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Mayor Pete’s The One To Beat

October 16th, 2019

Iowa. Iowa. Iowa.

I keep repeating it, because it’s important. The winner (and potentially the runner up) in Iowa define the primary process. After Obama won Iowa in 2008, he saw his national polling pop more than twenty points. In a crowded a Democratic field in need of much culling, the winner’s pop could be even greater. (Simply: there are a lot of 2% candidates whose supporters will need to find new homes after they get null delegates in Iowa.)

And what’s going on in Iowa?

Well, in the last couple of days we’ve seen a couple of polls and they show one candidate surging. And that candidate’s not Elizabeth Warren.

First there was a YouGov poll last week (where the fieldwork started before Bernie’s heart attack) and that showed:

Biden 22% (-7%)
Warren 22% (+5%)
Sanders 21% (-5%)
Buttigieg 14% (+7%)

And then yesterday there was a Firehouse/Optimus poll:

Warren 25% (+2%)
Biden 22% (-1%)
Buttigieg 17% (+10%)
Sanders 5% (-6%)

The pattern from both this polls is the same: Warren and Buttigieg are on the rise while the old white men are in decline. If Sanders really is polling in single digits in a primary he won in 2016, then he will surely leave the race post Iowa.

Now, one of the curious things about Iowa is how it works. The 15% bar at the precinct level means that it is almost like an alternative vote system. Say you turn up to vote for Harris (and sit through prepared remarks and discussions for a couple of hours in a draughty church hall), but it’s clear that she won’t make the 15% mark, and your vote will be wasted… Well, then you look around for your second choice, and see if they’re well represented.

This is where organisation matters. This is retail politics at its finest. Successful candidates’ organisers cajole and persuade the newly undecided to join their groupings.

Three candidates, I would forecast, will leave Iowa with meaningful numbers of delegates: Warren, Biden and Buttigieg. The polling has Buttigieg as being very transfer friendly, which will benefit him. He also has by far the most built up ground organisation in Iowa (with Warren a little behind, and then Biden a long way behind). In many rural counties, there’s a Buttigieg office, and that’s it.

This means that Buttigieg will, I suspect outperform his poll ratings. And I suspect Biden will continue to fade. Sanders is out the race. He just doesn’t realise it yet.

So, what does that mean for Iowa? I think the delegates split something like:

Warren 40%
Buttigieg 40%
Biden 20%

(Yes, I know the numbers seem high relative to polling. That’s because most of the candidates will get zero delegates and those voters have to go somewhere.)

This means that the 15 on Buttigieg on Betfair to be the Democratic nominee is too skinny; ditto the 29 on 2020 President.

(PBers should know that I will be visiting Iowa for the first time next month. I will make sure I share my findings.)

Robert Smithson