Monday, February 1, 2016

Its finally here! Iowa Caucus Night 2016

After months of grueling, astonishing and absolutely insane politicking from the major party candidates in the United Sates, the Iowa caucuses have finally arrived. It is time to see who has the chops and who is full of hot air - well, honestly I think we already knew that, but its time to see what voters think about their prospective candidates among Republicans and Democrats in the first poll that counts.

Republican caucuses

I'm going to break from the pack and actually suggest something some people might say is crazy: Donald Trump will not win the Republican caucuses.

That's right, I said Trump won't win, and I think there is even a chance he will end up in third.

Here is how I think the Republican caucuses will go, with some general notions:

Cruz: 30%
Trump: 20-25%
Rubio: 20-25%
Paul: 5-10%
Bush: 5-10%
Carson: 5%
Christie: 5%
Huckabee, Fiorina, Kasich, et. al.: < 5%

Why do I see these results, or more in particular, why do I see Trump's position in danger?

Honestly the above result would not be an insane one. FiveThirtyEight has all the above in range, and the only result that is out of line with them is Rubio's, who I think has had his chances somewhat underestimated going into today. He will also benefit from any drop among the "establishment" candidates, such as Bush and Christie (maybe), while he has cast his net out to evangelicals as well and will surely benefit somewhat from that.

Cruz meanwhile has shown himself to have a strong organization, even if he has a tendency to shoot himself in the foot with it, and will benefit the most from any last minute surge among evangelicals or anti-Trump caucus goers by having the structures and people in place that can take advantage of it.

Trump is popular and will make an impact, to be sure. He could even win, but it would likely be a squeaker. The reason I doubt Trump's staying power has several parts: he is hated as much as he is loved, his core support relies among people who have either never caucused before or are apathetic, and he has a large array of forces against him, so large that I doubt anyone has ever seen something like it before - the only benefit for him being that they have yet to coalesce behind a single candidate.

More importantly, we can look at polling. For all of Trump's huge lead nationally, his polling numbers in Iowa remain dismal and barely outpaces Cruz. That speaks to some serious underlying doubts among voters about how popular he really is, and among Republican caucus goers who are an experienced and decisive bunch when push comes to shove, those doubts must be amplified tenfold.

And if people in Iowa doubt him now, if he loses how much will those doubts increase among everyone else?

As for the rest of the candidates, such as Bush and Carson, their dismal results will surely prompt some serious questions among their backers and donors. Carson is already in free fall, and I doubt we will see much of him past Iowa; while Bush, if he cannot get above 5%, will have wasted everyone's time and over $100-million of their money in a campaign that has gotten nowhere. Bush may yet come up above 10%, as John McCain did in 2008, and keep himself in the race; if not, then he will have a struggle to get to his home state of Florida where even the polls there look bad for him.

Iowa is a set up for New Hampshire at the end of the day. The primaries there will confirm the Iowa trend and set up the rest of the race, as it did in previous cycles - NH is where McCain thumped Romney and Iowa caucus winner Huckabee, Bush Sr. went on to crush Dole who won Iowa, and where Obama confirmed his surprise Iowa win wasn't just a fluke and he could be competitive with Clinton. If Trump ends up second or third after garnering so much attention as the frontrunner, I  expect him to falter even further in New Hampshire.

Democratic caucuses

On the Democratic side, the results are probably going to be less spectacular than some hope.

Like Trump, but less insane, Sanders is facing juggernaut, but unlike Trump the juggernaut is all behind one opponent: Clinton. While the Des Moines register poll put Sanders within striking distance, at the end of the day Sanders is going to end up fairing poorly.

Clinton: 55-60%
Sanders: 40-45%
O'Malley: < 5%

As much as I'd like to #FeeltheBern, it probably isn't going to happen. Insurgent candidacies have happened before on the Democratic side, the most obvious being Al Gore vs. Bill Bradley in 2000, where the insurgent Bradley quickly gained momentum on the 'inevitable' Gore in the lead up to the caucuses, with the polls showing him close behind - only to lose by nearly 30% when all was said and done.

Sanders does have a better chance to win New Hampshire, which is right next door to his home state of Vermont and where he probably has an extensive network, but if he can't win Iowa then he is unlikely to win much else.

Yes, Clinton was upset by Obama in 2008, we all know this story. At the end of the day however, Clinton was a much more flawed candidate back then and was not the clear leader. She traded first place with John Edwards and Obama in Iowa several times and never held a steady lead nationally either. This campaign is not analogous, and Sanders has a much farther hill to climb than Obama ever did.

Now, I could be wrong about all of this, but I don't think I will be however - I think the world is a lot more sane than it currently looks, and it will be borne out tonight.

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