Iowa Caucuses: Delegate Counts

Iowa-StateSeal.svgYesterday, I posted about my personal experience at an Iowa caucus.  Today,  a discussion of what will happen this year at the caucuses, and the impact of different scenarios going forward.

Democratic Caucuses

I’d love to do one of those columns like the arts folks do for the awards shows, as in “will win/should win/honourable mention” – but this is DCW and we don’t take sides on contested Democratic primaries. So we’ll stick to just the facts as we know them today, 18 days out.

Iowa has 52 delegates to the Convention. The eight Superdelegates are: seven Iowa DNC members and David Loebsack, the sole member of the Iowa Congressional delegation.  The remaining 44 will be chosen through the process, which involves A LOT of math. The full set of computations can be found here.

Basically, to be viable on 1 February, a candidate needs 15% of the vote to be considered. After the first count, that will be Bernie and Hillary. Since the polls are so close, the real question is the Martin O’Malley voters, and the small number of undecideds. Interestingly, while the media will pounce on who won, there’s a chance that the delegates chosen will not actually end up being delegates, and even if they do go to the convention, they might not align with the person he/she represented on 1 February. Yes really.

The delegates selected at the caucuses will have only completed part one of the process. Six weeks later, on 12 March, the delegates will attend the county conventions. Once again the 15% threshold will apply, but most importantly, the delegates may change their minds in the intervening six weeks and align with another candidate. (No joke, it’s in the rules.) A number of county delegates will be selected based on the population of each of the Congressional Districts, plus At-Large delegates. Then, six weeks later, on 30 April, the District delegates will be selected from the county delegates. Once again, people can change their minds to the other candidates or to uncommitted. But by the end of the day, they will be officially pledged. Finally, the State Convention will be held on 18 June.

Republican Caucuses

The GOP has 30 delegates coming out of Iowa. Three party regulars as unpledged delegated (they don’t call them “Super”) and 27 elected. While the GOP also has a process of precinct to county to district to state, their delegates are pledged from the start. There’s no question that Cruz and Trump will take the top two spots. Which of them wins is dependent on how well Trump can convince Iowans that Cruz is ineligible due to being a Canadian. (I’m not saying this is true, but it’s a thing.) With that outcome a virtual given, the question is which of the “establishment” candidates will place third, fourth and fifth.

The Republicans will use a straight count (although the count they announce that night may well not be accurate. We can hope, but the GOP is not known for their familiarity with technology nor math.)

Wild Cards

Iowa allows people to decide which party to caucus with on that night, and allows same-day registration. It is completely possible that people will cross party lines to vote for a candidate in the other party for a variety of reasons. This could skew the outcome of the caucuses since polling asks registered voters about their party’s caucus. But it would certainly be possible that Hillary’s supporters, if they see her as the presumptive winner may choose to vote on the GOP side for the candidate least likely to beat her in the general.

Second, there is the issue of cell phones on the Democratic side. To the best of my knowledge, there is no prohibition on cell phones as caucuses, and it may be that communication between people in multiple precincts could help either Bernie or Hillary since voters often try to be on the winning side (it’s why polling gels so close to elections, and is a lagging indicator). This is not an issue on the Republican side as they vote in private, and it’s an in-and-out process.

Finally, there is the issue of momentum. It feeds on itself, and as it affects caucuses, it’s possible that word of mouth might encourage people to attend who have never before caucused. This would be a win for the non-establishment candidates.

Projections: Democratic

  • Bernie Sanders 52%
  • Hillary Clinton: 48%

Projections: Republican

  • Ted Cruz 30%
  • Donald Trump 25%
  • Marco Rubio 10%
  • Ben Carson 8%
  • Rand Paul 8% (the party will take these away, much like they did to his dad in the past)
  • Everyone else — 4% or less, all lost at the upcoming state conventions

Going Forward

The Iowa caucuses, in and of themselves, will not directly affect New Hampshire.  On the Democratic side, Bernie will trounce Hillary.  If Bernie wins Iowa, combined with New Hampshire, that will have a momentum effect on Nevada (third up for the Democrats). It won’t have any effect on South Carolina which will follow Nevada a week later, as Hillary is poised to win very big there.

On the Republican side, the order is different: New Hampshire, then South Carolina and finally Nevada. These can, in certain ways, be considered truly independent events since the electorate is so different in the four states.

Since I’m sure there are lots of you who disagree with my numbers, please put your projections in the comments and in 18 days, we’ll all know.

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