A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Nomination: Iowa Caucus Preview

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Disclaimer: I am friends with people who work for the Clinton campaign in Nevada and people who have volunteered for Sanders in Iowa. Take that for what it’s worth.


Today all the major news outlets will be covering the first big event in the election year, the Iowa Caucus. I figured it would be a good point to actually start writing again, but before we start analyzing the possible results, let’s look at how the caucus actually works. With the rest of this post being fairly serious, let’s use Legos.

The odd thing that might influence all of this is that there is a somewhat severe storm moving into Iowa late tonight. Current forecasts show that snow isn’t supposed to start until 9 or 10 pm, but it could have an impact of lowering voter turnout. If that happens I think it will be good for the anti-establishment candidates because the people with more passion are more likely to show up, but it is possible this won’t change anything.

Before we get to some individual breakdowns I need to post the results of what historically is the best poll to predict the results of the Iowa Caucus.[1] It’s average error per candidate per year is 3.3%. It does tend to error more with two things: a candidate with a late surge and a candidate strong with Christian Conservatives.

Republican: 1. Trump(28) 2. Cruz(23) 3. Rubio(15)

Democrat: 1. Clinton(45) 2. Sanders(42)

More Analysis of this later.

Hillary Clinton

This race has been her race to lose from the start and she is still being shown with a lead, even though it is now within the margin of error for the poll. It is unlikely the latest news with her emails will impact anything, her favorability rating in Iowa has hardly budged even as Sanders’s has climbed.


Ignore the New Hampshire line. I’ll bring that up in a bit. I told you the poll at the start has her with a lead that is within the polls margin of error, but that the poll often misses low on candidates that are having a late surge. Despite his national numbers though, Sanders hasn’t been surging as much in Iowa.

American Research Group Sanders +3 Sanders +3
Gravis Marketing Clinton +11 Clinton +21 Sanders +10
Marist College Clinton +3 Clinton +3
Public Policy Polling Clinton +8 Clinton +6 Clinton +2
Quinnipiac University Sanders +4 Sanders +5 Clinton +1
Des Moines Register Clinton +3 Clinton +2 Clinton +1

Sanders and Clinton have mostly been holding steady over the last month. Iowa is still Clinton’s to lose, and it will really come down to turnout. As it stands now though, Clinton has done enough to not lose Iowa.

Bernie Sanders

Has Sanders done enough to win Iowa though? Again it’s turnout. Yes I know that’s a cop-out answer, but Sanders’s support is much younger than Clinton’s and there’s a big discrepancy in attendance at the polls between those groups. If the young and passionate show up tonight before the snow storm, then we’re talking about a whole new race.

You probably noticed Sanders lead widening in New Hampshire in the above chart? This is going to mean even if Sanders loses Iowa his supporters will have the hope of a strong rebound. Unfortunately I don’t think that would be enough. He needs to win both. Sanders polls best with white liberal voters and if you look at the percentage of the democrats in the state that are both of those things, Iowa and New Hampshire have the second and third most of them in the country, Vermont is first. That means Iowa and New Hampshire are the two states Sanders absolutely needs to win because they have his biggest voting blocks. It gets much harder once he gets to the south where he has to win minorities away from Clinton.

If Sanders can win both then he’ll have the momentum to possibly convince the rest of the country, and you’ll see two stats talked about ad nauseam.

  • No candidate (Democrat or Republican) has lost the nomination after winning both Iowa and New Hampshire since Ed Muskie in 1972.
  • No candidate has won the the nomination without winning either Iowa or New Hampshire since Bill Clinton in 1992.

Donald Trump

On the Republican side I’m not certain who has more to lose, Donald Trump or the Republican Establishment. If Donald Trump loses then he’ll have to explain how he, who has built his entire campaign on the idea he’s a winner, will suddenly be cast in the role of the loser. If he wins, then Republican establishment is going to have to continue to worry about him either eventually getting the nomination, which I don’t think is going to happen, or him getting enough support that he decides he will run as a third party candidate which will guarantee a presidential win for the Democrats.

I remember watching an interview with John Kasich on This Week with George Stephanopoulos where Kasich was asked whether he’s out of touch with his party since they clearly approve of Trump. Those sorts of questions will plague the Republicans for as long as Trump can claim he speaks for them when it’s obvious the party heads don’t want him to.

The Republican Field

The person I do think will win Iowa is Ted Cruz. He’s within 5% of Trump in the poll I mentioned at the beginning, and he does fit the Christian Conservative model the poll tends to underestimate. Cruz is fascinating right now because it’s the only time I can find where a senator has made it the Iowa Caucus as a serious candidate without the endorsement of a single other senator in the party.

Rubio should put in a strong showing here in route to more favorable states for him ahead. Bush will cause us all to wonder how on Earth someone can fall so fast. Ideally the whole thing will go so badly for the remaining candidates that several will drop out over the next week so the race can focus in on Trump, Rubio, and Cruz because those are the only ones I see with a real chance at this. I do think Bush, Christie, and Carson will stick around until at least Super Tuesday though.


Although it isn’t as popular in America, Great Britain loves gambling on their politics. I particularly love looking at betting odds for elections, because unlike many polling agencies, casinos actually lose money when they’re wrong. So according to a sportsbook:

Clinton – If the caucus was held four times, Clinton would win three. 3-1 odds

Sanders – If the caucus was held thirteen times, Sanders would win four. 4-9 odds

Trump – If the caucus was held fifteen times, Trump would win eleven. 11-4 odds

Cruz – If the caucus was held three times, Cruz would win one. 1-2 odds

Rubio – If the caucus was held nine times, Rubio would win one. 1-8 odds

Carson – If the caucus was held 51 times, Carson would win one. 1-50 odds

Give me 25$ on Cruz which would win 50$.


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