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.