Monthly Archives: January 2016

donald trump iowa caucus

Iowa Weather

T-minus 3 days until the Iowa Caucus.  With polls close and candidates going all-in at town hall events throughout the state, Iowa’s results may depend, again, on one thing: turnout.  Stop us if you’ve heard that before.

Donald Trump’s coalition revolves around those who don’t often vote.  Excluding them from surveys narrows the race dramatically.  Though he’s been surging in the Iowa polls recently, will his supporters break with tradition and caucus?

Ted Cruz has an extensive ground game in Iowa.  His campaign has reached twice as many voters than has Trump’s.  Some experts contend that will give him a 5 point boost – based on polls, that would put him about even with Trump.  But Cruz is facing challenges.  He likely peaked too soon in Iowa and has recently shifted attacks from Trump to Rubio, indicating, perhaps, that internal polls warn of a third-place finish (that could well end his campaign).  Cruz needs low turnout and traditional caucus demographics to win.

On the other side, Bernie Sanders has much the same problem as Trump: his support tends not to vote.  He dominates with millennials, but millennials are not prone to caucus or vote.  Even spotting Sanders these supporters, the race with Hillary Clinton is incredibly close.  Aggregation of recent polls show a statistical tie.  Clinton fares better in surveys that use voter files; Sanders with those that use random digit dialing.  Can Sanders translate excitement into caucus goers?

In 2012, just over 121,000 Iowans participated in the Republican caucus, edging out the 119,000 from 2008.  If numbers follow these trends, Cruz will likely emerge victorious.

In 2008, Barack Obama nearly doubled caucus turnout, from 124,000 when Edwards won in 2004 to 239,000.  Turnout more akin with traditional figures favors Clinton, but if 2008 represented a trend, Sanders will likely be in luck.

So how can turnout be predicted?

There are many metrics political scientists and pundits use, ranging from party registration figures to the (less scientific) excitement factor.

These are all important factors, but a more banal – and yet strong – indicator is the weather.  Poor weather (rain, snow, wind, cold) tends to lower turnout because people lose motivation to venture outdoors and drive in dangerous conditions.  Good weather boosts turnout.

Here is the forecast (from The Weather Channel) for Des Moine on caucus night: a low of 29 degrees with wind picking up from 10mph to 30.  There’s a 70 percent chance of snow with it accumulating to 3 inches.

These aren’t horrendous conditions, but don’t bode well for Trump and Sanders.  Threat of a storm may keep people at home as they don’t want to drive in wintery weather (especially late at night after the caucus).  Of course, this is still three days out.  Weather could change, but if the storm moves up a couple hours, it could hamper Trump and Sanders’s chances.

Don’t worry, we’ll keep an eye on the forecasts for you.

The Establishment’s Gambit

It’s long been said that the best way of thwarting a Trump nomination is for the establishment to rally around a single candidate, be it Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Chris Christie, or Jeb Bush.  This analysis likely still stands correct even with Donald Trump’s continued poll domination and a rising number of Republicans saying they could see themselves supporting a Trump nomination.  The National Review points out that while Trump has solidified the blue-collar vote, white-collar individuals continue to split their support and dollars between the aforementioned candidates.  Coalescing around a single candidate would generate momentum and an influx of donor money to the campaign committee and super PACs that could fund ad assaults on Trump.  There are signs that winnowing the field alters the race: A recent NBC/WSJ poll found that Ted Cruz would beat Trump in a head-to-head match up while Rubio would lose, but slightly.  So why hasn’t the establishment picked a candidate?

It may very well be that the establishment is waiting to see which “moderate” or establishment-friendly candidate finishes highest in New Hampshire.  Rumblings have come from the establishment machine – party leaders have recently decried Cruz and have seemingly acquiesced or in other ways come to terms with a potential Trump nomination.  These signals serve two purposes.  First, in line with the theory that the party decides the ultimate nominee, establishment figures bashing Cruz signals to voters and donors that the party does not want Cruz to be Trump’s challenger.  While they haven’t decided who should bear the establishment pin, they have decided that it won’t be Cruz.  Second, by coping with the potential for a Trump nomination, the party inherently raises his expectations.  That means a lot.  Trump’s entire campaign is premised around winning – both his winning and the winning American will do under his presidency.  Should Trump either start losing contests or failing to meet expectations (his and those implied by establishment figures), his campaign’s founding principle will collapse, potentially taking down his candidacy.  Furthermore, the establishment’s sudden cozying up to Trump could eat away at his “rogue” image – after all, he gained much notoriety and popularity by insulting the same people who are now introducing him at campaign events.  With the right messaging and framing, the establishment (or super PACs) could turn this against Trump by portraying him as a hypocrite or another typical politician.

By waiting until after New Hampshire to support a candidate, however, the establishment runs a risky gambit: If Trump wins Iowa and New Hampshire – as seems increasingly likely – his momentum may simply propel him to the nomination.  Republican voters may find him as the best chance to defeat the Democrats in November and, regardless of establishment signal, rally behind Trump.  Donors, even those who support moderate candidates, may jump to the Trump Train to try and gain influence with the front runner.  Allowing Trump to win further cultivates his image and invites acquiescence to his dangerous and extreme beliefs.

Presumably, the highest placing moderate in New Hampshire becomes the establishment’s standard bearer.  As of right now, that’s Rubio (and he seems the most able to defeat Trump because of his deep conservatism, youthful vitality, and electability).  The establishment’s best hope is that his second or close-third place finish (to Cruz) prompts the donor class to flood his coffers with contributions and encourages senators and governors to get off the sidelines and endorse the young Floridian.  Though the worries above remain, the primary calendar does favor Rubio.  He would likely lose South Carolina, despite his goal of winning the Palmetto State, but would have a good chance to emerge victorious in the Hispanic state of Nevada.  The SEC primary on March 1 tends to favor Trump and Cruz’s constituencies – deeply conservative and religious.  However, many of these contests award delegates proportionately.  Trump and Cruz could land large percentage victorious but not open up a sizable lead over Rubio.  Interestingly, while the elites trash Cruz, they need him to remain in the race and strong throughout these southern states to siphon support from Trump and somewhat dull his momentum.  March 15 becomes decision day.  Florida and Ohio award over 150 delegates on a winner-take-all manner.  They tend to support mainstream candidates (though that may be because few insurgents reach that date with strong momentum) and appear ripe for Rubio’s taking.  The primary calendar is backended with big, blue state winner-take-all contests that, according to 538, demographically favor Rubio.  Trump and/or Cruz could amass delegates early, but Rubio could easily close the gap by winning the likes of Florida, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, and California.  For that reason, the establishment forfeiting early states may not preclude a moderate victory.

Of course, that theory depends on donor patience and stumping Trump, a task that has eluded all candidates and elites since his declaration.  To allow Trump to start winning is risky – he may not stop.  But coalescing around a single candidate with his path to the nomination still clears extends the amount of time PACs and other organizations can tear down Trump and buildup Rubio (or whomever earns the support of the establishment).  Though the path to 1236 delegates becomes murkier with every poll in which Trump continues to lead, the establishment still has plenty of time to nominate the candidate of its choice.

donald trump iowa caucus

Trump and Iowa Turnout

Politico recently reported that Trump’s campaign is confident that it will turn out 45-50,000 supporters on caucus night.  Though no on-the-record comment has been made, such an estimation dramatically raises the stakes for Donald Trump: if the man whose campaign is premised on winning loses and falls far short of his goals, might his entire apparatus tumble down and his support evaporate?

To reach the 45-50,000 benchmark, Trump needs a substantial increase in voter turnout from years prior – in 2012, Rick Santorum squeaked out a caucus victory with fewer than 30,000 votes, or 24.6 percent of the vote.  That places total turnout in the vicinity of 122,000.  Four years earlier, Mike Huckabee nabbed an Iowa victory with over 40,000 votes cast of around 118,000.

Based on Trump’s current standing in Iowa – according to the RCP average, he’s at 27.3 percent – he would need between 164,000 and 183,000 caucus-goers (the number goes down if you spot Trump a couple of extra percentage points).  These numbers represent more than a 25 percent voter increase from 2008 and 2012.  Can Trump pull this off?

There have been many doubts about Trump’s ground game in Iowa and about the propensity of his supporters to actually vote.  Anecdotal journalist accounts find Trump’s Iowa offices empty, quiet, and slow, compared to the vibrancy at rival outposts.  Trump also hasn’t invested time in tradition retail politics, opting instead for showy rallies and the cult of his personality.  The campaign is relying on an email-driven data operation to turnout supporters, and it may be working.  A recent Bloomberg poll that screened for likely voters found 29 percent would be first-time caucus-goers, a group likely swayed by Trump’s charisma and motivated to hand him a victory.

Having such high expectations can be dangerous, however.  If Trump fails to win Iowa and falls well short of his campaign’s goals, the his “winning” persona comes under serious doubt.  Trump support is hardly fickle, but what happens if his campaign’s premise is proven false?  Will that have a spillover effect in New Hampshire and South Carolina?  Will people suddenly doubt the viability of a candidate whose only promise is an abstract characteristic up to which he might not be able to live?

The answer to those questions remain to be seen.  It’s clear, though, that February 1 will be a pivotal moment in the election and may determine whether the elite hope of a Trump implosion occurs due to natural forces.

If you don’t support Trump, you better hope for a low turnout.