Leave a comment, and send us questions @FiveThirtyEight.
Okay folks, we’re shutting down the live blog. The Democratic race remains unresolved with 12 precincts yet to be counted. It is unclear when we will get those results. For now, Hillary Clinton maintains a 49.9 percent to 49.6 percent lead over Bernie Sanders in state delegate equivalents. For all intents and purposes, the race is basically a tie. We’ll have more analysis as to what that means, as well as the implications of Ted Cruz’s victory over Donald Trump — and the strong third place finish for Marco Rubio — over the next few days.
Thanks for sticking with us!
We’re now up to 99 percent of precincts reporting on the Democratic side in Iowa, and Clinton still holds a 0.2-percentage-point lead.
Technical details: Before Iowa votes, the model uses projected Iowa results as a component in its forecasts for New Hampshire. Once Iowa votes, we replace it with actual Iowa results. The actual results in Iowa weren’t that far off from our forecasts there, however, since our model correctly had Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio projected to overperform the polls and Donald Trump projected to underperform his, along with a close margin on the Democratic side.
tl;dr: The model mostly takes a wait-and-see approach. Sanders is clearly in very good shape in New Hampshire. Things could be much more volatile on the Republican side, so we’ll eagerly await new polls and endorsements.
Dear readers, we’re still waiting for the final few precincts, but the Democratic race in Iowa seems unlikely to be called tonight. With 97 percent of precincts reporting, Clinton’s up 49.9 percent to 49.6.
There’s been some talk about coin tosses going against Sanders to settle who would get a delegate in the case of a tie. These ties are not for statewide delegate equivalents. They are for county delegates. Those are different, and not nearly as big a deal.
One of the things that the talking heads are trying to figure out is why Clinton decided to declare victory, if in fact, that’s what she did, since her victory speech never actually said she won (which is very lawyerly of her!). It’s looking like this is still going to be a long night counting these votes on the Democratic side — there were a couple of counting errors that needed to be corrected, apparently.
Was Clinton’s declaration of victory (if it happened) strategic, a way to get ahead of the narrative? Was it a screw-up on the inside of the campaign — did the Clinton camp think they were up by more? Chuck Todd said — rather incredulously — “I just don’t understand why the Clinton campaign decided to do what they did. … They have now made it that much worse if they lose or if it’s a tie.”
Another reason why whoever is declared the “winner” of tonight’s Democratic caucuses is as much a matter of spin as anything else: Iowa doesn’t report votes, but instead something called “state delegate equivalents.” It’s possible that more people caucused for Sanders tonight but that Clinton will win more state delegate equivalents because her vote was distributed more evenly. Then again, Clinton did lead in the Iowa entrance polls. Without an actual vote count from Iowa, we’ll never know.
Cruz bragged that his average donation was $67. Sanders says his was $27. Will this — from both sides — be the rhetoric of 2016?
I want to point out that Clinton continues to hold a 0.4 percentage point lead — and which county has the most votes out? It’s still Polk. Sanders hasn’t led statewide this entire night, and the state delegate equivalent percentage difference between the two really hasn’t shifted in a while.
It’s ironic that Obama has been called a socialist so often in casual political discourse but that Sanders — a self-proclaimed socialist — has done well (regardless of whether he wins) in tonight’s caucuses. That does not speak to whether he can win, or will have the opportunity to compete in, a general election. But in a two-party system, Sanders spent years in the Senate as an independent, already breaking format with American politics. Now a Democrat again, Sanders seems prepared to raise enough funds and get enough support to last to the convention at the very least, if he so chooses. And that, too, may lead to platform-issue horse-trading on the floor of the Democratic convention, even if Sanders is not the party’s nominee.
Here are two tweets from Joe Lenski of Edison Research:
So it turns out that there can be recounts of sorts in even Democratic caucuses.
An interesting strategic consideration for Ted Cruz (inspired by Ed Morrissey’s tweet): How much effort does he want to spend to win New Hampshire? And if he doesn’t expect to win himself, who’s he going to be rooting for? If Marco Rubio surged to victory in the Granite State, that might be pretty bad for Cruz, as the GOP campaign would begin to resemble a fairly conventional nomination race in which Cruz plays the role of a runner-up like Rick Santorum or Mike Huckabee. A Trump win, conversely, would leave the “establishment lane” divided but also restore momentum to Trump heading into a set of Southern states that Cruz would hope to win.
Clinton’s margin is back down to 0.2 percentage points, but still plenty of Polk County still out.
Remarkably, it looks like Rubio may end up winning five of Iowa’s 10 largest counties, and ZERO of Iowa’s other 89 counties. Yet this urban coalition may be his blueprint for victory nationally.
The fact that there are three fascinating stories coming out on the Republican side tonight — Cruz winning, Rubio rising and Trump failing — is a little bit of a blessing for Hillary Clinton. Even on MSNBC, with its Democratic-leaning viewership, the Republican race has been the lead story for most of the night, instead of how close Bernie Sanders has kept pace with her.
Ted Cruz started his victory speech with a loooooong hug for his wife, Heidi, who’s been a tireless surrogate for Cruz and whose employer, Goldman Sachs, gave the couple a controversial campaign loan that caused more than a little bit of a stir these past couple of weeks. “Tonight is a victory for the grassroots,” Cruz said, a nod to the extensive ground operation that I wrote about a few weeks ago. “The next president of the United States will not be chosen by the media, will not be chosen by the Washington establishment, will not be chosen by the lobbyists but will be chosen by the most incredibly powerful force where all of our sovereign power resides … the people.”
Heads up, New Hampshire residents … you will be receiving your VOTER VIOLATION in the mail shortly.
I’ll defend Ann Selzer here, Clare! Her poll had Trump leading Cruz by 5 points, and it looks like Cruz will win by 3 points instead. That’s an 8-point error. Which sounds really bad, until you consider that polling primaries and caucuses is really tough. The average error in a primary or caucus poll is 8 points, in fact. Plus, it looks like there was some late-breaking movement toward Rubio and Cruz that her poll wasn’t in the field late enough to pick up. It won’t be a poll she brags about, and perhaps it’s an argument for keeping a tracking poll in the field until the very last day of campaigning. But all of this is fairly par for the course.
Latest: 92 percent of precincts in and Clinton lead has expanded to 0.85 or so percentage points.
Reminder that as the results are so close in the Democratic race tonight, the vote count is preliminary! Everything we’re seeing tonight is being reported from the Microsoft app, but the counts are being recorded on old-fashioned paper forms as well (to account for possible issues like the aforementioned precinct chair’s phone that died), and it’ll be a few days before we get the official results from those.
Judging from the people commenting on our live blog, Sanders supporters are waiting with bated breath for the final results of this Democratic caucus nail-biter. Clinton supporters are much quieter. That doesn’t speak to vote totals or, certainly, to national support. But Clinton has been running since the start of the race as the person-to-beat. She’s declared victory tonight, victory that has yet to formally materialize with 91 percent of precincts reporting. Regardless of who wins the Democratic caucuses, Clinton will still be the establishment candidate, and the better-funded candidate. But her team did not seem to anticipate such a vigorous challenge. Remember, in April of last year a Bloomberg poll showed that 72 percent of Democrats thought Clinton needed a strong challenger or she would be unprepared for the general election.
In the likely event that Clinton and Sanders supporters both claim victory, this will have been the most post-modern set of election interpretations I have ever seen. And I’ve spent a lot of time studying how different candidates have spun electoral “mandates.”
One thing to note here now that the GOP side of things has been called is that The Des Moines Register poll — considered the Gold Standard — was wrong about the Trump win. Cruz has emerged from the night victorious, with 27.7 percent of the vote as of the current count; Trump finished second, with 24.4 percent, again, as of right now; the Register had Trump in first place with 28 percent and Cruz in second with 23 percent.
Clinton just jumped up (well, a little): Clinton 50.1 percent to 49.3 percent for Sanders
I’d have to think a lot more about exactly what percentages I’d lay on the Republican nomination candidates right now. But it’s not obvious to me why Donald Trump has better odds than Ted Cruz at the prediction market Betfair after Cruz just won the Iowa caucuses.
Let’s check in on something that we haven’t touched on in a bit: GOP delegate math. If current results hold up, Cruz will win 8 delegates, Trump and Rubio 7 delegates each. By our estimates, Cruz and Trump needed 12 to be “on track” for the nomination, and Rubio needed 10. Granted, Iowa accounts for just 1.2 percent of all delegates to the GOP convention. However, so far Rubio is 70 percent on track, Cruz is 67 percent on track, and Trump is only 58 percent on track.
Dave, I have no idea what the ultimate takeaway will be, but I am not ready to put Trump hysteria behind me. Nearly a third of the caucus votes went to a candidate who came out of nowhere, talked about building a wall on the Mexican border (on a more sedate day), and derailed most of the debates. He beat a lot of more qualified candidates. I don’t think the second place finish makes this go away.
Clinton is holding on barely here … 90 percent of precincts in and Clinton up 49.9 percent to 49.5 percent.
I think the polls did fairly well on the Democratic side, but on the Republican side there are questions to be answered. I will say that the final polls that came out from Emerson College and Opinion Savvy had Cruz right on Trump’s tail and Rubio rising. I’d also note the polls were no worse this year than in the 2012 campaign for the Iowa caucuses on the Republican side.
What if the ultimate takeaway from the 2016 GOP primaries isn’t the spread of Trump hysteria but the unexciting decline of traditional polling?
From our colleague Ryan Struyk of ABC News:
Counties with 100k+ registered Democrats:
Polk County – 85 percent reporting – Clinton 54, Sanders 46 so far.
50-100k registered Democrats:
Linn County – 86 percent reporting – Sanders 53, Clinton 48 so far.
25-50k registered Democrats:
Scott County – 88 percent reporting – Sanders 51, Clinton 49 so far.
Blackhawk Country – 85 percent reporting – Sanders 53, Clinton 47 so far.
Dubuque County – 80 percent reporting – Clinton 53, Sanders 46 so far.
Woodbury County – 81 percent reporting – Sanders 53, Clinton 46 so far.
Marshall County – 89 percent reporting – Sanders 52, Clinton 48 so far.
Story County – 86 percent reporting – Sanders 58, Clinton 42 so far.
Warren County – 83 percent reporting – Clinton 56, Sanders 44 so far.
Well, Trump was … surprisingly gracious in his concession speech. Said thanks to Iowa, gave a shout-out to his family and new friend Mike Huckabee, and said it was now on to New Hampshire. I’m sure that the fire and brimstone will be back tomorrow, but it was a pretty sedate scene over there, and as Brian Williams noted on MSNBC, his shortest probably ever. Trump’s sayonara to Iowa? He told them he might buy a farm there. Likely a yuge one. (Sorry, guys — had to.)
Two of the three top GOP candidates in the Iowa caucuses are Latinos, a landmark that stands out even more considering some of Trump’s rhetoric on Mexico. In 2012, Latino voters chose Barack Obama over Mitt Romney 71 percent to 27 percent. There is definitely room for the GOP to expand its messaging to the Latino communities — plural, as there are many of different ethnicities and political persuasions. Cuban-Americans like Marco Rubio have been one of the more GOP-leaning Latino demographics.
Reality check: A tie in Iowa is actually a win for Clinton. According to our targets at the Cook Political Report, Bernie Sanders would have needed to win twice as many delegates as Clinton in Iowa to be “on track” for the nomination. He’s nowhere near that tonight.
I’m reminded of 2004 in Ohio. It was huge turnout that was supposed to help John Kerry, but there was big turnout and George W. Bush won. Tonight, big turnout was supposed to help Trump, but it was Cruz who won.
One thing we’ll be thinking about over the next several days is how much Donald Trump’s inferior ground game harmed him tonight in Iowa.
An argument against the ground game having been the sole cause of his defeat: Republican turnout tonight now projects to be around 180,000, well ahead of 2012’s total of around 120,000 voters and somewhat ahead of where most political watchers expected it to be. Given how poorly Trump performed among the late-deciders in tonight’s entrance poll, it’s possible he had a different problem: trouble expanding his coalition beyond his intense but relatively narrow base of support.
If Rubio has any chance of overtaking Trump for second place in the remaining 15 percent of precincts, he’s going to have to clean up in Linn (Cedar Rapids) and Dubuque. However, I think it’s probable Trump will hold onto second at this point. He’s still got some of Pottawattamie County (Council Bluffs) left, where he leads Rubio 34 percent to 18 percent so far.
To my eye, the outstanding precincts on the Democratic side slightly favor Hillary Clinton. Statewide, only 13 percent of precincts are left outstanding. But 21 percent of precincts are outstanding in Clinton’s best large county, Polk, and 23 percent of precincts remain to be counted in Dubuque, her other best large county. Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders has 23 percent of Story County (Ames), but that’s smaller. All but 7 percent of Johnson County (Iowa City) is in.
Rubio came in third and is giving a victory speech. We should all remember this when we think about what democracy means.
“They told us we didn’t have a chance because my hair wasn’t gray enough and my boots were too high …” — a bit of levity from Marco Rubio, the winner of the second chance (or make that third place) sweepstakes. By coming in third with no expectation of victory, as Nate and others here at FiveThirtyEight have noted, Rubio scores a win in the expectations game.
With 85 percent reporting, it’s very close between Sanders and Clinton. If the results stay close, what are the implications?
The first and most obvious is the idea that Sanders could actually win the nomination. I’m not ready to spin out the bigger claims that could come out of such an upset. What would that say about the Clintons and their legacy? About the possibilities for a woman to be elected president? About the ideological future of the Democratic Party?
The more likely scenario, though, is that Clinton will push forward and eventually win in the more delegate-heavy contests, ultimately winning the nomination. If that’s the most likely outcome, then what is at stake in Sanders’s performance?
One possibility is that Clinton and her campaign could try to incorporate Sanders himself. We haven’t heard too much about him as a vice-presidential possibility — O’Malley fits that mold much more clearly. Sanders could be a possibility for a position in an eventual Clinton administration if she were to win the general election, just as Clinton served as Obama’s secretary of state. We can debate about the mix of skills and liabilities that Sanders would bring (you thought Joe Biden was a delightfully unpredictable VP!). But bringing Sanders or someone like him (Elizabeth Warren?) into the Clinton orbit would also look a lot like co-opting the movement — which might not go over well with its core supporters.
The other possibility is that Clinton moves to the left on economic issues. This opens up a bunch of questions. Clinton has already tried to stake out center-left territory in which she defends business and capitalism. It’s hard to get away from the fact that mainstream Democrats have deep ties to financial power. Another question is how well Sanders would have to do for her to seriously change her policy positions.
One implication that’s not based in fact, despite conventional wisdom, is that a divided primary will hurt the party in the general election. There’s no real evidence of this — after a divided race in 2008, the Democrats did fine, for example. Far more important drivers of the election outcome will be the state of the economy and the fact that the Democrats have held the White House for eight years.
This is all based on the assumption that Clinton is running like a candidate in an open-seat contest, not like an incumbent. She’s not an incumbent, although she’s closely tied to the last two Democratic administrations and has been the “establishment” favorite going into two nomination seasons. But there have been two incumbents in recent history who were challenged from the ideological wings of their parties, emerging victorious in the primaries and then losing steam in the general: Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush. Threats from Ted Kennedy and Pat Buchanan made it look like they were out of touch with the core commitments of their parties’ voters. If this happens to Clinton — jumping way ahead in the future — it could be a strong signal about ideological struggles to come.
Clinton 50.1 percent, Sanders 49.3 percent with 85 percent in.
Clare, if you add “Iowa” to the beginning of this mini-speech, I think that’s how Trump might address the crowd in his concession speech tonight:
Continuing on my beat of who’s dropping out tonight — Mike Huckabee is out. The Adele spoof video just couldn’t do it for him. Whodathunk?
My view before tonight was that Bernie Sanders’s campaign was in trouble if he lost Iowa to Hillary Clinton. But what if Sanders loses and the final margin separating the candidates is just 1 percentage point or so, as the current vote count has it now?
That could matter for Sanders, to the extent that it changes the spin coming out of the event. The media may bill the race as essentially having been a tie, especially if the state isn’t officially called for either candidate for another hour or two. And considering how far ahead Sanders is in New Hampshire, the scoreboard could begin to look pretty good for him after two weeks.
And yet: There was not yet any proof in tonight’s results that Sanders can expand his performance beyond his base of white and liberal voters, which are plentiful in Iowa and New Hampshire but less so elsewhere. Instead, Sanders’s supporters seem to have been exactly who we thought they were. Sanders did really well among “very liberal” voters and extraordinarily well among young voters, but not very well among moderates, women or older voters.
So, overall, a 1- or 2-point loss for Sanders might wind up being something of a wash. But if he pulls ahead of Clinton here at the end, that’s a different story, of course.
Clinton’s lead is down to just 0.6 percentage points with 84 percent of precincts in. Razor thin …
After all these months I’m pretty sure we’re all owed a Trump concession speech. Preferably with Sarah Palin doing a rebuttal.
If his own words are any indicator: “I will never speak to you people again.’’
OK, the big question: What does a Trump concession speech look like?
NBC News officially projects Cruz as winner.
The Democratic race looks razor-close, but one good sign for Clinton is that 25 percent of Polk County (Des Moines) is still out compared to just 17 percent of the statewide vote still out. Des Moines is home to the largest concentration of non-white Democrats in Iowa, and Clinton leads there by 8.2 percentage points tonight.
There are two questions left to be answered. The first is: Can Clinton hold on? Her lead is now just 1.0 percentage points with 82 percent reporting. Second question: Who finishes second on the Republican side? Rubio is just 1.4 percentage points behind Trump now. Cruz is clearly leading Trump for first by 3.3 percentage points.
The Democratic race is very close. Clinton is barely holding on with 80 percent of precincts in — 50.3 percent to 49.1 percent. I’d think Clinton would win, but it’s too close for me to call it.
As a native of Maryland, I can say that state residents I speak to regularly liked O’Malley well enough as governor. He’s no longer eligible to run for governor because of term limits. But even in Maryland, O’Malley is only polling in the low single digits in the presidential race. Now that he’s on his way out of that race, I’m not sure whether we’ll see him campaign for president in the future or simply chalk this up as a great one-time adventure. A veep spot seems unlikely.
We’re not breaking any news here, I know, but Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are outperforming their position in the Iowa polling average while Donald Trump is underperforming his. Most of the second-tier candidates are also falling slightly below their polling average, but Ben Carson is an exception and is running a point or so ahead of his.
|CANDIDATE||POLLING AVERAGE||ACTUAL VOTE||DIFFERENCE|
I just don’t see how Donald Trump wins this thing. Cruz’s lead is clearly holding at a little over 3 percentage points. Meanwhile, Rubio continues to close in on Trump — Rubio is just 1.7 percentage points behind him for second place.
Well, it looks like Martin O’Malley, notable for his handsomeness and inability to make a splash in the Democratic field this year, is dropping out. BuzzFeed is reporting that the former Maryland governor will be “suspending his campaign” (everyone’s favorite euphemism) in a speech tonight in a half-hour.
Jody, I quickly looked into some of the pros of caucusing. According to two political scientists interviewed in The Washington Post, the fact that the Iowa caucuses are not private means that people have an opportunity to engage with one another before they vote. This means that the caucuses are more democratic. Also, candidates have to engage with voters on a grass-roots level.
Q: Any hope for Rand Paul? — commenter Dana Renee
A: Errrr. No, sadly for anyone who has enjoyed Paul’s particularly salty brand of campaigning (he did a social media “airing of grievances” in the tradition of Festivus right around Christmastime, which was delightfully Grinchy). He’s down around 4 percent of the votes reported so far. Despite those very loud cheers you might have heard for Paul at the debate, he’s better at getting college kids to pepper events with hoots and hollers than he is at turning out wide swaths of the electorate. It’s just a year where people were swayed more by national security and existential immigration fears than they were by a ballooning national debt and military spending, Paul’s mainstays.
Yeah, Dave, our polls-plus model had Trump at only a 46 percent chance to win. So far: Big win for the fundamentals, and a big win for not taking caucus polls at face value.
Um … this is an exciting election.
Farai, I totally agree with that. But I know, at least on the Democratic side, they launched a telecaucus option, primarily for the military and students who aren’t in the state. Hopefully these types of initiatives can make the process more democratic moving forward.
Tonight’s biggest loser so far? Conventional Wisdom. Supposedly, bigger turnout was going to be great for Trump. Right now, it looks terrific for Ted Cruz, who is on the verge of pulling off what would have to be considered an upset victory.
Agreeing with our David Wasserman, the prediction market Betfair now has Ted Cruz as the heavy favorite to win the Iowa Republican caucus, implying that he has around a 90 percent chance of doing so. A caution is that the market is not very liquid (not a lot of money is being bet), so Betfair will be a fuzzier guide than usual.
On the question of whether any part of the caucus system makes me uncomfortable, I have a radically different view of democracy than you folks do! I get the questions about mobility and other attendance questions — but I think citizens engaging each other, even if it’s not always highbrow argumentation, is great democracy! I think face-to-face citizen interaction is generally higher quality democracy than being persuaded by a political ad and then going off to vote alone.
To me the real question is who is 2nd and 3rd on the Republican side, Dave. I think it’s Trump then Rubio, but Rubio has been closing that gap. Cruz’s lead is holding.
Surprise, surprise! Right now, Ted Cruz is on track to win the Iowa caucuses. It’s far from a done deal, but the question is now: Where does Trump make up this deficit? It’s not obvious to me.
If you believe that voting is an essentially private, individual affair — one that should not be influenced by the peer pressure of the moment or the fear of losing a friend over a political choice — then, yes, it’s OK to be appalled by the extremely public nature of the Iowa caucuses.
I just referenced a British opinion piece that asked if we should change the entire primary system. I think, aside from everything else, the fact that you generally can’t participate when you’re physically unable to attend a caucus — whether that’s due to illness, work schedule or mobility issues — is fundamentally undemocratic.
Jody, the caucuses are the place for, well, political zealots! These are meetings that attract the most impassioned, the true believers, and I think those people can sometimes be hard to watch — sometimes because of painful earnestness, sometimes because of an uncomfortable single-mindedness — but such is the primary system that we have wedded ourselves to, at least in this first state.
A question for the group: We just witnessed a bit of a Democratic caucus live on MSNBC, with Bernie Sanders supporters trying to convince uncommitted voters to come to their side. It was a fascinating glimpse into the public way that votes get decided in Iowa. But does anyone else feel as icky about this version of democracy as I do?
Note to self, invariably to be forgotten four years from now when Tom Cotton is locked into a fierce battle in the Iowa caucuses with Sarah Palin and Charles Barkley: Be careful with those entrance polls. Initial entrance poll data showed leads for Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton; Clinton is still leading among Democrats but not by much, while Trump trails Ted Cruz among Republicans by 3 percentage points. The entrance polls also inaccurately had Rick Santorum in third place in Iowa four years ago.
On the Republican side, Trump’s percentage is falling and Rubio’s is rising. It’s 29 percent for Cruz to 25.5 percent for Trump to 20.9 percent for Rubio. Still only 45 percent reporting.
The Democratic race looks extremely close, with Clinton leading Sanders 51 percent to 48 percent. BUT, it’s going to be very difficult for Sanders to make up that deficit. There simply aren’t a lot of “Bernie blowout” zones. In very liberal, academic Iowa City (Johnson County), Bernie is leading by 15 percentage points, but that’s not as huge a lead as he might have expected there. And his leads elsewhere aren’t nearly as large. Plus, there’s still a good chunk of Clinton-friendly Polk (Des Moines) still out.
If I can weigh in on the question of what Bush will do after a bad Iowa finish … under normal circumstances, I think parties enforce norms about losers dropping out (see Azari and Smith 2012 — embarrassingly I can only find a paywalled link to my own paper). But there are so many candidates this year, I think that pressure is off.
Julia, on your point about what share of the vote Rubio needs to get some good post-Iowa coverage, I’ll put it this way: It looks like Rubio will do well enough tonight to, at the very least, give party elites a good pretense for rallying behind him. If they fail to do so, that could be a sign that there’s something about Rubio that they don’t like, or that the party remains extremely disorganized. But the reported Tim Scott endorsement in South Carolina is a good start.
This is a night when candidates’ dreams are fulfilled or dashed … but it also gives us a chance to look at the what-ifs of the entire political process. NPR did a story on which states match America’s demographics closely — Illinois was the closest on race, Pennsylvania on income. I don’t know that the primary season would have changed if, for example, those two states were the first and second primaries in the nation. It seems to me that Donald Trump’s deft use of interview airtime — and apparent inability to be ruffled by fact-checking — had a greater influence on the arc of the GOP race so far than any other factor.
Many nations that the United States considers key strategic and economic partners are parliamentary democracies, where the nation’s leader is the leader of the winning party or coalition. One of those is the United Kingdom. Less than a week ago, BBC New York correspondent Nick Bryant penned an opinion piece about our political process that says, “For international onlookers, it [the U.S. primary process] can seem freakish and bizarre: a long-running farce populated by cartoonish characters, which works as entertainment but is a poor advertisement for American democracy.” The article’s title: “Does America need to change how it elects its presidents?” What do you think of the question and what would you change, if anything?
Q: I wonder what [Jeb] Bush will do now. Ignore Iowa results? Double down and try to take Rubio down with him? Drop? — commenter Jonathan Smith
A: I think that Bush won’t drop out yet — there’s too much money floating around in that campaign not to hoof it out for a little while yet, and there’s a certain amount of animosity he’s got with Rubio that adds some personal incentive. So … it’s probably closer to a double down scenario. If you navigate over to the New Hampshire Union Leader’s website, it’s plastered with Bush ads. There’s fight in him yet, so I’d say.
Pulling folded slips of paper ballots from a plastic post-office bin might seem quaint — as if we are watching a vote being counted in Colonial Williamsburg — but it’s actually archaic. The process of counting these slips is infuriatingly slow and extremely error-prone. The people who do the counting inevitably come up with different counts that have to be reconciled; piles of paper fall over (I winced every time the guy on MSNBC dropped a ballot on the floor), and the ballots are sometimes illegible. Iowa traditionalists will undoubtedly point to well-known flaws in digital voting systems, but modern versions of those systems are vastly more accurate and efficient than hand-counting. (As the Brennan Center pointed out last year, the main problem is that too many cities and states are using out-of-date electronic systems and need to upgrade to the new models.) As Hayley Munguia of FiveThirtyEight wrote on our site today, the Microsoft counting system now in use by Democrats is only as accurate as the manual head-counts used in countless school gyms and auditoriums across Iowa. But Iowa is very sentimental about its ancient caucus system, convinced that it is an authentic expression of rural, communal values, and there is no sign that it is likely to change.
So on this point about Rubio … This goes back to what Harry and Dave were saying about Rubio having endorsements waiting in the wings. One question I’ve been thinking about a lot is: What would knock this race out of stasis, especially for Republicans? How well does Rubio have to do for that signal of viability to be meaningful? I’m looking at numbers that have him at about 20 percent, with Cruz and Trump closer to 30. This is obviously getting into fuzzy terrain, but I wonder if that passes the threshold.
The good news for Marco Rubio so far is that he’s doing better than expected in far northwestern Iowa, which went super-heavily for Rick Santorum and spurned Mitt Romney in 2012. Rubio’s over 20 percent in Plymouth, Lyon and Sioux counties and is actually leading for the time being in O’Brien county. The bad news is that he’s not doing as well as expected in areas with high shares of degree-holders. He’s in third place in Polk (Des Moines), Story (Ames) and Scott (Davenport) so far. It’s still early and this could change, but his “Mayor of Ankeny” strategy isn’t all that apparent on the map yet.
With 19 percent of Iowa precincts reporting, Donald Trump has 27.1 percent of the Iowa vote. That’s not a bad result by any means: Trump trails Ted Cruz by just 3 points and could very easily win the state. Still, a case can be made that (contra the pundit conventional wisdom at the time) Trump was mistaken to have skipped last week’s debate. Trump stood at 31.1 percent in our Iowa polling average on the night of the debate, so if he finishes at 27.1 percent, he’ll have lost 4 percentage points since then.
I spoke about this in a recent post: Candidates with late momentum in the polls and candidates who appeal to Christian conservatives have tended to outperform their polling. The latters seems to be holding true of the entrance polls as well. Cruz is doing better than his early entrance poll numbers suggested, and Rick Santorum did the same in 2012.
Harry, so it seems like that first wave of exit polls was — as expected — a bit off: Cruz looks more competitive?
I should point out that Sanders is closing as more votes have been reported. Clinton is up 51.8 percent to Sanders 47.6 percent. That’s with 34 percent of precincts reporting. And literally as I refresh it’s 36 percent of precincts and now it’s 51.5 percent to 48 percent.
Jeb Bush is currently projected to win about 2,600 votes in Iowa, or about 2 percent of the overall turnout. That would work out to one vote per $25,000 in spending by Bush’s super PAC, Right to Rise, which has spent a total of $64.8 million so far. (Granted, not all of that money has been spent in Iowa.)
Harry, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that Sen. Tim Scott didn’t just wake up today and decide to throw his support Rubio’s way. For Team Marco, tonight seems like it’s all about vaulting from laying low/tamping down expectations to pouring it on and claiming “big mo.” One wonders who else is waiting in the wings.
So far with 7 percent of precincts in, Cruz leading 30 percent to 29 percent for Trump, 18 percent for Rubio. Raw votes so far much closer between Trump/Cruz than entrance polls indicated, and Rubio further down. BUT, this could be misleading: These are most likely tiny, more rural caucus sites that are easier to count fast. For Trump and Rubio, bigger is better. As YUGE suburban precincts start reporting votes, I’d expect Trump’s and Rubio’s numbers to go up.
I wrote last week about LULAC Iowa’s campaign to get 10,000 Latinos to caucus tonight. If they’re successful, Latinos will be about 5 percent of caucus-goers, while only making up 2.9 percent of the electorate. One of the big questions, though, was which candidate would benefit from a higher turnout. We won’t know what share of caucus-goers are Latino for another month, but we do know which counties have the highest share of Latinos. In 2014, 27.3 percent of Crawford County residents were Latino — the most of any county in Iowa. There are eight precincts in Crawford County, and we have results for only one of them so far. But it might give us a glimpse at who Latinos are voting for: The breakdown is 50 percent for Clinton, 33.3 percent for O’Malley and 16.7 percent for Sanders.
I was just looking at Clinton’s numbers in 2008, and I was struck by how even the three candidates (Obama, Clinton, Edwards) were in so many counties. There were lots in which all three got between 25 percent and 35 percent of the vote. What that really indicates is that Edwards was a significantly stronger candidate there than, say, his current status would suggest.
Rubio is going to pick up the endorsement of Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina. That’s a big one for him.
It’s early on the Democratic side, but interesting that Hillary Clinton is leading in considerably more counties than Bernie Sanders: 34 of them to Sanders’s 23, with 10 percent of precincts reporting. That could matter because Democratic delegate allocation rules reward candidates who perform well throughout Iowa instead of having their vote concentrated in a few large precincts.
As Dave said, the split across region in vote is pretty much nil on the Democratic side. It could be why Clinton is holding a consistent ~7 percentage point lead over Sanders in state equivalent delegates with now 14 percent of precincts reporting.
One last thing about the mailers: You may have seen this (there was a Mother Jones story) — one of the people who got a mailer that incorrectly reported his voting habits was Iowa State political scientist Dave Peterson, who is editor of the journal Political Behavior, and (at least as importantly) my friend and collaborator. He wasn’t too thrilled about being “defamed.”
Regionally, the split on the Democratic side looks remarkably even, with Clinton leading Sanders modestly in all areas of the state. On the GOP side, there’s much more variation: As expected, Rubio is doing best in “Eastern Cities” and Des Moines. But the surprise is that Cruz’s support (at least based on the entrance polls) appears to be fairly even across regions, while Trump’s skews toward rural and western Iowa. Maybe Trump’s stronger-than-expected performance with evangelicals has something to do with that? We’ll see when more actual votes come in.
In a testament to the where-there’s-smoke-there’s-fire power of Twitter, only a few minutes into the caucus process, the rumors were flying that Ben Carson would be dropping out of the race. This was precipitated by CNN reports that Carson would not be continuing straight onto New Hampshire like other candidates but would instead be going to his home in Florida and then to Washington, D.C., for the National Prayer Breakfast (scene of his 2013 breakout political moment). Via a couple of tweets, Carson spokesman Jason Osbourne said the candidate was not suspending his campaign, but rather getting fresh clothes. Osbourne further noted in a direct response to CNN’s Jake Tapper that the good doctor had been on the road for 17 days, leading one to surmise that he does not believe in doing his laundry in the hotel sink. You can’t blame people for thinking that Carson is going to be on his way out soon, though; his polling has been anemic, in the single digits for the past few weeks, and it’s hard to fathom that he’ll stay in this race too much longer.
I should note we have actual statewide delegate equivalents on the Democratic side: So far, with 6 percent in, it’s Clinton 52.5 percent to Sanders 46.6 percent.
The weeks leading up to this year’s Iowa caucuses brought America debates, media coverage and the march of indefatigable candidates across the state. But it also brought a torrent of donations to super PACs for candidates on both sides of the aisle. Among them: George Soros donated $6 million to Priorities USA Action, a super PAC trying to help Clinton. And investor Ken Griffin gave $2.5 million to Conservative Solutions, which is working to elect Rubio. Both donations were made in December and disclosed as part of financial reports to the Federal Election Commission.
So I mentioned earlier that I think there are different things going on here for the two parties. For the Republicans, I think one of the implications is that if Rubio looks anything remotely like a viable nominee at the end of the night, this will have reordered the race for a lot of people who’ve been expecting him to do well throughout the invisible primary. We haven’t had too many hard indicators that his candidacy has taken off. But doing well — loosely defined — in Iowa would be one.
I’ve seen some good discussion online about whether it’s fair to characterize Bernie Sanders’s support as being confined to more liberal Democrats. This is important for Sanders because Democratic electorates in states beyond Iowa and New Hampshire are not as liberal as the ones there.
So far, however, it appears that Sanders’s support is coming from exactly who you might expect. According to the Iowa entrance poll, Sanders leads Clinton by 19 points among “very liberal” voters but trails her by 6 points among “somewhat liberal” voters and by 28 points among moderates.
Let me add to what David said: Rubio is also leading among “somewhat conservatives” in the early entrance polls with 28 percent to Trump’s 27 percent. The candidate who does well among somewhat conservatives tends to win the nomination.
One of the most promising signs in the entrance poll for Rubio is that he’s leading with college graduates: 28 percent Rubio, 25 percent Trump, 20 percent Cruz. Also with post-graduate degree-holders: 25 percent Rubio, 24 percent Cruz, 18 percent Trump. If Rubio finishes above 20 percent as entrance polls suggest, this is why.
My best guess is that someone who regularly votes/participates but was thinking about sitting out this year for whatever reason might have been susceptible to the shame appeal, under the best of circumstances. But as Dave points out, the overall presentation really seems to have missed the mark. As did the fact that the voter “grades” were not accurate.
There’s certainly strong evidence that social pressure and past turnout records have been effective motivators, but my impression is that Cruz badly blew it here: There was no need to use the word “violation” and make it seem like voters were getting a photo enforcement speeding ticket. Of course, we’ll never truly be able to gauge its impact. It’s possible a few voters who had a hunch they didn’t like Cruz’s personality found last-minute reinforcement from either the mailer or the stories about it.
Any thoughts on whether that “voting violation” mailer from Cruz will have any effect, positive or negative? It seems to be based on some famous studies on the effect of social pressure on turnout, but it was pretty over-the-top.
We’ll see if the entrance polls on the Democratic side are anywhere close to the actual result, but Clinton holds a clear lead in them right now, 51 percent to 42 percent. Keep in mind that the statewide raw vote could underestimate her strength in state delegate equivalents.
Entrance polls have Donald Trump narrowly leading on the Republican side, although remember that some voters make up their minds (or can have their minds changed) at the caucus site. They also suggest, however, that Marco Rubio made up a lot of ground on Trump at the last minute. Among voters who decided “in the last few days,” Rubio won 29 percent of the vote to just 10 percent for Trump. And Rubio, Trump and Ted Cruz were virtually tied among voters who said they made their minds up just today.
Harry, that is a wild stat! But it kinda makes sense: The 17-to-29-year-olds who are likely to turn up at something like this are likely to be the most committed young partisans. It’s not an obvious leap that they’d be on fire for Sanders, but it seems pretty plausible. The sort of young folks who read up on the issues and are mobilized by young activists.
A: I’d say we have a pretty good idea of which counties aren’t swing counties tonight. On the Democratic side, we expect Sanders to win Johnson County (Iowa City) and Poweshiek County (Grinnell), while we’d expect Clinton to perform well in areas of the state with older voters like Wapello County (Ottumwa) or Des Moines County (Burlington). On the Republican side, we’d expect Cruz to do well in the heavily Dutch/evangelical counties (Sioux, Mahaska, Plymouth, Warren) and Rubio to do well in more secular suburban counties (Dallas, Polk, Scott).
OTOH, which are the bellwethers? On the Democratic side, I’ll be looking at Cerro Gordo (Mason City) and Dubuque counties, which are very liberal but full of working-class whites. On the Republican side, a good bellwether might be a mid-size town like Fort Dodge (Webster County) or Marshalltown (Marshall County).
CORRECTION (Feb. 1, 9:10 p.m.): A previous version of this post incorrectly listed a mid-size town in Webster County; it is Fort Dodge, not Dodge City.
A lot of readers have asked where they can get tonight’s results as they come in. This year, both the Iowa Republican and Democratic parties have partnered with Microsoft to develop a new reporting app — you can find that data directly here for the Republican side and here for the Democratic side. In the past, results were reported from the precincts by dialing in to each party’s headquarters and using a phone keypad to input the votes — not exactly the best system for error-free data. As I’ve written, even the app won’t guarantee a perfectly precise count, but hopefully, it’ll mean that we can get verified results a little more quickly than we have in the past.
Here’s an absolutely nutso stat from the early entrance poll: 17-to-29-year-olds on the Democratic side are going 91 percent to 8 percent for Sanders over Clinton. They make up only 15 percent of the electorate, however.
Entrance polls are reporting a slight lead for Hillary Clinton among Democratic voters in Iowa. But there are two things to keep in mind, above and beyond the fact that entrance and exit polls can sometimes be inaccurate.
First, Iowa Democrats can change their vote at the precinct. In particular, supporters of candidates who have less than 15 percent in their precinct can be recruited to throw their support to other candidates. In most precincts, that means Martin O’Malley supporters will have to choose between Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Some polls suggest that more of them will back Sanders, which could be worth a percentage point or two for him.
But second, Iowa Democrats don’t actually count votes. Instead, they count “state delegate equivalents.” The way the math works on this is that it’s better to have your voters dispersed throughout the state than concentrated in a few large precincts — potentially a problem for Sanders because his vote is thought to be oversubscribed in college towns and urban areas.
It’s entrance poll data, so I wouldn’t draw firm conclusions, but the one thing I might say is that the Rubio surge may, in fact, be real. But, again, early entrance polls are not anything I’d bet my life on. Not at all.
Harry, entrance poll data is rocketing around Twitter — do we know anything yet?
As of this writing, 17 people in the comments section have asked, “What time can we expect results tonight?” Good question! According to our politics editor Micah Cohen, who apparently has time to go look this stuff up, here’s when the results were reported in 2012 (all times Eastern)
9 p.m. — 5 percent reported
10 p.m. — 25 percent reported
10:30 p.m. — 50 percent reported
11 p.m. — 90 percent reported
Midnight — 96 percent reported
So, that’s some context. We’ll likely know between 10:30 and 11 p.m. Keep in mind that this is the first year that results are being reported by an app, which may speed things up a bit. But it’s gonna be a long night. Chug a coffee.
It’s become political cliché to say Iowans cherish their state’s status as the first to cast votes in the presidential campaign. It turns out that Ann Selzer, the Iowa pollster with an illustrious track record whom my colleague Clare profiled last week, has asked Iowans how they feel about their status several times over the decades. And most of them really do cherish being first — not just for Iowa’s sake, but for the nation’s.
In the Des Moines Register’s Iowa poll a year ago, 69 percent of adult Iowans said that it’s best for the country if Iowa keeps going first, according to Michelle Yeoman, research assistant and office manager at Selzer & Co. Just 13 percent said it’d be best if some other state went first. And back in February 2008, just after that year’s caucuses, a similar question got almost the exact same result: 66 percent said it’s best that Iowa goes first, and 13 percent disagreed. In January 2000, just before that year’s caucuses, only a quarter of likely caucus-goers said that Iowans don’t reflect the nation as a whole (an NPR analysis suggests they do better than most states). And in 1987, before Selzer was running the Iowa poll, just 7 percent of Republican and Democratic caucus-goers wanted Iowa to let another state go first.
Most Iowans do have one big complaint with the caucuses, though: Not enough people participate. In 2000, 57 percent of likely Democratic caucus-goers and 61 percent of likely Republican caucus-goers agreed that “too few Iowans actually get involved in the process and attend their precinct caucus” and said it’s a major problem.
Back to the ground game: We have a pretty good idea that in-person mobilization works to get people to the polls. You can do a field experiment where you compare block by block. But it’s much more complicated to untangle the impact of mobilization strategies on a particular election, with other complex factors in play.
With the exception of a few weeks in which terrorism news dominated, most of the campaign so far — on both the Republican and Democratic side — has been dominated by economic issues, both explicit and implicit. Bernie Sanders, of course, rails against “millionaires and billionaires” at every campaign stop. Donald Trump wants to kick out undocumented immigrants and get tough on China. And both parties’ debates have featured obligatory paeans to the disappearing middle class.
But voters going to caucus sites in Iowa this evening are experiencing an economy that is, by and large, pretty good. The state’s unemployment rate is 3.4 percent, one of the lowest in the country and lower than it was when the national recession hit eight years ago. Wages are rising significantly faster than inflation, and overall economic output has fully recovered from what was, in Iowa, a comparatively mild recession.
Yet when I visited Iowa back in the fall, I heard much of the same economic anxiety that voters are expressing around the country. Iowa is an extreme example of a central paradox in this election: The economy is better, but voters don’t seem to believe it.
Except, maybe it isn’t a paradox at all. As I wrote Friday, there’s a growing disconnect between how Americans see their short-term and their long-term economic prospects. Right now, unemployment is falling and the economy is doing pretty well (a tumultuous start to the year in the stock market notwithstanding). But over the longer term, household incomes have been more or less stagnant for more than 15 years. Young Americans are grappling with student debt; older ones are worried about saving for retirement; parents are worried about their children’s chances of finding good jobs. They’re looking for a president who can address those longer-term problems.
Last fall, I met Mary Britton, an office manager in Davenport, Iowa. She had been a “grandmother for Obama” back in 2008 but thought John Kasich might provide the best fix for an economy she feared no longer offered opportunities for the next generation.
“All the jobs that allowed middle-class people to prosper, a lot of those jobs went away,” Britton said at the time. “A whole bunch of people are being left behind.”
You’ll no doubt hear a lot about the “ground game” tonight. And much of that talk will mention the role of data in targeting voters. It will be interesting to see how much the hype bears out, but when I visited field offices in Iowa last month to get a sense of how the campaigns were putting data to work, one thing that struck me was how much the particular rules of the Iowa caucuses affect the way data is employed. On the Democratic side, where one’s vote is declared in public and persuasion is baked into the system, that means the voter outreach is given a more personal touch. At Clinton field offices, the same volunteer often called the same voter multiple times. Precinct captains are expected to know the second choice of their area’s voters, should they have to convince them to switch sides. In the GOP race, voter targeting feels a little more geared towards efficiency. The goal is to just drive as many people to the polls as possible. Iowa’s quirky rules can be tough to get your head around, but they really do set the tone for the entire campaign.
I’d wager closer to the former than the latter. Political geography is pretty key here — 1 to 2 points in key places in a competitive race can produce results. But that’s derived from the general.
OTOH: In a caucus or primary where voters won’t be relying on party labels as cues — maybe factors like ground game are more important.
Seth Masket, John Sides and Lynn Vavreck did a study of this and found an effect for Obama but not Romney field offices in 2012.
Everyone talks about how important the ground game is in Iowa. But how big of an effect does it really have? Are we talking 1 to 2 percentage points? Or are we talking 10 to 20 points?
Everyone but Ted Cruz supporters thinks Donald Trump is the favorite to win the Iowa Republican caucuses tonight. Everyone but supporters of Trump, Marco Rubio and Bernie Sanders thinks Hillary Clinton will win the Iowa Democratic caucuses. Morning Consult, a Washington, D.C., technology and media company that conducts weekly online polls, asked 1,871 registered voters who they think will win the caucuses, in a national poll conducted Friday through Sunday. Morning Consult provided the results first to FiveThirtyEight. We’ve posted the crosstabs, showing how respondents’ predictions varied by gender, age, income, race and many other factors. But we were especially interested in how people’s predictions vary by whom they’re supporting. Do supporters of Rubio or Sanders think their candidate will pull off the upset?
|PERCENTAGE WHO SAY THIS CANDIDATE WILL WIN|
|All registered voters||48%||13%||4%||5%||4%||5%||20%|
|Supporters of other GOP candidates||37||12||8||3||14||16||10|
Nearly four times as many registered voters think Trump will win tonight as the number who named Cruz. No other candidate was named by more than 5 percent of respondents. Trump’s platform is all about winning, and 81 percent of his supporters think he’ll be on brand tonight. Supporters of everyone else think Trump is the heavy favorite.
|PERCENTAGE WHO SAY THIS CANDIDATE WILL WIN|
|All registered voters||48%||13%||4%||5%||4%||5%||20%|
|Supporters of other Democratic candidates||49||18||5||2||7||2||15|
Democrats agree that Trump is the favorite.
|PERCENTAGE WHO SAY THIS CANDIDATE WILL WIN|
|All registered voters||47%||30%||3%||3%||17%|
|Supporters of other Democratic candidates||29||45||6||4||16|
Hillary Clinton supporters are even more sure of their candidate’s victory tonight than Trump’s supporters are. Sanders supporters are almost as confident.
|PERCENTAGE WHO SAY THIS CANDIDATE WILL WIN|
|All registered voters||47%||30%||3%||3%||17%|
|Supporters of other GOP candidates||43||34||4||7||12|
Many commentators have noted the surprising overlap in appeal of Trump and Sanders. (Though their candidacies are very different.) Trump supporters are noticeably bullish on Sanders’s chances. More Rubio supporters also forecast a Sanders victory tonight than a Clinton win, though the sample is so small that the difference isn’t meaningful.
A: Cr Trus, I can guarantee that turnout would be a lot lower. It would also probably lead to a wealthier electorate, as caucuses are generally more time-consuming and not everyone can get enough time off work.
We have Donald Trump narrowly favored on the Republican side tonight, but the story might be different if the Iowa caucuses were contested under Democratic rules, which usually require candidates to achieve at least 15 percent of the vote in their precinct to receive any delegates to the state convention. Supporters of candidates with less than 15 percent of the vote, in fact, are recruited by supporters of the other candidates so their votes don’t go wasted.
In other words, second-choice preferences matter a lot under Democratic rules. It’s good news for Trump that they don’t matter so much for Republicans, since Trump has much less second-choice support in Iowa than Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio.
Iowa’s racial demographics don’t match America’s. Non-Hispanic whites make up 87.1 percent of the state’s population, compared with 62.1 percent of the U.S. population. Iowa is 3.4 percent black, while the nation is 13.2 percent black.
Black Americans began showing a strong party preference for Democratic presidential contenders in the late 1940s, a trend that grew by leaps and bounds during the civil rights era.
As a result, the two biggest levers that black voters have over the presidential process, given the strong party affinity, are their choices in the primaries and their overall turnout in the general election.
In this primary, the question is whether Sanders’s appeals to economic justice and criminal justice reform will be enough to sway black voters that have long taken the Clinton legacy seriously. (Though, clearly, from Barack Obama’s win in 2008, that respect does not lead to an unconditional slate of votes.) The 3.4 percent of black voters statewide and the quirks of the caucus system make it unlikely that we’ll learn much about what lies ahead for the black electorate. That’s most likely to become clear in South Carolina, where 27.8 percent of the residents are black. In 2008, South Carolina’s Democratic primary became the moment when Obama not only bested Clinton, but began receiving endorsements from prominent black politicians originally pledged to her.
With the first votes of 2016 about to come in, I keep coming back to two ideas.
The first is how little the GOP race has changed over a volatile and media-heavy campaign season. Ted Cruz has improved his standing in the polls — but given the size of the Republican field, few candidates have dropped out. It’s a big contrast with 2012, when we saw different candidates get a brief moment as front-runner during the “invisible primary” period and then fade away.
The second is the relative significance of Iowa for each party. (Warning: Generalizations based on few observations ahead. Proceed with caution.) The winner of the Iowa Democratic caucuses has become the Democratic presidential nominee for the last three competitive cycles. The track record for Republicans isn’t quite as good, with Rick Santorum beating Mitt Romney by an extremely narrow margin in 2012 and Mike Huckabee winning in 2008.
Conventional wisdom points to the social conservatism of Iowa Republicans as the cause for Iowa’s inability to pick winners. And that’s why Cruz is doing well in Iowa. But if he wins in Iowa and goes on to lose the nomination, it could start to look like a pattern. Social conservatives remain an important part of the Republican coalition, but the shape of the race this cycle has so far suggested that their influence may be waning.
Also worth noting: Iowa has gone blue in four of the last five presidential elections. So in a nutshell, we tend to talk about the Iowa caucuses as if they have equal importance in both parties, but maybe that’s not the case.
Amol, unfortunately the sample size for caucuses in the modern era (since 1972) is so small that it would be difficult to measure the exact effect of weather on turnout. But here’s what we do know: It isn’t snowing in Iowa tonight, so the weather shouldn’t have a major impact.
In this case, however, Rubio is at least moving in the right direction. He enters tonight at 16.4 percent in our Iowa polling average, his high point of the cycle and up roughly 4 points over the past 10 days.
Might Rubio still be a little overhyped? It’s fair to cast some shade on his campaign’s goal-post-moving spin on when he’ll go from “strong thirds” into actually winning states. And there’s been little sign of growth for him in New Hampshire and other states.
But on the other hand, it’s surprising we haven’t seen more Rubio hype. As Jonathan Chait notes, one of the supposed advantages held by “establishment” candidates like Rubio is that party elites work to talk up their chances and portray their position in a more favorable light. Rubio earned only 4 percent of network news coverage of the Republican primary in January. One of the reasons for Donald Trump’s success in the polls so far, by contrast, is his dominance of the news cycle, which seems to help him stay in first place in the polls despite middling favorability ratings even within his own party.
If party elites are looking to change the narrative, that’s a sign they might have some of their powers intact. Little of it will matter, however, if Rubio doesn’t live up to the hype in Iowa tonight.
Democracy is supposed to be simple: The person with the most votes wins. Of course, we know it doesn’t always work that way in the United States. And in tonight’s Democratic caucuses in Iowa, it’s possible that Hillary Clinton will win despite getting fewer votes than Bernie Sanders, or vice versa. How the heck is that possible?
The vote percentages reported at the end of the night for the Democrats will be “state delegate equivalents.” There won’t be a raw vote count. Statewide delegate equivalents are, as CNN put it:
The estimated number of delegates to the Iowa Democratic Party’s state convention that a presidential candidate would eventually win, based on the results of the precinct caucuses. This number can then be used to estimate the number of national convention delegates each presidential candidate would eventually win, also based on the results of precinct caucuses.
Is that clear?
The number of delegates assigned to each precinct is determined by the number of votes cast for Democratic candidates in recent gubernatorial and presidential elections. So there is a strong connection between the votes that a candidate receives in a caucus and the delegates that he or she wins, but it’s not exact.
The most obvious reason that the conversion rate from percentage of raw vote statewide to percentage of statewide delegate equivalents isn’t 1-to-1 is that each candidate needs to reach a minimum 15 percent threshold in each precinct to have a shot at receiving any delegates. That likely means that Martin O’Malley, who is polling well below 15 percent, will end up with a lower percentage of state delegate equivalents than his raw vote percentage. It also means that Clinton and Sanders have a good shot at doing better in their percentage of state equivalent delegates than their raw vote percentage, after O’Malley supporters reallocate when the 15 percent threshold is unmet.
The other key reason is that the number of delegates assigned for each precinct is preset. That is, winning all five voters in a precinct assigned 10 delegates is just as good as winning all 100 voters in a precinct assigned 10 delegates. Therefore, for example, it’s possible that Sanders will get a huge surge of college voters in Iowa City (home to the University of Iowa), but the number of delegates he can receive there is fixed. Clinton supporters, on the other hand, may be more evenly spread across the state — in that case, she’ll have more opportunities to pick up delegates in more precincts.
So just how much of a difference can all of this make? To see, I looked at Democratic races since 1984 and compared the percentage of state delegate equivalents that was eventually won by each candidate and the corresponding statewide raw vote percentages as estimated from sample precincts (the data is from CBS News, the Voter News Service, Edison Research and the Iowa Democratic Party).
The average difference between the estimated raw vote percentage and state delegate equivalent percentage has been 2.1 percentage points per candidate. (A small part of this difference can be assigned to a margin of error. Margins of error differ depending on how much support a candidate earns.) That may not seem like a lot, but if Clinton’s and Sanders’s raw vote percentages equaled their FiveThirtyEight polls-only forecast tonight, a 4.4 percentage point lead by Clinton could actually be a dead heat.
Sometimes there can be a very big difference between the estimated raw vote percentage and state delegate equivalent. John Edwards did 6.6 percentage points better in the state delegate equivalent percentage in 2008; that helped him beat Clinton on this measure 29.8 percent to 29.5 percent. That was despite losing to her 27.0 percent to 23.2 percent in estimated raw vote percentage. Four years earlier, John Kerry’s 9.7 percentage point lead over Edwards was cut to just 5.0 percentage points.
How the math will work this year won’t be known for a few hours at least. But don’t be surprised if one candidate gets a higher percentage of the state delegate equivalent count than the percentage of people who came out to caucus for him or her.
A door flyer used by the Clinton campaign to remind voters how to get to their caucus night. As much as Democrats employ sophisticated data to target specific voters, it all comes down to getting them to physically leave their house on a Monday night and show up at the right location. So directions help.
As the caucus results start pouring in tonight, what I’ll be looking for is the urban/suburban vs. rural contours of each GOP candidate’s coalition. We often think of Iowa as a rural state. But in 2012, more than half of GOP caucus-goers (62,144 of 121,503) lived in Iowa’s 10 most populous counties. Twenty-nine percent of Republican voters in those “metro 10” caucused for Mitt Romney, compared with 22 percent for Rick Santorum. In the “rural 89” other counties, however, Santorum had the advantage, receiving 27 percent to Romney’s 20 percent.
If Marco Rubio wants to exceed expectations, he’ll need to clean up in “Romney country” — the large metro areas home to thousands of suburban, secular, well-educated GOP voters. Key counties for him will be Polk and Dallas (Des Moines and its western suburbs), Scott (Quad Cities) and Linn (Cedar Rapids). Ted Cruz, meanwhile, will need to dominate the evangelical-heavy “rural 89” if he wants to beat Donald Trump. Key counties for him include Mahaska, Sioux and Warren.
The biggest mystery: What will Trump’s coalition look like on a map? Unlike Rubio and Cruz, Trump doesn’t seem to have a natural constituency that’s geographically concentrated or obvious to spot, at least based on polling. It could be that he performs fairly well and fairly evenly across the entire state. Or it could be that tonight, we’ll get our first real sense of where Trump isn’t selling as briskly.
Tonight’s the big night. Real voters! Earlier today in our elections podcast, we broke down the latest polling and news from Iowa and explained how voters will caucus. It’s about 40 minutes long. Results don’t roll in until later tonight, so you still have time to listen in the kitchen while you cook your famous caucus-day chili.
In the FiveThirtyEight newsroom today, we’ve been greeting one another with “Happy Iowa Day!” We’ve been looking forward to these caucuses for a while, but maybe you’re a normal person and are just turning your attention to the 2016 election. Don’t fret — we have you covered. Here’s some recommended reading to get you up to speed.
Four Roads Out Of Iowa For Republicans — Donald Trump has a good chance of winning, but Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have a shot at taking him down. Here are four scenarios that could emerge from Iowa depending on how those three finish.
What Happens If Bernie Sanders Wins Iowa? — Sanders is competitive in Iowa, trailing Hillary Clinton only slightly. If Sanders wins Iowa, he’ll probably also win New Hampshire. Winning the first two states is typically a precursor to winning the nomination, but a victory for Sanders in Iowa and New Hampshire could also just be a by-product of those states’ Sanders-friendly demographics. One thing is pretty clear: Sanders needs to win Iowa.
Iowa Isn’t The State Presidential Candidates Pretend It Is — Candidates like to talk about Iowa as the land of corn, cows and white people. But Iowa has actually become less agricultural and less white (though it’s still pretty white) in the last 45 years.
Ann Selzer Is The Best Pollster in Politics — Selzer became a celebrity among pollsters when in 2008 she predicted that a historically large turnout would push the Iowa Democratic caucuses in Barack Obama’s favor. FiveThirtyEight sat down with the “polling queen” of Iowa herself to see just what makes her so good at what she does.
A Day In The Life Of An Iowa Family Drowning In Campaign Ads — For the folks living in Iowa, there’s no escaping caucus season. An estimated 17,000 campaign advertisements aired on TV in the state in January, and that doesn’t include the phone calls, Facebook ads and more.
Does Donald Trump Need To Win Iowa? — A few days ago, our politics team talked over Trump’s chances of winning the nomination — if he wins Iowa and if he loses.
The Economy Is Better — Why Don’t Voters Believe It? — There’s no doubt that the economy has improved since 2008, when President Obama took office, but polls have revealed that Americans continue to be pessimistic. That makes sense for those whose lives haven’t improved since the recession, but in Iowa, the economy is objectively strong.
The Iowa Caucuses Count Will Never Be Perfect — In a rare bipartisan effort, the Iowa Democratic Party teamed up with its Republican counterpart to try to bulletproof data entry and expedite the tallying process. But avoiding all errors is impossible.
The day we’ve all been waiting for has finally arrived: Groundhog Day Eve, aka, the Iowa caucuses. Gird your loins, readers — it’s bound to be an interesting ride. We here at FiveThirtyEight will be following the democratic processes unfolding in the Middle West on this live blog, so stay tuned throughout the night. OK, here’s the logistical stuff: Caucusing begins at 7 p.m. Iowa Time (that would be the good old Central time zone). In 2012, 96 percent of precincts had reported their results by midnight, but we’re likely to get results faster this year because both Democrats and Republicans have partnered with Microsoft on an app to replace the old phone-keypad-based system of reporting results.
So what about the actual meat and potatoes of all this, the junk that fuels all you political junkies?
Things are looking tight on the Democratic side of things. Hillary Clinton is up on Bernie Sanders 48 percent to 44 percent, according to the FiveThirtyEight Iowa polling average. A big turnout of new Democratic voters would, in all likelihood, be good for Sanders, but our very own Nate Silver cautions that the Sanders momentum might have stalled.
On the GOP side, there’s the Donald Trump/Ted Cruz fisticuffs that have been bloodying the political news for the past few days, and Trump remains the favorite. But there’s a new narrative in town, too: Rubio surge! Well, maybe more like a steady, incremental rise, if we’re being realistic. He’s up over 16 percent in our average.
Besides the results coming in throughout the night, the other thing to watch for is us, the media! How the “expectations game” narratives play on television sets from Des Moines to New York to D.C. might just determine the headlines of tomorrow and how we view the candidates. All the world’s a stage, after all, and we, twitter-heads, mere players.