.
Real Clear Politics confirmed this steady reversal of fortune in Iowa. Below I’m posting three sets of five-poll stretches. The first from late October, the second from mid-December, and the third from the week leading up to January 24. The last four columns are most important — Clinton’s numbers, Sanders’s, O’Malley’s, and the margin for the leader.
Different website, similar polls, same trend. Hillary Clinton’s sizable lead in Iowa had evaporated. With memories of Senator Obama overtaking her eight years ago, Clinton was probably experiencing PTSD; Bernie Sanders was about to beat her in Iowa. Beyond that, surely New Hampshire was his, and then who knows what else?
But then something happened. Hillary Clinton turned on the juice.
Here are Huffington Post’s polling averages trendlines from just the last week, which begins where the above trendlines left off on the 24th. (Despite the short window, ten polls are included, a sizable sample.)
And the latest Iowa poll numbers from Real Clear Politics:
Despite how terrifying things looked a week ago, Hillary Clinton has since won the last five Iowa polls.
But polls aren’t everything. The question of “Who will turn out?”must be asked. The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll from Thursday revealed a remarkable split between people who had never caucused before and people who had:
- Overall result: Clinton 48, Sanders 45 (Clinton +3)
- Among would-be first-time caucus goers: Sanders 56, Clinton 41 (Sanders +15)
- Among those who have caucused before: Clinton 52, Sanders 40 (Clinton +12)
Will these first-time caucus goers turn out? It’s anyone’s guess; their first-time status makes them inherently unpredictable. A big reason they’re first-timers is that they’re young, and the young are notoriously unreliable, especially when they’re on our lawn. Friday’s highly touted Des Moines Register poll affirmed that the wide gulf presented above mostly stems from the ages of supporters:
- Overall: Clinton 45, Sanders 42 (Clinton +3)
- Among those under 35: Sanders 63, Clinton 27 (Sanders +36)
- Among those 65 or older: Clinton 65, Sanders 27 (Clinton +38)
Sanders is huge with the youth, but it’s older folks who are more likely to vote.
Furthermore, just like I did in the Republican prediction, I must consider if this party’s populist candidate convinced new voters to register. A swell in registration would be a good sign that the normally disenfranchised are planning to vote. Yet, referencing the same New York Times article from this morning’s post, there has been no unusual surge in Iowa voter registration. Just like I expect that to work against Trump, I suspect that’s a bad sign for Sanders as well.
I also did a bit of research on the two campaign’s ground games, but I found no significant divide like the one between Cruz and Trump. At the very least, the “Clinton machine” is extremely prepared and experienced. I don’t see a Sanders edge here to even things up.
Clearly there’s no suspense here for my prediction — I think Hillary Clinton wins tomorrow’s Iowa caucuses. But I do see an extremely realistic avenue for Sanders to pull it out.
Sanders’s best shot is to earn the support of the hundreds of precincts where Martin O’Malley caucus-goers are part of nonviable groups. (If you don’t know how that would work, you need to read yesterday’s overview of how the Iowa caucuses work.) Look at those last graphics from Huffington Post and Real Clear Politics. O’Malley is slowly crawling up and seems to be supported by about five percent of Iowa Democrats. Considering Clinton only once eclipsed 50 percent in the last seven polls on this recent mini-run of hers, unless she handily wins undecided voters, a complete Sanders-O’Malley coalition could topple her.
The question is, will that happen? It certainly might; a recent PPP poll found that at about a 2 to 1 margin, O’Malley supporters count Sanders, not Clinton, as their backup. Gymnasiums and libraries across Iowa might ultimately see two relatively even groups after the O’Malley supporters are forced to realign.
Thus, it feels like we’re going to have a razor tight result tomorrow. I still give the slightest of edges to Clinton because she has a week’s worth of momentum under her belt, which means she’s winning over undecided voters. It was the opposite against Obama eight years ago, when he held the momentum right through the day of the caucuses. O’Malley supporters will help Sanders keep it extremely close, but I have Clinton by a nose.