Tag Archives: Iowa Caucus

How the US National Press Is Hurting Democracy Right Now

I am astonished at how utterly ignorant journalists from national outlets are of the Iowa Caucus. If the Iowa Caucus going “wrong” can be the virtual end of the Democratic Party as we know it, and the end of all caucuses, you would think the press would know what they are. The press never notices that the total number of delegates awarded on precinct caucus night is less then the total number awarded by Iowa. You would think that if the caucus results being available a few hours after Chuck and Andrea’s bed time was an existential crisis for democracy, that they would also have noticed that half of the delegates that Iowa will send to the National Convention are not ever awarded on on this fateful evening to begin with. Until the TV talking heads can explain how that works, they should really tone down their rhetoric on what did and did not happen in Iowa.

Here is a piece of information that might be helpful. If the following is new to you, then you didn’t really know what the caucuses are. If it sounds familiar, you probably still don’t know, but at least you have a vague idea. If you read and absorb all of this, you still don’t know because this is a 20,000 foot look at parts of a large and important grassroots system.

There is no such thing as “a caucus.” On “caucus night” there are hundreds of individual caucuses, and although there are prevailing rules, they are independent conversations happening among voters during which several tings are decided, including electing a very large number (maybe thousands?) of delegates to go on to engage in other levels of activity, things like resolutions to shape the party platform, party business, party officers, and so on. Oh, and during the Iowa precinct caucus process, there is the first part of a multi-part process that involves deciding on some of the national delegates. So in that sense, what we think of as the Iowa Caucus is one piece of a multi-part part of a multi part thing. The day Chuck Todd can tell us how that works without screwing up the explanation is the day he gets to tell us what went wrong in any given year.

“The Iowa Caucus” is also not “A caucus” because it is the first of several stages of meetings. The first one is called a caucus, and the later ones are called conventions. But the conventions are still caucuses, and at them, delegates are elected, generally among the larger initial number. I believe (I’m a Minnesota caucus guy, not an Iowa caucus guy, so I many have this muddled a bit) that Iowa ultimately selects, during precinct caucuses, delegates who will ultimately be selected among to operate at the County level, Congressional District level, State level and National level. These are grassroots party activists who engage in several important party activities, basically running the party, thus ensuring that the Iowa Democratic Party remains a grassroots organization with lots of knowledgeable and engaged volunteers.

Here is a common conversation on social media I am having these days:

Other person: “Caucuses suck. They dont’ work. There should just be a primary. The system is broke. Bla bla bla.”

Me: “Which caucuses have you been involved in, I’d love to know specifically what is wrong.”

Other person: silence because they have never been to a caucus and have no clue

Make no mistake. There are people who are involved in caucuses who don’t like them. But, that doesn’t make them right. Most of the complaints they have are invalid for one of the following reasons:

1) There are things wrong with caucus, and things wrong with primaries. You can’t only complain about the one and not the other.

2) Things like “accessibility” and the like are often complained about. That is a factor, but it can be fixed, and good organizing units have fixed it. For instance, the caucus I help run is done at a huge facility that is among the most accessible in the region, and since the facility is capable of handling many thousands of people all day every day, our caucuses don’t stress things like handicapped parking, etc. (Other caucuses are not as good as us, but that is not the problem of the caucus, but a problem that can and should be fixed.”)

3) Complaining about the caucus but ignoring the entire party structure, with conventions, central committees, etc. is like saying you don’t like a person because of their hat. Maybe they have a stupid hat, but their hat is not as bad as your determination that they are a bad person because they have a bad hat.

4) It is said by haters that a caucus limits participation because it is held at a certain time at a certain place. That is true, for some potential participants. But it is also true that the caucus and convention system on balance enhances involvement, and that matters. In addition, as noted several times already, the caucus is part of a larger process. Anybody in Minnesota’s Senate District 44 want to get meaningfully involved in DFL politics but can’t do the caucus? Find me, I’ll fix you up. You can be very involved, influentially involved, meaningfully involved. But not if we have only a primary.

For every complaint about caucuses, I have one countervailing complaint about primaries: You can’t really buy a caucus (no, you can’t), but you can buy a primary. In a time when we should be eating the rich, do we really want to give up the last of our grassroots power?

I’ll just add this to complexity things. Tonight I’m going to caucus with some people over support of a particular candidate for a local race. Two night ago, Iowa had its precinct caucus, and on Feb 25th Minnesota does that as well (though there will be nothing about the presidential race at that caucus). I’m a member of the DFL Environmental caucus, which does not caucus. Recently, the Democrats in Minnesota, whose caucus is in the majority in the house but not in the Senate, formed the House Climate Change Action Caucus. And so on.

Not only is the thing that they call the “caucus” only one part of a larger, and good, thing, but the word “caucus” is a bit like the word “desktop” in that it means many things. Until Chuck and Andrea and the other national reporters can keep all of this straight, and not just some of it, it is irresponsible of them to force changes in our political system because they are annoyed at the scheduling of events.

The Iowa Caucus Coin Toss: What happened and what it means

Was the Iowa Caucus outcome determined by a coin flip?

We have seen several reports that Hillary Clinton won the Iowa Caucus by a coin toss, or by six coin tosses. Or some other number. We’ve also seen reports that six delegates were awarded to Clinton on the basis of coin tosses, implying that of the 44 delegates determined on Monday in Iowa a large percentage were chosen by the toss of an unfair coin, that somehow the Clinton campaign controlled the coin tosses causing them to all come out in her favor. And so on.

After a barrage of these reports, we are now seeing a small number of reports trying to describe what actually happened, which was very different. Some of these reports are somewhat accurate, but most leave the reader not fully understanding what really went down. Here, I want to ‘splain this one more time in a way that I hope makes sense. Warning: This is not simple. Which, really, is the point I want to make.

Then, I want to make a couple of meta comments about what this all means.

Most of the difficulty in understanding what happened in Iowa arises from the fact that Iowa uses a caucus system, not a primary. So does Minnesota and over a dozen other states and territories. This is important because quite a few convention delegates are determined by this system, and those involved in the political process need to understand how a caucus works in order to effectively engage.

I’m going to generalize here, mainly from my Minnesota experience; your caucus may vary. But there are some general principles that seem to apply widely.

How does a caucus work?

The exact rules of how a caucus works vary from state to state, but also, from year to year. The rules are determined by the party officials through an arcane process that anyone is welcome to join in but few do. The rules are handed down and enforced by those leading local meetings. The people running local meetings are always experienced dedicated party officers and volunteers. Except when they are not because they ran out of party officers or experienced volunteers, then the meetings are run by confused and frightened citizens who do their best. This is the first thing that makes a caucus system different from voting. Voting is easy. Caucusing is harder, and how well it goes at a given site can vary.

The next thing you need to know is that the caucus system often addresses many issues, not just a presidential nominee. There may be local candidates, state wide candidates, and congressional candidates chosen by the caucus process.

Normally a caucus system, therefore, happens at near or at the lowest geographical level for a state. This then leads to a second caucus later at a higher geographical level. Then, at the state level. For instance, Minnesota will caucus on Super Tuesday (March 1st this year). But we will have another caucus in April at the State Senate district level. Eventually there will a meeting at the Congressional District level. Then a statewide convention. Depending on the state or year, the national political party convention delegates may be chosen somewhere along the line. In Iowa (and in Minnesota, and may be everywhere) number of national delegates representing each presidential candidate, are chosen at the first caucus, at the lowest level. Which, of course, makes no sense until you understand the entire system. (If it makes sense to you then, please let your local Democratic party officials know because they need you.)

There may be delegates at each level. Indeed, everybody who shows up and is a legal voter in the precinct or district might be considered a delegate. So there can be many many thousands of delegates involved in the caucus system, depending on how it is defined. But, at the lowest level (a precinct, in Iowa) these people use a system to pick a subset of themselves to be the delegates that advance to the next level. Typically, these delegates are committed to a candidate. In the case of Iowa, they all had the potential to become Clinton, Sanders, or O’Malley delegates. And there were thousands of them.

These delegates then advance to the next level at which a subset of them is selected to go on to yet another level, etc. Eventually, in Iowa, 44 delegates are chosen. Except the actual delegates do not winnow down to 44. Rather, the distribution of the thousands of delegates by preferred candidate is used to determine the distribution across the candidates among those 44, and who those individuals actually will be — who gets to go to the national convention and party, er, represent — is a whole other system not addressed here.

The initial selection of the lowest level of thousands of delegates is chosen at each local site using one or more methods. The methods, as I said, follow the rules handed down by the party. I don’t know the exact rules used this year in Iowa, but there are two methods that are generally used. For small groups, it is not uncommon (if the rules allow) for the group to sit down and talk in a room then vote for how many delegates of each type they will put forward. In some cases, such as when a party has an incumbent president, they don’t even do that, but rather, use a simple ballot system to chose one of two “candidates,” the sitting president or “other” (or write-in). The point is, the process can look like a mini election that results in some paperwork and that’s it.

But the more traditional and more fun way is to use a Walking Caucus. Here is a typical framework for Walking Caucus (but, again, the rules vary).

Everybody who is properly signed in gets in one part of a big room. The number of people involved is known because they checked in, so there is a number, we will call N, of individuals. Using duct tape or some other means, the rest of the room is divided off and no one who is not a delegate can cross that line. Party officials are usually standing on a stage or table nearby directing things.

Some people have signs they hold up with the name of a candidate or issue on them, like “Clinton, Climate Change, and Jobs” or whatever. They are all yelling things at each other. Over time people move into clusters where each cluster is a group of people who favor a given candidate or set of issues.

Variant: Sometimes people are not running around and shouting, but rather, sitting around and talking, and not all caucuses address issues. But it amounts to the same thing, people will move to physical proximity to each other by candidate or issue or something.

Either way, you get a bunch of clusters of people. We will call these clusters “sub caucuses” because that is what they are sometimes called.

It might look like this:

There is a time limit on this process, and eventually the party officials “freeze” the caucus. At this point, or some other later point, delegates are told they can’t return if they leave the room or cross the line. Some delegates will leave because they are tired, need to go to the bathroom, are annoyed, or have something to do. These become “missing delegates.” Sometimes they are let back in later, sometimes not.

Meanwhile, the party officials have taken two numbers, D, which is the number of delegates that can advance from this caucus, and N, the number of people supposedly in the room, and applied some basic integer math. They need to use integer math if they can’t advance proportions of delegates (i.e., they must use whole numbers) and because they are not allowed to saw the actual delegates into bits even if they sometimes want to. This integer math results in a Viability Number. If you are allowed to put ten delegates forward, and you have 100 participants, the viability number is 10. Any group of people fewer than 10 does NOT get to advance a delegate.

Now, back to the frozen caucus. The party officials demand a count of each cluster of people. Each sub caucus is then determined to be “viable” (the number in the group is at or above the viability number) or “not viable.” At this point, the “not viable” sub caucuses are dispersed, not with dogs or firehoses or anything, just told that they are not viable and should break up and find somewhere else to go.

This is when the shouting starts again, as the non-viable people are invited to join viable caucuses.

Eventually the walking caucus is frozen again, and counted again.

A lot of things can happen at this point in time. Ideally, no one has left the room, and everybody has divided themselves into groups that are exact integer multiples of the Viability number. In this case, each sub caucus is simply counted (how many people in it) and then that number is divided by the Viability Number. The result is the number of delegates that sub caucus can advance. Those delegates are typically committed to support the candidate the sub caucus they were in represents, if the caucus is choosing state level or congressional candidates.

For the national convention, this simply translates into a number that is passed on via a form or electronic device, and the people standing in the room will have little to do with what happens next. The party will figure out who gets to go to the convention, and the number sent representing each candidate (if proportional representation is used) will be decided later. But the actual delegates that are actually advanced from each sub caucus will, in theory, go on to the next level (state Senate district, or US Congressional district, or whatever). So, typically, there will be a tiny little election within each sub caucus to elect their moving-on delegates. In my experience, this is often the most important moment in the caucus, because you have to send someone on you can trust, but you don’t know these people and suddenly you are faced with choosing them.

In Minnesota, we require gender proportional representation (male and female only at the present time) so if your sub caucus has two delegates one has to be a boy and one has to be a girl. The party may reserve the right to remove and add delegates later if they need to to make sure the gender proportionality is 50-50.

Now, imagine the following scenario. The exact number of people who ended up on the floor exactly matches the number of people who are properly signed in. Nobody leaves for any reason. The number of people who showed up happens to be an integer multiple of the number of delegates your caucus gets to put forward. There is no confusion. As the people make their sub caucus, they all, each and every one, understand the above described system or its applicable variant, and have thus formed perfect sub caucuses, each divisible by the viability number. So, when the sub caucuses are polled as to how many delegates they represent and for which candidate, absolutely nothing goes wrong.


Now, imagine this scenario. It is late. The party officials have burned off half the scheduled caucus time dealing with esoteric party decisions. Half the delegates are retired older people with weak bladders. Some are parents with a time limit on their baby sitter. Nobody really knows how to do math these days. The psychic unity of humankind has failed to make sure the number of people who showed up is an exact multiple of the viability number. And so on.

So, you end up with a set of sub caucuses that does not perfectly produce the exact number of delegates required.

This will be, typically, off by one. It really can’t be off by two, because if the number of people in the room changes that much during the process, the actual viability number is simply changed. This should happen before the walk, and when the viability number changes, there is a lot more movement between sub caucuses. In any event, a little adjustment there, a bit more shouting and cajoling and walking around, and counting and recounting, and with luck the number of delegates that is required from that meeting can be assigned.

Or, one will be orphaned. Because of all of these sources of error, it is possible via many possible sequences of events to end up not being able to fairly assign one of the delegates to a candidate.

There are various ways this can be dealt with, but a common and accepted method is to flip a coin. If there are two candidates, each has a 50-50 chance of getting a delegate. This is interesting because it gives candidates that have a low representation a small chance of getting one delegate more than they deserved, which is considered both harmless and polite. If the split is very close, it could determine whether or not a single meeting location sends one more or one less than the other on to the next level.

What has not happened is that the outcome of that caucus, at that location, was determined by a coin flip. In Iowa, the average precinct has about 7 or 8 delegates, I believe. The number of delegates that are passed on because of a coin flip should usually be zero, but now and then, one. One out of seven or eight. Not all seven or eight. One.

In Iowa, over 11,000 delegates were chosen with the caucus method. About a dozen (according to reports, though I suspect a few more) of those 11,065 delegates were the result of a coin toss.

Iowa will send, using this process, 44 delegates to the national convention. They determined the number that would represent each candidate by using integer arithmetic to divide up the 11,065 precinct level delegates into 44 national delegates. So if there was a coin toss for a dozen precinct level delegates, then one tenth of one percent of that decision was influenced by random chance. The rest of the allocation was determined by the totally sane non-random process described above.

There is more, of course. The actual delegates and the actual numbers depend not only who shows up on caucus night, but who shows up later. Given this number of delegates, and the fact that they are regular citizens, means that many individuals will abandon the process along the way. As noted, there may be issues of allocation by gender, or other factors.

Because of the possibility of little things going wrong along the way, I think it is typical for party officials to have a lot of leeway in who ends up being a delegate. During off years, the number of people who show up at the first meeting during which people are recruited to be delegates is often so small that anybody who calls up the precinct captain (or some other official) later on can probably become a delegate. During presidential or, even, midterm years, there may be a lot more public involvement, but it might be highly variable across the party’s geographical space, so the number of people involved in selecting a given delegate may vary. This may also be a difference between states (such as Iowa vs. Minnesota). The point is, if you want to find randomness, capriciousness, or arbitrariness in the system, there is plenty.

But not the coin toss. The coin toss is an effective and fair way to allocate the occasional orphan delegate. It will favor low-number candidates slightly, and mean nothing in a close race.

What can we learn from coinflipgate?

Coinflipgate got legs because the people who initiated the meme, or later spread it, were ignorant, willfully or otherwise, of how the caucus system works.

Coinflipgate was a political ploy exploited inappropriately by anti-Clinton or pro-Sanders activists for the purpose of affecting people’s attitudes about the Clinton campaign.

Coinflipgate, because of the thinness of its veneer and its inherent absurdity, was not a good political strategy.

An important aspect of the caucus system is that it is complex, confusing, and difficult. Contrast the following two scenarios.

Scenario A: Dozens, maybe close to 100, people show up at a caucus site because they feel strongly about a candidate, but have never been to a caucus before and have no clue as to what to do. Party officials are barely able to manage the ensuing fray. The caucus happens, but inefficiently. Delegates are advanced, but several people leave the room realizing they were in the wrong sub caucus, or an orphan delegate emerges and is randomly assigned.

Scenario B: The candidates being considered at a caucus recruit experienced caucus experts to attend a caucus and help guide their supporters to form efficient sub caucuses, and to effectively persuade the undecided to join them, or occasionally, to turn a delegate to their side. These activists may not even be voters in that precinct or district, and in fact may even be from out of state (because you don’t want to use individuals who should actually be caucusing). Each candidate also has several supporters among the delegates, and those supporters have met once or twice with an expert who has trained them in how to caucus.

One could easily imagine one candidate following scenario A and a different candidate following scenario B at the same caucus. If those two candidates are roughly even in their support, the candidate that runs scenario B at most of the caucus sites will come away with more delegates. This is very different from voting. In short, the “ground game” wins the day.

This may seem rather capricious but it is not, for one of the reasons that the caucus is a good system. The candidate that can run a good ground game in a caucus is the candidate that can manage everything better, run a better campaign, have a better chance of winning in other contexts, in other caucus states, in non-caucus states, and in the general election. This is the candidate that has good people working for them. All else being equal, you want to support the candidate that can do this better. Ability to manage a caucus is not the only criterion on which we chose our candidates or leaders, but it is one criterion that is meaningful and a valid test of skill, level of organization, commitment of supporters, and so on.

That is certainly not the only goal of a caucus. The main goal of a caucus is to get people together to make an important decision in a way that goes beyond merely showing up and checking off a candidate’s name in a box.

My description of how a caucus works is based mainly on my experience in Minnesota and some reading and conversation about how Iowa works. If you are an experienced Iowa caucuser, feel free to add or correct details in the comments below. But the basic idea is there, and similar across cases.

People who are repeating the absurd idea that national delegates were chosen with a coin flip, and people who are calling for a “recount” of the caucus, are either not understanding how the system works, or are exploiting the fact that most people don’t know how this system works, to toss some mud and cast some doubt. That is not helpful, no matter which candidate one supports, because it is a less than honest and, in the end, very ineffective, likely to backfire tactic.

And now, a word from the Minnesota DFL

Lessons from the Iowa Caucus

Increasingly, I feel the need to declare my position on the candidates before commenting on the process, because, increasingly, the conversation has become one of comparative litmus tests. So, here’s the deal on that: I like Clinton and Sanders both, and I like each of them for both overlapping and different reasons. As a life long Democrat I’m glad to see such good candidates running. I will decide whom to support in the Minnesota Caucus some time after I walk into the building, most likely. Then, later, I will decide which candidate, if any, I might work for during the time between our caucus and the convention, though most likely it will be neither. I don’t have a lot of money to donate to anything, but so far I have split my financial support evenly. After the convention (or a bit before if there is a clear winner a priori) I will do everything I can to move the chosen candidate into the White House, while at the same time working on my Congressional District and state wide races or issues.

The first thing we learned from the Iowa Caucus is that Bernie Sanders is a viable candidate who can win. I didn’t doubt that before, but his showing in Iowa, a statistical tie, demonstrates this. This is not really too important in the big picture, partly because it simply reifies what was already known, and partly because Iowa (and New Hampshire) provide only a part of information needed to think strategically about the process. The way things are set up, we really won’t know until Super Tuesday, I think, how the two candidates stand. South Carolina may tell us something about the alleged demographic disconnect that favors Clinton over Sanders, and Nevada may show us if Unions matter in this election, and who they matter to. But from that perspective (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada) it will be very difficult to predict Super Tuesday’s outcome.

But, here’s the thing: Bernie supporters who have shown a great deal of angst and jitteriness, to the point of sometimes acting inappropriately for a Primary, can relax a bit now. Your candidate is for real, we all know this. And best of luck to you and to us all.

At the same time, Clinton supporters who may have viewed Bernie as an anomalous inviable insurgent now know that isn’t true. This should have been obvious all along, but for the doubters, stop doubting.

The second lesson is a bit more complex. On one hand, Clinton should have done better in Iowa, given the demographic match up. This puts Clinton on notice. Every campaign is like a herd of bison moving across the plains, with each bison being unique and likely to go in any of several directions. The efficient campaign tends to ignore the bison that are going in the “right” direction (for that campaign) and focus on those that seem likely to stray. I think Iowa demonstrates that some of Clinton’s bison need to have a good talking to.

On the other hand, the Sanders campaign makes the point that the #FeelTheBern surge will not only carry Sanders past the demographic disconnects he faces, but that it will sprout a long and stable coat tail to bring Congress with him. Did going from an obscure(ish) Senator from an obscure(ish) state to nearly besting The Anointed One (for good reason) in Iowa constitute a Bern-Surge? Or was it not enough? The turnout in Iowa was pretty good, but it was not Obama-esque. To the extent that Obama’s 2008 campaign is a model for a 2016 Sanders campaign, something is lacking here. This may or may not be important.

One test of the surgosity of the Sanders campaign may be South Carolina and Nevada. He is unlikely to win in South Carolina and Nevada is obscure. But if he does way better than expectations, that might mean that the surge if getting fueled (by itself, as surges do). I suppose New Hampshire could also be an indicator. Sanders will likely win that state. Not because New Hampshire and Vermont are clones — they are very different. But because among Democrats, Sanders will be seen as something of a favorite son. (New Hampshire and Vermont share a long border, but most cross-state interconnections, I think, are: Vermont-Update NY, and Vermont-Berkshires/Pioneer Valley, MA; and New Hampshire-Greater Boston Areas.) In any event, if Sanders does better than X percent over Clinton in New Hampshire, that could be a post-Iowa surge-fueling effect. X is probably around 12% .

On the Republican side, there are more lessons than I want or need to discuss, but I’ll mention two. First, as per this item, no matter how out of the box some of this year’s campaigns seem to be (i.e., Trump’s celebrity approach), the political process is a real, living entity that can’t be ignored. Trump risks loss for doing so.

See: Dark Money by Jane Mayer

The other major lesson, I think, is that the field is now much smaller than it used to be. I’m not sure if any of the bottom tier candidates can recover, however, New Hampshire might bring one or two back into the race. But right now, it is looking like Trump-Cruz-Rubio. I’ve seen some convincing commentary that Cruz is actually not viable long term. I don’t know if I believe that, even if I can hope it to be so. So, the Trump Will Burn Out theory says that Rubio is the GOP nominee, and based on overall patterns, likely the next President unless the Democrats pull their heads out of each other’s butts and start focusing on the end game. I suppose it could be worse.

Trump is going to lose the Iowa Caucus, and here’s why

As of 8:45 or so PM:

Cruz 28.9 Trump 25.6 Rubio 20.8

I’m privileged to live in Minnesota, which is Iowa’s neighbor and thus not so different from Iowa, except our college football teams are better.

And it isn’t just the corn, but also, the caucus. We do that here too. Our caucus system is similar enough to Iowa that one can have a sense of what goes on over the border just with some local experience.

So let me tell you a story. I volunteered one day to help out a friend with a local campaign. The idea was to show up at the local VFW post and engage in a caucus to determine a DFL (that’s what we call Democrats in Minnesota) candidate for a local election. I met the candidate and the other volunteers in the parking lot, and coffee was passed around. As we stood around sipping our coffee, the other candidate’s team showed up, parked their van with that candidates name on it near the door, and attacked the VFW hall in the prescribed way. They plastered signs up everywhere, and positioned themselves around to meet and greet everybody who walked into the hall, giving them literature and buttons.

I asked the person who seemed to be in charge of our team where our signs were, suggesting that we needed to get in there and take some wall space before it was all used up. The response, “Well, people shouldn’t really be picking a candidate on the basis of signs, but rather, on where they stand on the issues.”

A little while later, I suggested that we get in position around the entrance ways and by the food table and bathrooms and such in order to hand out buttons and literature. “We didn’t make any literature, but here’s some buttons, if you want to hand them out. It shouldn’t really matter, though, our candidate is so much better that we don’t need to do that.”

A little while later each candidate got to make a speech outlining their respective positions. My candidate was indeed way better. Articulate, intelligent, made sense. The other candidate mainly talked about her inexperience, and how she didn’t really want this job but her neighbors talked her into it.

Then the process started. We were creamed. We got something like single digit support.


No signs. No buttons. No literature.

Here’s the thing. A caucus is a commitment of time. It takes a few hours. The majority of caucus goers are party activists or people otherwise motivated to spend a few hours in a confusing and sometimes frustrating environment. There are elements to the caucus process, at least in Minnesota, that seem to be designed to weed out the less committed or interested individuals, such as votes on who should be in this or that job that nobody ever even heard of, or resolutions that everyone already supports, etc.

So when you get a room full of activists and they are trying to decide who to put up for election, what do they base that decision on? Well, first, they eliminate the candidates that are simply untenable. At another caucus a few years ago, a candidate who would be running against Michele Bachmann got up and explained that she was the best DFL candidate because she was anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage and such, and so she was the only Democrat that could get those votes away from Bachmann. The room remained silent as she exited the stage, and not another word was said about her. (That is the modern day Minnesotan method of drawing and quartering someone.)

Once the untenable candidates are suitably ignored, we then get to the number one actual question we must ask of this candidate: Can this candidate win?

In a general election, it has been suggested that lawn signs and such matter little. Everybody knows that most of the literature ends up in the recycling. In fact, too much lit can annoy people. Campaign buttons don’t do much either, because once you’ve handed them out most people will not wear them again. None of that really means much in a general election.

But in a caucus it means everything. These are signals a candidate sends out the the activists indicating that they have a clue as to how the process works. I know this does not make much sense at first, but then again, the giant schnoz on the front end of a male elephant seal does not make much sense either. Nor does the giant tail on a male peacock, which mainly serves to make it hard to get away from predators. But these are signals sent out to indicate not too indirectly some aspect of quality.

Sexual selection in animals often causes the evolution of traits that make no sense in most contexts, but end up serving as honest advertisements of some innate quality that females will prefer. Union printed wall and lawns signs, literature and buttons, and having a lot of volunteers standing around clearly identified as working for a given candidate are honest indicators of seriousness, ability, knowledge of the process, support, and so on.

At the local caucus for my friend, the activists saw a candidate that knew the ropes, and a candidate that did not. They picked the one who sent out the proper signals, even though the choice based on positions, speaking ability, etc. should have gone the other way.

Why will Donald Trump lose the Iowa Caucus?

The word on the street in Iowa is that the Cruz campaign is running a tight and effective ground game. They have all the parts. People have arrived from hundreds of miles away to phone bank and door knock … having someone at your door telling you they just drove in from Montana to visit their grandmother in the ancestral Iowa home, oh and caucus for this candidate please, is effective.

Meanwhile Trump is not letting the press near or in the local headquarters. They are playing the ground game totally differently, more like the run up to the latest greatest reality TV show. Trump is inviting random children to tour his private plane. His daughter made a video on how to caucus, as though anyone in Iowa needs to know how to caucus. In short, Trump is sending almost none of the proper signals, and if anything, is sending bad signals. Iowans don’t care about someone’s private plane and they don’t need to be told how to do their jobs.

Iowans, today, will see on the news Cruz’s machine pulling out all the stops and doing all the things. They will see some dude in the parking lot outside of the blacked out windows of what appears to be Trump’s headquarters saying that they have no comment about anything, asking the press to go away. Caucus delegates who might have been leaning towards Trump will caucus instead for someone else, most likely Cruz. And Cruz will trounce trump.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. For now. I’ll delete this post in shame if I’m wrong. Which is a distinct possibility. Becauase you never know with a caucus…

Who Won The Iowa Caucus 2016? (Final)

UPDATE (Tuesday Morning):

In the Democratic Caucus, Hillary Clinton beat Bernie Sanders by an amount so small that the caucus results have to be regarded as tie.

Clinton: 49.86%
Sanders: 49.57%
O’Malley: 0.57%

Lesson learned: Those who caucused for O’Malley for ideological reasons, knowing he could not possibly win, account for a larger percentage of the overall caucus than the difference between the top two contenders. If most of those O’Malley voters would have been Sanders voters had O’Malley not been in the race, then they effectively Nadered Sanders.

Ted Cruz won the GOP caucus.

Cruz: 27.7
Trump: 24.3
Rubio: 23.1
Everybody else: Less than 10% each
Fiorina, Kasich, Huckabee, Christie, Santorum and Gilmore got zero delegates.


CRUZ is the winner in the GOP caucus.

For the Dems, at this moment it is too close to call, but with just over 90% of the precincts reported in, Clinton is ahead of Sanders by under 1%.

To give you a feel for the last hour or so, here’s some data:

DEMS at 8:35 Clinton 50.8, Sanders 48.6
DEMS at 8:42 Clinton 50.9, Sanders 48.6
DEMS at 8:45 Clinton 50.7, Sanders 48.7
DEMS at 8:55 Clinton 50.5, Sanders 48.9
DEMS at 9:00 Clinton 50.4, Sanders 49.0 About 70% reporting.
DEMS at 9:13 Clinton 50.3, Sanders 49.1
DEMS at 9:20 Clinton 50.2, Sanders 49.2 – 1% difference, c/ 85% reported
DEMS at 9:31 Clinton 50.0, Sanders 49.3 0.7% difference
DEMS at 9.34 Clinton 50.0, Sanders 49.4 0.6% difference
DEMS at 9:38 Clinton 49.96 Sanders 49.38 86.79% reporting
DEMS at 9:42 Clinton 49.96 Sanders 49.39 87.69% reporting
DEMS at 9:44 Clinton 49.92 Sanders 49.44 88.64% reporting
DEMS at 9:52 Clinton 49.80 Sanders 49.56 89.53 % reporting
DEMS at 9:57 Clinton 49.80 Sanders 49.56 89.65% reporting STALL
DEMS 10:01 Clinton 49.84 Sanders 49.53 90.01% reporting REVERSAL
DEMS 10:03 Clinton 49.80 Sanders 49.57 90.48% reporting SWTICHBACK
DEMS 10:09 Clinton 49.84 Sanders 49.53 91.26% reporting REVERSAL
DEMS 10:13 Clinton 49.84 Sanders 49.53 91.43% reporting STALL
DEMS 10:14 Clinton 50.15 Sanders 49.32 91.73% reporting REVERSAL
DEMS 10:22 Clinton 50.15 Sanders 49.32 92.5% reporting STALL
DEMS 10:27 Clinton 50.15 Sanders 49.32 92.8% reporting


We still don’t know, but …

Trump and Cruz started out the evening in a real horse race, but for the last 50 minutes or so Cruz has been ahead by a few points (currently 29.7-26.6). It may be the case that my prediction, which no one believed I might add, will come true.

See: Dark Money by Jane Mayer

Meanwhile, I hear reports from college enclaves that Sanders is doing really well, in the order of 2:1 over Clinton. But state wide the evening started out with Clinton well ahead and holding (ca 52-47%). But over recent minutes, that gap has been narrowing. As of this writing the spread is 51.0-48.4%. I don’t know the exact percentage of precincts reporting so far, but it is a lot, possibly well over half.

So, so far, it looks like this may be Cruz and Clinton in Iowa. But things could change.

We don’t know yet! But I will post what I know here when I know it. Meanwhile, you might want to follow live results, which will not be available until evening Monday 1 Feb, here:

Live Results Iowa Caucus

Meanwhile, we can speculate on who might win.

Who will win the Democratic Iowa Caucus?

Recent polling has shown that Clinton has been in the lead, by a substantial but shrinking margin, util recently. Then, Sanders caught up and about two polls back the two candidates were in a statistical tie. The most recent poll, by Emerson, covers January 29th through 31st, and shows Clinton advancing beyond statistical dead heat with an 8 point lead. Recent analysis by the Des Moines Register and others suggest that both Clinton and Sanders are well liked by Iowa Democrats, but Clinton may have some stronger numbers in her base.

In my view, it is too close to call; There is no obvious likely winner. Having said that, if I were to bet five bucks I’d bet on Clinton winning. I would not take a bet for more than five bucks, though.

If Sanders comes to within a few percentage points of Clinton, he still “wins” (as does Clinton) in a way because he meets expectations. If the spread is greater than 8 or 9 point, whoever wins wins big because they exceed expectations. That’s just my opinion, of course. In the end, a close result simply confirms that the Democrats have two viable candidates.

It is also possible that O’Malley will surge. The way the caucus system works tends to X-out candidates that are very low in percentage point. If O’Malley does better than that, he will have exceeded expectations and interesting things could happen.

Who will win the Republican Iowa Caucus?

Trump has been ahead all along, but he has fallen into a statistical dead heat with Cruz over the last few polls. A Trump loss, even by a little bit, will probably be seen as falling below expectations. A Cruz win will probably be seen as surpassing expectations. Rubio is not far down in third place. If he finishes second, or even a very close third, that will be meaningful.

ADDED: News is that Cruz is playing a very intense ground game in Iowa, and Trump is not. Trump is relying on an entirely off the books strategy, which seems to consist of, well, being Donald Trump. This makes the outcome of the GOP Caucus even more interesting. It suggests that if we live on Normal Earth, Cruz will surpass trump, because they are very close but the ground game wins it in Iowa. If, however, we live on Bizarro Earth, Trump’s alternative strategy will not only keep him ahead but possibly propel him even further .

By the way, it is generally true that whoever wins the Democratic Iowa Caucus ultimately wins the nomination, but I’m pretty sure that is less of a certainty with the GOP Iowa Caucus.

Stay tuned, and thanks, Iowa, for your electoral service!

Who Will Win The Iowa Caucus?

The answer: One Republican and One Democrat/Independent.

The Iowa Caucus is pretty much up for grabs in both parties. Over recent days, a clear Trump lead has been erased, and Cruz is now ahead in recent polls. Over roughly the same period, a clear Clinton lead has been erased, and Sanders is now ahead in recent polls.

FiveThirtyEight (Nate Silver) is still predicting a Clinton victory for the Dems, but a Cruz victory for the GOPs. The Clinton victory prediction is of high confidence, while the Cruz prediction is not, and Trump is close behind.

One way to look at the polls is to track changes and put a lot of faith in the most recent information. Another way is to use as much data as seems relevant (even looking outside polls) and assume that this gives a better prediction, and go with that. The latter is the method used by FiveThirtyEight. So, Nate Silver’s method will be a big winner if Clinton and Cruze cinch the Caucus, but not so much if Sanders sandbags Hillary and Trump trumps Cruz.

People put a lot of significance on the Iowa Caucus because it is the first real contest among candidates. But then, after the caucus has become history, they are less likely to care too much about it. How important is it as a predictor of the outcome of the entire primary season?

That depends on the party.

Barack Obama, John Kerry, Al Gore, Bill Clinton, Walter Mondale, Jimmy Carter and George McGovern all won the Iowa caucus (or came in above the other candidates) and went on to be the Democratic Party nominee. Dick Gephardt and Tom Harkin also won the caucus, but did not become the nominee. One might say that the Iowa Caucus predicts the nominee pretty well for Democrats.

Gerald Ford, Bob Dole, and George W. Bush all beat the other contenders and went on to get the nomination. But most of the time, the Iowa Caucus was either won by an unopposed Republican (so we can’t count those years in assessing its significance) or was won by a candidate other than the eventual nominee (such as Rick Santorum in 2012, Mike Huckabee in 2008, and Bob Dole in 1988). Overall, the Iowa Caucus means little in the Republican Party, if we go on history, especially in recent years.

Despite FiveThirtyEight’s claims, based on a good analysis of hefty data, I’m going to say that there has been too much flux in the polling numbers to call the caucus at this stage, just over a week prior.