The Media Focus on What We Don’t Know Obscures What We Do – & It’s Big
By Al Giordano
With all the whining out of cable news and social media pundits about the full Iowa results being late due to the technical difficulties – compounded by the state party having to to report three different sets of results (first ballot, realignment and estimated national delegate counts) at the insistence of Bernie Sanders’ representatives on the DNC Unity Commission – the results that are already visible still give us almost all the information we need heading into New Hampshire’s primary next Tuesday.
California takes weeks to report only one set of election results and doesn’t generate such a level of shrieking Chicken Little-ing. But let little old Iowa be a day late in reporting three sets of results and the media (and social media) cries the sky is falling.
In this First World where many feel entitled to instant gratification, the lack of patience makes us all vulnerable to the malicious manipulations of the panic mongers. Don’t fall for it.
Try this experiment: Go up to the first person, friend, family member, or stranger you see – and smile at them. A large percentage of them will smile back. Or if quietly in a room with some people pretend to yawn. You’ll often see somebody else unconsciously yawn in response. It’s basic neurolinguistics. People ape and imitate the social triggers they receive from others.
Likewise run up the street panicked and screaming for help. Many people, rather than help you, will flee the scene themselves.
Now, try yelling that a glitch that has slowed the reporting of Iowa results by a mere day means the Democrats are doomed and Donald Trump will win. Oh. Wait. A bunch of screaming idiots just did that. And the gullible are following them there, on cue.
Some cry that with the State of the Union Address tonight and an impeachment vote coming next that they fear we’ll never know the Iowa results. That’s nonsense. We will know the results and they will have pinpoint accuracy. We will likely know at least half of them in a few hours from now. And the rest soon after.
“For Democrats it’s like fumbling the ball on the first play of the game,” tweeted one random Twitter pundit, to which another pointed out: In the 1982 Super Bowl, the San Francisco 49ers did fumble the first play of the game – then went on to win it by a score of 26 to 21.
Why some people love to freak out over even the smallest glitch is a human foible I’ll never understand.
Why others performatively freak out on social media over it, trying to instill a sense of panic and doom so others gullibly follow them into despair and fatigue, I understand very well: Panic generates “likes” and “shares” – more than making sense does.
Others, still, have axes to grind: Some are trying to foment suspicion and distrust toward the Democratic Party, as Trump and sons did today. Some spread “Pizza-gate” level conspiracy theories about caucus reporting software (an Intercept reporter already had to retract his claim that 2016 Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook was a culprit.) Some use it to bolster the worthy cause of ending Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status in the primaries (I didn’t need last night to have that opinion but nor am I going to cause harm on one front to try and lessen it on another: Iowa will already be gone as the first contest by the next presidential election, that axe has been ground).
If we panic over every instance of human error, we are all going to lead very unhappy lives. Refuse to panic is the Organize & Win credo!
I believe we will know the full results – ones with a paper ballot trail – by Friday’s Democratic presidential debate in New Hampshire. Those results will be mentioned there and known by New Hampshire primary voters who will be paying close attention over the next seven days. After New Hampshire votes, Iowa’s vote will barely be remembered. And after Nevada votes next, New Hampshire’s will be largely forgotten. Doesn’t anybody remember how this all works?
Instead of chewing on what we don’t know, let’s focus on what we do. Rejoice! It’s a lot of information in already.
What We Already Know Out of Iowa
- Caucus Turnout Was No Higher than in 2016.
My Iowa projections sent yesterday to subscribers proved correct on the major points but I was wrong about this: I thought turnout would be higher than it was the last time.
Does that mean that there will be lower Democratic turnout in November? Look at it this way: Only 32,000 Republicans turned out in last night’s Republican caucuses, less than a quarter of the estimated 170,000 Democrats that did. Does that mean Trump will lose by more than five to one? Or are we looking for unnecessary reasons to panic?
2. Sanders Campaign Claims It Inspires New Voters Proved False
According to the Entrance Polls, 37 percent of caucus-goers yesterday were first-timers. That’s fewer than 44 percent in 2016 and 57 percent in 2008 – when the Obama campaign accomplished what the Sanders campaign said it would do but could not.
That failure by Sanders’ campaign – to do what it claimed to be able to do – should put to rest any claims going forward that he’s “more electable” because he says he can bring new voters out in November. He can’t. It also shows us that he will not be able to do it in the rest of the primaries going forward, which dramatically lowers his chances at the Democratic nomination.
3. In the 15 Counties from Where We Have Some Results, a Majority of 2016 Sanders Voters Chose Someone Else or Didn’t Show Up
I added up the first-ballot percentages received by Sanders in the 34 precincts from 15 counties whose results were reported by Associated Press last night, then compared them to the percentages he got in those counties in 2016. Overall, they were counties where, in 2016, he did on average better, gaining 53%, than in the rest of the state, where then he got 49.6 percent. The 25.4 percent total he received last night in those places was only 48 percent of his average vote in those same counties in 2016. So not only did Sanders not turn out new voters significantly, he also lost more than half of his previous voters over the past four years.
If that continues throughout the primaries, Sanders will, even in the best of scenarios for him, instead of getting to the convention with 46 percent of the delegates as he did in 2016 may well be closer to 22 percent of them in 2020.
4. Sanders Underperformed the Other Leading Candidates in Second Ballot Realignment
Sanders also confirmed what many of us knew already: His vastly limited ability to grow support beyond his base. Not even the three or four percent across the state who Andrew Yang tenaciously turned out went, as many expected, to Sanders.
In the precincts for which results have been reported, Sanders rose 2.1 percent from first to second ballot, while Elizabeth Warren gained three percent and Pete Buttigieg gained 6.1 percent, largely in precincts where Joe Biden and Amy Klobuchar fell short of the 15 percent threshold.
5. A 21st Century Bradley Effect? Only the Women Candidates Significantly Over-Performed their Pre-Caucus Polling Numbers
In the sum of the reported precincts, the candidate who polls had predicted to come in a close second and be competitive for first, Joe Biden, fell to fifth on the first ballot last night in the reported precincts, by a total of six points: From 19.3 percent to 13.3 percent. Bernie Sanders grew only 2.4 percent, from 23 percent to 25.4 percent. Pete Buttigieg grew only by 2.7 percent, from 16.8 percent to 18.7 (although once Biden and Klobuchar failed to meet threshold their supporters gave him the largest growth under realignment, by an added 6.1 percent, but that won’t happen in the 47 primary states to come without such a second-ballot option).
The two women candidates vastly over-performed their polling averages: Elizabeth Warren’s support grew 6.4 percent, from an average of 15.5 percent in the aggregate of polls to 21.9 percent on the first ballot. And Amy Klobuchar expanded her vote by 4.4 points, from 9 percent to 13.4 percent.
Which begs the question: How did pollsters so woefully undercount the vote of the women running for president? Here is one plausible theory: that after all the negativity and harassment Hillary Clinton voters received in 2016 from men supporting Sanders, and, later, Trump, both on social media and in daily life, is it possible that some have become reluctant to tell strangers conducting surveys over the phone or online what their preference is? The “Bradley Effect” is a term that comes from the 1982 California governor’s race when many white voters told voters they were undecided or voting for the African-American Democrat, only to vote for the Republican George Deukmejian, who then won the election.
This time, if true, it’s inverted: rather than voters hiding their own prejudices, perhaps some have been forced into using more discretion over to whom they tell their preferences. Everything we’ve learned from 2016 provides a good underlying basis for it. If in the coming primary contests we see a similar trend, then we have a new yet inverted Bradley Effect all over again and should keep that in mind when viewing polling data measuring support for women candidates.
6. If these Previous Five Things We Learned from Iowa Hold True, then Bernie Sanders No Longer Has a Lock on New Hampshire
Sanders was widely expected to win convincingly in Iowa last night. He may pull out slim victory in a three-way scrum with Warren and Buttigieg. Even if Warren comes in third a bit behind the other two, she’ll still have exceeded expectations more than any other and will have beaten the putative frontrunner, Joe Biden – remember him? The “electable” guy? The next battle is in New Hampshire, where more than half the state consumes Boston, Massachusetts media. After all, Sanders won New Hampshire in 2016 with 60 percent of the vote, more than his 49.6 percent in Iowa in that cycle.
But if Sanders, in New Hampshire, continues to lose 52 percent of his previous vote to other candidates (or to what now is clear: his inadequate field organization, which given the money he has raised, constitutes political malpractice), you can put him at around 28.8 percent in the next contest. Warren is in striking distance: the Iowa numbers that we have already suggest she’ll have a floor of 22 percent in New Hampshire. And she has a week to pilfer more Sanders voters or draw supporters of other candidates who wish to stop Sanders and may now see her as the last one standing between him and a New Hampshire victory.
With Sanders and Warren barreling toward gaining a combined New Hampshire vote of over 50 (and more likely closer to 60 percent, given Sanders’ vote there in 2016, with Joe Biden stumbling out of Iowa, with Pete Buttigieg surging and with Amy Klobuchar surviving to fight another day, it will be very difficult for any one of those three to win between the needed 60- or 75-percent of the remaining and more moderate Democratic voters to beat a 29 or 30 percent candidate.
7. The Most Likely First and Second Place Finishers in New Hampshire Are Now Sanders and Warren: We Just Don’t Know Which Will Be Which Yet
Democrats who look at this data and see it confirm their fears about Bernie Sanders’ chances in a general election with Donald Trump now have one chance only to stop him in New Hampshire. And that’s Elizabeth Warren. The numbers aren’t there for any other candidate coming out of Iowa, because Warren has grown from Iowa while Joe Biden has shrunk.
The consequences for Sanders, if he does lose what he is widely expected to in New Hampshire would be manifold. Many of the national progressive organizations and voices that have tried to remain neutral between Sanders and Warren will then have to show their true colors. Some would bolt toward her immediately. Others would wait and see what happens in the next contests.
Just as a Warren Iowa cave-in would have bolstered Sanders’ vote there and ahead, the reverse is true, too: If Sanders continues to underperform as he apparently did in Iowa (even if he squeaks out a win in the final total, it’s going to be too close to the second and third place finishers to give him any more momentum than they’ll get, and because he was the frontrunner already, less) that will benefit Warren as it did last night.
8. Field Organization Matters!
In the Iowa projections I sent to subscribers yesterday – haven’t subscribed yet? Do so by clicking here and I’ll send them to you plus all future 2020 projections – I wrote that if we believe in the primacy of field organization in presidential primaries, then Warren, Buttigieg and Sanders would be the top three finishers. And that is what we will likely learn as more results begin to come in starting at 5 p.m. Central Time tonight.
I also projected that Warren, if she finishes in the top three, having beat expectations more than any other, would be the ‘comeback kid’ out of Iowa. By finishing in the top three and above the national frontrunner, she’s accomplished that.
Warren’s fundraising will now surge. She’s here to stay and she’s in it to win it. And she is already changing the tired old “progressive versus moderate” script from 2016 into a synthesis more up to date with the realities of 2020.
The full Iowa results may well quibble with some of my conclusions here, but I believe that the already available information out of Iowa has settled the major ones and will be close enough to the final numbers to not interrupt any of these new dynamics going forward.
The 2020 Democratic presidential nomination is a whole new game now. Take heart that field organization matters, and in New Hampshire, Warren’s is as top shelf as it proved to be in Iowa – and everyone else but Sanders lags behind. Play ball!
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