There has been a ton of hype about Iowa recently so I thought I would dig into things a bit for my fellow Bernie supporters. Iowa is very unique even compared to Nevada, the other early caucus state. I spent weekends in the fall and winter of 2015 and later a full week right up to the caucus in Iowa. We stayed in supporter homes. The best one was a fabulous 2 story house right near our campaign office in Davenport. The couple there had also house Obama supporters in 2008. They lead wilderness tours on Kodiak Island in Alaska so we fit like 7-10 people in various rooms in there house before the caucus. One early weekend the wife was there and she made everyone a great breakfast.
We mostly worked in the quad cities, Bettendorf and Davenport on the Iowa side. We met the old mayor at the Blackhawk, ate in a really nice family diner, went to a local farmer’s market, and canvassed around the area. I’ll get into this at the end so people can skip right to the votes and the delegates and the eventual Bernie landslide.
Bernie Sanders was carried by a massive youth vote margin in 2016. The 2008 caucus saw Obama winning 57% of the 22% of 239000 voters, ~30000 total, who were 18-29, with John Edwards at 14%, 7500 voters, and Hillary Clinton and Bill Richardson at 11% and 10%, both roughly with 5000 votes. Bernie Sanders got 26000 votes, 84% of the 18% of the 171500 voters who were 18-29 with Hillary Clinton getting 14% for a total of 4350, her percentage share being exactly 1/6 of Bernie’s. There were roughly 57% of the voters in the 18-29 age group in 2016 as there were in 2008. There were 20% less voters overall in 2016 compare to 2008. This was largely a factor of media hype and the belief that the race wasn’t truly competitive.
The race is likely to be far more competitive and with a far higher turnout in 2020. Not only is Bernie back, but Clinton is out of the race and several candidates who are more youth friendly are involved. Yang, Gabbard, Warren, Sanders, Harris, Castro, Beto, and even Buttigieg have their own draws with young people. Turnout will also be higher over all. Without Obama in the race and the related media hype its not clear turnout will hit 2008 levels, as least in Iowa, but Trump is a strong motivator and the Republican primary is unlikely to be very relevant, freeing up voters to dive into the Democratic prairie fire.
Bernie Sanders has a strong potential campaign in Iowa though it’ll be a few months before we’ll know if he lives up to it. Sanders touts a figure of 25000 volunteers, which actually refers to digital signups on a form on his website. But he at least has 25000 supporters, which is a minimum 10% of the vote in the bag right now. Using 2016 numbers its 14% of the electorate. Based on his recent polling that means that his results cover a spread from every single Sanders voter has signed up to volunteer according to 2016 numbers and the DMR or 40% of them signed up using 2008 numbers and the Iowa Starting Line poll. The media would be ablaze about those numbers for any other campaign.
Going by the lower end of the spread Bernie would need each of his volunteers to bring in a single family member to be safely over the viability threshold at 20%. 2 family members or friends would put him pretty damn close to a plurality win at 30%. With lower turnout the numbers would be 29% for one family member and 43%, assuredly a victory, with only 2 family members or friends. And this relationship tree is only one tier deep. If we look at each current signup recruiting a friend to volunteer the numbers start to get wild, although there is likely enough overlap that people would start bumping into their Dunbar’s number and associated statistic limitations. Let’s be realistic.
Iowa has a population of 3 million. To hit every door once each volunteer, accounting for voter contact percentages, would need to do roughly 10 walk lists. However Sanders has voter data not only from the DNC database, if he chooses to buy it and abide by the limitations and rules, but his own 2016 data. Possibly he knows what door to hit to reach 45000 of his 85000 or so 2016 supporters when you account for people moving, dying, and so forth. He also knows where many of Clinton’s supporters lived.
Given that 125000 voters is a majority win and 45000 is a likely plurality win, Bernie is in good shape. Because Iowa is a caucus, even with its new digital events, its march harder to rely on candidates not making the threshold to lower voter counts. In early primarily you might be able to write of 20%-25% of all votes, making your job much easier. In caucuses voters have a few chances to realign as candidates fail to make the threshold, though some people choose to drop out for various reasons.
Iowa has a very complex caucus system. Delegates are awarded at the district level, then the county level, then the state level. The party has committed this time to award delegates national delegates at the district level, to avoid the drama from working the results at the later levels that happened in 2008 and 2016. I was a Missouri volunteer but I did weekend trips to Iowa with Missouri groups and we did a full week up to the caucus and then we did caucus support as well. Driving voters and observing the caucus itself. It was a mess.
Districts awarded anywhere from like 4 to like 14 delegates. So even if you broke 15% you don’t always necessarily get delegates. It will be pretty much the same this time. However in 2016 delegates would go on to more levels of caucusing and you could often end up not making viability at a higher level and the results would get even weirder. By the time the delegates to the national convention were decided people were really riled up.
In any case its very critical in the Iowa caucuses to not piss off the supporters of other candidates because you really want people to swap to your side. In the 2016 caucus I observed most of the O’Malley people joined the Sanders supporters because of their feelings about Clinton personally, and the way Clinton and Sanders and their supporters interacted with O’Malley and his supporters.
Hillary had a plan in 2016 according to her campaign emails to snuff Bernie out early and this did not work. Iowa is very resistant to a campaign coming in with famous and powerful politician surrogates. They seen Senators from all over, candidates, and of course all the eventual presidents. Bernie worked the state and flooded it with volunteers and calls, and got boosted by ABC, anyone but Clinton, voters. Bernie was closing in the polls before he won Iowa but his almost victory put the fear into Clinton’s campaign, especially when he followed it up with a smashing win in New Hampshire.
Regardless of what the polls say Bernie is not facing prohibitive odds, even as you assess his 16-24% share in the polls against his 49.6% loss in 2016. There’s no Barack Obama in this race, much less a Hillary Clinton. Biden has lost here without even getting a single delegate multiple times. Warren is a danger but the other candidates are not. Because of the small scale of the caucus Bernie has the volunteer support to his nearly every potential voter. He needs 10 walk lists completed per current volunteer to reach every person in the state. But to reach likely and even unlikely caucus goers its more like 2 or 3. He just needs to give them something unique to say when they get there.
Volunteering in Iowa is a unique political experience. Its one thing to walk your own streets talking to neighbors, its quite another to go to a different state where you know little of the landmarks, the history, etc. I canvassed several different places in 2016. There was a campaign office on Federal Street, if I’m not mistaken, inside a much larger building from some now defunct business. It had vending machines up a few floors, and sadly bathrooms as well. The office was just a single suite of rooms on the ground floor. It was run by two women, Hannah, and I think Gretchen? I can’t be sure of the second name. Hannah was a kindergarten teacher from Alabama or something I think. The details weren’t super important to me at the time and its been years.
The first place I ever canvassed was a suburban set of neighborhoods where all the streets had dear names. The fact that I was so anxious my first time canvassing in a strange city makes it easy to remember the details. Our driver headed back to River Dr, which sort of becomes State Street as you cross into Bettendorf, and we stayed on it till we hit Devil’s Glen Rd. The area we went to was between Devil’s Glen and Hollow View park. The streets I canvassed on were Fawn Lane, White Tail Drive, Deer Trail Road, Antler Court, Deerbrook Drive, Deer Ridge Court(bit of a theme going on), Deer Brook Drive, Tree Line Drive, Streamside Drive, Briar Court, Ashford Road, Plum Tree Road, and a few more but this is getting unwieldy. In fact the similar street names were very confusing at the time.
A bunch of this was just standard white suburbia but there was a large number of immigrant families, maybe from India, who spoke great English but almost universally refused to talk about politics with us. We had trouble with our radios and google maps and a few things but we canvassed in pairs to make us seem safer and help accustom new people. Several volunteers had been a few times before. This was the first place I, and the retired teacher I was canvassing with, ran into Republican voters who said if its Bernie vs Trump or Cruz we’ll vote for Bernie, because those guys are scum, but we just can’t vote for Hillary. Trump won Iowa by 10% in the general election although Scott County, where we canvassed, went to Hillary by 1.5%. She lost Clinton County directly to the north by 5%. Although this didn’t become clear till later, Bernie won Davenport by 99 votes, although I think on the night he lost the delegate fight. He also won Clinton County. Fun fact: Of the roughly 9 Clinton Counties I was aware of in 2016 Bernie won them all.
Another canvass was in East Davenport. This was an incredibly hilly inner ring suburb style neighborhood at from a satellite office in East Davenport somewhere near Jersey Ridge and Kirkwood. One of our first houses turned out to be where one of the higher level guys on the Hispanic outreach team was staying and we all had a laugh about the campaign sending us there. We canvassed on Fulton Avenue, Glenwood Avenue, Hillcrest Avenue, Edgewood Terrace, Ridgewood(hillay area as I said) Avenue, down to McClellan Boulevard, River Street, and then up east to Kenwood Avenue and Hillcrest Avenue again, and Middle Road up by McKinley Elementary. I believe I also had houses on Forest Road, Essex Lane, and Fernwood Avenue. It rained hard that day and the little flimsy paper and plastic gift bags they gave us to carry our materials and clipboard basically dissolved on me. That was rough. We didn’t have MiniVan in Iowa like we eventually did in Missouri.
I canvassed several more neighborhoods around this area but I won’t drag on. Iowa was interesting if the dogs, the “We don’t call 911” and “Don’t beware of dog, beware of owner” signs, and the guns, didn’t phase you. Some of the more rural/suburban mix areas were pretty interesting. Also several very new developments. One of those on caucus day, was where I knocked around 11 AM and a man opened the door and started screaming about people always waking him up. I’d be mad, too, since the area was flooded with discarded Carly Fiorina literature.
We met, as I said, the old Mayor at the Blackhawk one night when people were done and looking for something to do. A load of like 20 Missouri people were there and we kept him busy talking for a few hours. He was pretty cool and a Bernie supporter that year, he talked about previous campaigns he had been active for. We went to a sports bar, which I would otherwise never be at, and freaked out a waitress due to a long running gag about Tony and his cocaine.
I got to meet Bernie Sanders twice. Once we went up on a special unscheduled trip because he was visiting the main area campaign office we volunteered from. Everyone had to do one or two walk lists to earn entry. It was a volunteer only speech and of course every one of the 100 or so people there had a phone out to record. Still have my recording.
Afterwards me and a girl who came with her boyfriend and their friends from rural Missouri were interviewed by a French reporter. Or he tried to interview us. She was nervous and kept looking at me instead of the camera as she tried to talk about how an hour in Iowa was worth 100 hours doing anything else. While that may be true for more obscure candidates I think Bernie is better spreading his time and money out. He was in Iowa for 50 days in the last campaign and spent $20 million there. They ended up leaving that interview in B roll. Or maybe C roll.
The second time was a scheduled trip. It was a public event but volunteers got in early if they completed another 2 walk lists. I think this was the rainy day when our bags dissolved and our walk sheets were almost, but not quite, ruined. Bernie Sanders and Bill Clinton held dueling rallies in ball rooms downtown. Rally size was almost a tie around 1500 for both. In line we met a man who had met 80 candidates and been to 800 events, roughly, over 40 years. He really loved to dig in to the politics. Cornel West gave a great speech first, and then Bernie came on. He did handshakes but you could see him visibly hating it. No calls for “anyone who wants a selfie” to “come on up” in the 2016 campaign. This was famously lampooned on SNL in Larry David’s “Bern Your Enthusiasm” parody when Bernie created a minor scandal because he rejected a cough and shake.
Davenport had a lot of interesting stuff. Many volunteers hit the bars after canvassing. This caused a big host snafu when a guy came back drunk and tried to inflate his air mattress at 1 AM. I kept telling him to suck it up and just sleep but he was drunk and grumpy. I was on the couch. His inflation sounded like a jet engine and our host was not pleased. We went to a really nice farmer’s market at the Freight House and ate at the restaurant there.
The majority of people in Iowa don’t scream at you or tote pistols. They are so used to campaigns that they’re super nice about it. My phone died once on a canvass and a Clinton supporter and her Republican husband helped me make a call and charge it a it. The husband was from St. Louis and he wanted to open an STL style restaurant so we talked about food while I waited to get picked up. Toasted ravioli, gooey butter cake, etc.
I’m not sure if the campaign should be bringing out of state volunteers this time, when they could have them organizing their own states and getting ahead of the game with their cash advantage, but if you do get a chance to go to Iowa to canvass its definitely a great experience. And Bernie needs to be first or second there.