Bernie Sanders Lost A Shocking Iowa Caucus By A Nose In 2016. He Was Down Only 0.2%. How Will Things Go This Time? He Could Win Big With A Little Strategy

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.

The Truth About Announcement Bumps Is That They Fade Over Roughly Two Months. Bernie Sanders Cruised High In Morning Consult For 5 Weeks Before Starting His Slide Just Before Joe Biden Announced. Biden Has 3 Weeks To Go.

Elizabeth Warren announced her exploratory committee on December 31st, 2018. She was polling at 3% two weeks before that in Morning Consult. Below are her weekly polls for 7 weeks:

Week Vote Share Change
Jan 4-6 4% 0%
Jan 7-13 11% 7%
Jan 14-20 11% 0%
Jan 21-27 9% -2%
Jan 28-Feb 3 9% 0%
Feb 4-10 8% -1%
Feb 11-17 8%% 0%
Feb 18-24 7% -1%
Feb 25-Mar 3 7% 0%

Elizabeth Warren then got 7, 8, 8, 8, 8, 7, 9, 8, 8, 9, 9, 10 in the following 12 weeks.
Kamala Harris announced her candidacy on January 21st, 2019. She was polling at 6% in the Morning Consult poll that ran from the 14th to the 20th. Below are her weekly polls for 7 weeks:

Week Vote Share Change
Jan 14-20 6% 0%
Jan 21-27 11% 5%
Jan 28-Feb 3 14% 8%
Feb 4-10 13% -1%
Feb 11-17 11% -2%
Feb 18-24 10% -1%
Feb 25-Mar 3 11% +1%
Mar 4-10 10% -1%
Mar 11-17 8% -2%

Kamala Harris then got 8, 8, 9, 9, 8, 7, 7, 8, 8, 7, 7 in the following 10 weeks. Kamala’s later small drop appears to coincide almost perfectly with Warren’s small rise but this isn’t conclusive.

Bernie Sanders announced his candidacy on February 19th, 2019. He was polling at 21% in the Morning Consult poll that ran from the 14th to the 20th and had polled at 21% and 22% in the previous two weeks. Below are his weekly polls for 7 weeks:

Week Vote Share Change
Feb 11-17 21% 0%
Feb 18-24 27% 6%
Feb 25-Mar 3 27% 0%
Mar 4-10 27% 0%
Mar 11-17 27% 0%
Mar 18-24 25% -2%
Mar 25-31 25% 0%
Apr 1-7 23% -2%
Apr 8-14 23% 0%

Bernie Sanders then got 24, 22, 19, 19, 19, 20, 19 in the following 7 weeks.

We see that Warren went up 7 and dropped 4 in her 9 week cycle. Harris went up 8 and dropped 6 in her 9 week cycle, and Sanders went up 6 and dropped 4 in his 9 week cycle.

Harris went down 1 later and and Warren went up 3 later and Bernie went down 4 later. Some of this is complicated by them not being in the same place on the cycle. Stopping the results a week earlier has Bernie down 3 and Warren up 2 while Harris is stable.

In any case Warren was in her 3rd post announcement week when Harris announced Harris was in her 4th post announcement week when Bernie announced. Bernie was in his 9th/10th post announcement week when Biden announced.

There is some variability in announcement bumps or what you consider an announcement. Elizabeth Warren technically announced her campaign on February 9th, in which case she dropped was stable, dropped 1 for a month, went up 1 in a month, and then went up another in the next month.

Pete Buttigieg announced his exploratory committee on January 23rd, 2019 and remained totally flat at 0% for a month until he hit 1% in the Feb 18-24 Morning Consult survey. He had no pre-announcement poll numbers for obvious reasons and didn’t hit 1% outside of Morning Consult until Change Research did a poll on March 8-10 2 weeks later. He officially announce on April 14th when he’d been polling 3-11% in the previous couple weeks. In Morning Consult specifically he had polled 5% and 7% in the week weeks prior to his official announcement and he polled 9% and 8% the following two weeks. Biden announced in the middle of the 8% poll knocking Pete down to 6% and then down to 5% in the next poll.

While this was all happening Beto had announced on March 14th, 2019. He had been steady around 7% for a month or two prior to announcing and he hit 8% for about 6 weeks before Biden announced. He had dropped to 6% in the poll prior to Biden announcing because Buttigieg had just announced.

Buttigieg was at 8% in the poll Biden had announced in the middle of and 6% in the next poll while Beto was at 5% in both. All the candidates were essentially steady in the 2 polls full after Biden announced. Beto dropped to 4% and Warren rose from 8% to 9% in the next poll. Buttigieg was up from 6% to 7% while Harris dropped from 8% to 7% while Sanders gained one and Biden lost one. Finally in the poll that came out Monday Biden was steady, Bernie dropped 1, Buttigieg and Beto were steady at 7% and 4% respectively, and Warren was up 1 to 10 while Harris was steady at 7%. That’s where we are now.

Change from peak:

  • Biden -2
  • Bernie -8
  • Warren -1
  • Harris -7
  • Buttigieg -2
  • Beto -4

Its relevant to note that Biden was polling anywhere from 29 to 35 while Bernie was peaking. Biden had polled from 27% to 33% prior to Bernie announcing. This probably reflected the announcement of 3 major candidates, and lots of speculation about Biden and Beto boosting awareness of the race, which advantaged Biden as the candidate with the highest name recognition. Beto had been polling around 6%-8% during this period.

Here are the changes from the polls prior to any candidates announcing, as Warren was the earliest major candidate to announce a campaign or exploratory committee on December 31st, 2018.

Morning Consult Small 700 RV Sample December 14-16:

  • Biden +13(25%)
  • Sanders +4(15%)
  • Warren +7(3%)
  • Harris +4(3%)
  • Buttigieg +7(N/A)
  • Beto -4(8%)

Morning Consult Medium 4750 RV January 7-13:

  • Biden +7(31%)
  • Sanders -4(23%)
  • Warren -1(11%)
  • Harris +0(7%)
  • Buttigieg +7(N/A)
  • Beto -4(8%)

These actually give pretty wildly different results. Warren can be explained by her announcement but Biden has done way worse and Sanders as well compared to the December poll. Beto and Buttigieg are the same and Harris does worse here as well. A very mixed bag. The first Morning Consult Large 14000+ RV sample is pretty much identical to the medium sample.

Harry Enter lists the October polling average overall as almost identical to the current early June numbers but Morning Consult doesn’t have a poll back that far.

In any case its clear that Warren and Biden are in the best spot right now in relative terms as far as their bumps and their polls before anyone announced. Biden went up 10% and has no dropped back down to 8%. He had the largest bump of any candidate. However, Biden announced 41 days or roughly 6 weeks ago. He still has 3-5 weeks to drop both on his curve compared to other candidates and before the June debates in roughly 3 weeks.

To The California Shore: Here’s How Bernie Sanders Could Plausibly Get 42% Of The Vote And 60% Of The Delegates In The Golden State And Set Off A Political Shockwave

Bernie Sanders And The Fifth Early State

The Democratic primary includes 57 states and territories with a total 3768 pledged delegates. To win the nomination in the first round you need 1885 of those delegates. Then the super-delegates don’t get a say. 416 of those delegates are up for grabs in California, almost double the next state, Texas, and accounting for 11% of the delegates overall, down from 14% in 2016. Because California goes so early in the race, with voting starting on the same day as the Iowa caucus, its effectively an early state. Its also by far the most expensive state and its a huge hurdle for campaigns who will not yet have had a break out media moment by doing well in one of the smaller traditional early states.

Bernie Sanders has signed up 400,000 volunteers, has 250,000 donors, held 1000 kickoff events, and plans to spend at least $25 million dollars in California during the primary. That means that, based on turnout for 2008 and 2016 of roughly 5 million voters both times, 8% of voters have pledged to volunteer for Bernie and 5% have donated money. No other candidate is even close. California accounted for 14% of the voters in 2008 and 17% in 2016. Its a massive and expensive state usually handled by a deluge of TV ads. Its going to be almost impossible for other candidates to spend as much money in California as Bernie Sanders, much less equal his volunteer operation.

Bernie Sanders And The 15% Solution

The Democratic primaries operate on proportional allocation. Every congressional district receives a share of pledged delegates that will be awarded to candidates who get greater than 15% of the vote in the state. California has 53 congressional districts and 272 pledged delegates by district. Some districts will receive more delegates than others, though all will be worth at least 4 delegates. There are an additional 90 at-large delegates allocated among candidates who receive 15% or more of the statewide total and 54 PLEOs, basically at large delegates but the slots are reserved for party officials, who are required to pledge to a candidate when they apply.

Delegates at the district level are allocated by a simple formula:

  • Remove the votes of candidates under 15%
  • Calculate the new vote share
  • Multiply the % shares by the number of delegates
  • Round the values to whole numbers
  • Record whole number delegates
  • Award delegate to candidate with highest fractional remainder

4 Delegate District:

Candidate Vote Share Adjusted Fraction x 4 Whole
Bernie 40% 57.2% 2.28 2
Biden 15% 21.4% 0.86 1
Harris 15% 21.4% 0.86 1
Other 30% 0% 0 0

5 Delegate District:

Candidate Vote Share Adjusted Fraction x 5 Whole
Bernie 40% 57.2% 2.86 3
Biden 15% 21.4% 1.07 1
Harris 15% 21.4% 1.07 1
Other 30% 0% 0 0

We can see from these models that depending on the district there are different cutoffs for delegates once you account for non-qualifying vote share. The math is below for two candidates:

Delegates 1 2 3 4 5 6
4 15.00% 37.50% 62.50% N/A N/A N/A
5 15.00% 30.01% 50.01% 70.01% N/A N/A
6 15.00% 25.01% 41.67% 58.34% 75.01% N/A
7 15.00% 21.43% 35.72% 50.01% 64.29% 78.58%

The math starts to get a lot more complicated as you add more candidates because the % cutoff to get the highest fractional share starts to change.

Bernie Sanders And The 60% Super-majority

As we discussed in the previous section, due to the 15% threshold not only do small margins often add up to big benefits, but you will almost always win a larger % of delegates than your vote share, assuming you are above 15% state wide. California is effectively an early state which means that most of the candidates will still be actively campaigning or on the ballot when the majority of the votes are cast. While many candidates will be at 1% or less, with 24 candidates those votes add up. It’s very plausible to see statewide numbers where 30% or more or more of the votes will be set aside.

Here’s the polling in California so far:

Poll Bernie Biden Harris Warren Buttigieg Other
Change 23 30 15 12 12 8
Change 22 21 19 8 9 21
QPolls 18 26 17 7 7 25
Change 20 26 26 7 1 20

The share of votes among qualifying candidates is 72, 61, 62, 67. An average of 34.5% of votes are excluded. Now obviously things can change as the election draws near but its hard to say how much of the vote will be to qualifying candidates for sure. While its possible that some of the *Other* votes move, whether from undecided or weak candidates, it could easily move in a way that kept the 4th and 5th or even 3rd candidate from qualifying. We’ll use these numbers for out analysis.

Essentially every % of the vote is multiplied by 1.5 in this case. If we assume that Bernie gains ground we can use a hypothetical result of:

  • Bernie 40%
  • Biden 25%
  • Harris 12%
  • Warren 10%
  • Buttigieg 8%
  • Other 5%

This would give us delegate split of:

  • Bernie 62%
  • Biden 38%
  • Other 0%

Of course if 2 other candidates qualify Bernie can get a maximum of 54% of the delegates with 34.5% of the votes not qualifying. He could still win pluralities with 3 candidates qualifying. 30% of the delegates with 25% of the vote for instance. Of course he could also get 30% and get 40% of the delegates if 75% of the votes were for qualifying candidates. There’s a lot of ways it could shake out. We could see Bernie at 40% and 2 other candidates at 20%, awarding him 50% of the vote. He could break 65% by getting 50% of the vote with 20% of the vote to non-qualifying candidates. Indeed as we discussed earlier if he got efficient vote share margins at the district level he could actually do even better than the numbers using statewide totals would suggest.

You can see what the delegate allocation was for each district in 2016 and view the final results here.

Its Not Called The Golden State For Nothing

California is a massive state. I talked about how 5 million people voted in both of the last two presidential primaries in California. 8.5 million voters voted for the Democrats in those general elections. 12.5 million voted over all. California has roughly 25 million eligible and 19 million registered voters for 2020. Not only can Bernie reach the 2.4 million people who voted for him in 2016, but polling says that 14% of Clinton voters nationally now support Bernie. 46% of his voters from 2016 currently support him. He only needs 45% of the vote to get 60% of the delegates. There is a massive pool of voters out there who have never voter in the primary election.

If every person who has already volunteer to work for Bernie were to hit 100 doors and no one hit the same door that would be 40 million doors. There are 40 million people in California and they don’t all live in one person housing. Similarly only 25 million are eligible to vote. I hit more than 1000 doors in Iowa and Missouri in 2016. Its very plausible to average 800 doors per volunteer when you account for super volunteers. If you speak to someone 25% of the time that is 80 million voter contacts. That number is supported by reporting by 538 as being accurate: https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/voter-contacts/

Even if turnout is very high in 2020 you will likely only need 4 million votes to win 60% of the delegates. Bernie has 400,000 volunteers so far. He has 1.2 million people currently planning to vote for him according to polls. So he needs about 2.8 million more votes at the higher end. So 3.5% of voter contacts, or 1 in 28, need to result in a new supporter. Of course this is lowered by TV spending and online work and individuals talking to friends and family.

Assuming a 40 door sheet and 10 contacts per sheet each volunteer, using 400,000 as our total, would need to walk 20 sheets to hit the goal. We have roughly 8 months, or 32 weeks before the votes are in in California. I’ve walked as many as 3-4 routes a day but 2 might be more plausible for a weekend. That’s actually 64 sheets, or 3.2x as many as needed. Of course not every volunteer can walk every week. So 20 per volunteer is pretty reasonable. This is all envelope math and I’m sure a pro would absolutely reject this level of volunteer activity. The campaign would have to carry the weight for this to be successful.

The amount of money for ads and staff support and rallies and events is immense, hence the heading on this section. $25 million? Personally I’d prefer $40 million but it depends on how much people are willing and able to contribute. Even with a solid app for canvassing vs clipboard management the data entry implications are enormous. You also need to manage the different situations in urban vs suburban plus rural canvassing. You can knock on a lot more doors in 8 hours in the city or the inner ring suburbs than you can in the exurbs or the rural areas.

Conclusions

I had previously set my delegate target for California at 35% of the delegates. However because Bernie has so much early support and the field is so crowded with 7 candidates polling above 1%, there’s a lot more of a chance for vote total reduction. A lot of candidates are planning to rely on early state victories and momentum to boost their chances in California. Warren is behaving this way and Castro has outright stated that that is his plan.

That is incredibly unlikely to be effective for low name recognition candidates because of the massively front loaded primary schedule. The 4 delegate richest states this year account for 1087 delegates which is 29% of the total as of the current primary allocation. 863 of those are delegates are available on Super Tuesday when the polls close on California, Texas, and Florida. 34% of all delegates will be awarded by the end of Super Tuesday. Another 23% of delegates will be awarded by March 17th.

With 57% of all the delegates awarded 6 weeks after Iowa votes, the race will be all but over. The Democrats have done Bernie Sanders a huge favor and they don’t even know it. In the end Bernie has about a 30% chance to hit 60% of the delegates in California. That’s the same chance Donald Trump had to become president. It all comes down to volunteer organization and campaign leadership. California might cast its shadow over the 2020 primary, but that just means Bernie Sanders and his volunteers, 400,000 now and probably more by the time Iowa begins to vote, will walk the block in the shade.

The Problem With Polling: What Polling Can And Can’t Tell You 8 Months Before The Election, Why Polls Are Too Few And Too Small, How Mainstream Media Abuses Them, And What It All Means For Bernie(He Is Actually Doing Pretty, Pretty, Pretty Good)

Why The Polls Are Too Few And Too Small

Aside from Morning Consult no pollster is consistently polling the race with sample sizes high enough to allow us to visualize the volatility of the primaries. The the case of the primaries where we have very few historical data points and limited polling among an extremely inconsistent electorate requires sample sizes in the 800-1000 range to handle margin of error.

We see this in a lot of the 538 B- to A+ rated pollsters. Monmouth and Quinnipiac are running sample sizes in the 300-500 range and the sub sample volatility is very high. In a field with a huge number of candidates this is a problem. Bernie went from 13% white and 7% non-white to 13% white and 21% non-white in only a month, moving his vote share from 11% to 16%. As few as 10 voters out of 100 could shift the numbers like that. It’s just not very reliable. And of course I haven’t even talked about the sample weights.

Several pollsters are massively over-weighting older people in the voting sample relative to the 2016 exit polls and which polls did well. This is especially true when you consider pollsters that are not universities or who have polls not commissioned by major media outlets. Now media commissioned polls are a bit too old also but its not comparable to groups like Tel Opinion Research or Optimous. These polls are heavily boosting Biden because of the age weighting. Conversely online polls and polls with younger samples like Emerson and Change Research are much less confident about Biden’s numbers.

Another important factor is that the polls are super inconsistent in timing and frequency. Poll averages will totally ignore this. Running daily or weekly averages makes no sense when you might only get one non-Morning Consult poll a week. We also see how the media will often spin. Reporting lately has Bernie falling in the polls but actually he is gaining. They are focusing on results from polls that did not poll right before or right after Biden launching. So they are playing catch up. Fox and Monmouth are good examples. But when we look at Quinnipiac or Morning Consult or even Harris we can see what’s happening.

How The Mainstream Media Misreports The Polls

Media content courtesy of: https://twitter.com/greg06897
Videos and images of events discussed in this section can be found here with corresponding IDs: https://electingberniesanders.net/media-inaccuracies-benefitting-biden/

The mainstream media consistently fails to report relevant data from polls besides the top lines. They will hunt around and search for the sub sample data that makes Bernie look bad and they’ll report different data from different polls to maintain the illusion. Many people believe the media does this on purpose but it is also possible they are simply compelled by their biases.

There are several documented cases of MSNBC reporting incorrect poll numbers on their graphics. Typically something like a + or – switched in the trend line or accidentally swapping a sub sample data point for the wrong one which happens to move Biden ahead of Bernie.

Examples:

  • The Washington Post published a graphic of a poll they commission with unprompted support for candidates. [54% No Preference|13% Biden|9% Sanders|5% Buttigieg|4% Harris|4% Warren|3% Beto] Their graphic had Biden’s bar at 31% and no one noticed.
  • MSNBC had a graphic on screen showing support from non-white voters for Bernie and Biden. The real result was 27% Bernie for the poll and 25% Biden. They somehow used Biden’s 28% from whites with no degree on the graphic and talked about him being ahead.
  • MSNBC, on Meet The Press, had a discussion of Bernie, Biden, and Warren support in 3 recent polls. They described Biden as gaining in 2 out of 3 and Bernie falling in all 3 while Warren grew. However they had switched a +5 in the Quinnipiac for Bernie to a -5.

In the 3rd example they also engaged in a bit of a shady practice. The only poll where Biden dropped, the same poll they reversed Bernie’s trend on, was the only poll that had had results both before and after Biden announcing. The other two polls had only had a poll prior to the announcement. This is indicative of the ignorant, or malicious if you want to go there, way in which the press discuss polls. There were several major polls which had polled before and after Biden announcing and had a third, recent, poll right before the show. These would have accurately reflected Biden’s current trend.

How The Media Cherry Picks Sub Sample Results To Hurt Bernie

Another major issue with media coverage, which you can explain by unconscious bias or conscious maliciousness is the way in which the media addresses sub-sample results. Both on Twitter and on TV the media will select the pro-Biden data to make Bernie look bad.

You can see this a lot from Nate Silver, Harry Enten, and others on Twitter. Let’s look at Quinnipiac since we know they screwed up on that one before. Bernie went from 15/8 Men/Women to 16/16. On White/Non-white he went from 13/7 to 13/21. He gained +5 in the poll. In the first poll these numbers got a lot of attention. What did they talk about in the second poll? How there was a question about how much attention you pay to the campaign and Biden was doing well among people who paid a lot and Bernie among those who paid little.

The pre-announcement poll in March was 29/19, post announcement 38/11, most recent 35/16. Warren went from 4 to 12 to 13. Beto went 12 to 5 to 2. Harris 8 to 8 to 8. Buttgieg went 4 to 10 to 5. They only talked about Warren. In fact this is another error they made. They said it was Warren’s first poll in double digits and she gained on Bernie. In fact she gained one but Bernie gained 5. She had led him 12 to 11 in the previous poll. Jennifer Rubin made the same error. Additionally Warren had broken double digits in the Emerson poll, which was actually Bernie’s best poll. 33/25/10. Harris also got 10. Warren broke 10 in Monmouth as well released a day later.

Bernie has trended upwards since Biden announced, when the last major round of polls was taken. However he was portrayed as losing ground to both Biden and Warren. On average Bernie actually gains in tandem with Warren, she doesn’t appear to damage his vote share.

Both on TV and on Twitter you will only tend to see sub sample results from whatever poll is the worst for Bernie.

The Polls Have Been Remarkably Stable Since March

Month Bernie Biden Margin
March 25.0%(+0.0%) 31.4%(+0.0%) -6.4%(+0.0%)
March 24.0%(-1.0%) 29.6%(-1.8%) -5.6%(+0.8%)
April 19.4%(-4.6%) 29.8%(+0.2%) -10.4%(-4.8%)
April 22.6%(+3.2%) 30.6%(+0.8%) -8.0%(+2.4%)
April 21.6%(-1.0%) 28.0%(-2.8%) -6.4%(+1.6%)

Bernie Has Been Climbing In The Polls Since The Week After Biden Announced

Month Bernie Biden Margin
Announcement 14.6%(-7.0%) 41.4%(+13.4%) -26.8%(-20.4%)
May 16.0%(+1.4%) 36.2%(-5.2%) -20.2%(+6.6%)
May 19.0%(+3.0%) 35.6%(-0.6%) -16.6%(+3.6%)
May 17.2%(-1.8%) 34.2%(-1.4%) -17.0%(-0.4%)

Bernie has actually been rising in the polls for the last 3 weeks. Biden peaked May 9th and after that began a fast slide. Biden is 6.2% above his lowest point and still on a downward trend. We’ll have a new Morning Consult in 4 days. CNN is due to come out soon. Harris puts out a constant stream of polls for different groups. They have like 4 streams of polls.

Bernie has gained 2.6% since the polls that came out right after Biden announced. Biden has fallen 7.2% since his peak. The margin has therefore closed 9.8%. Bernie is still 4.4% off his peak while Biden is 6.2% on his low. He has not lost support but consistently gained every week. Don’t expect to see this data in the mainstream media. It is relevant to note that the last two sets of 5 polls are from the same week and Emerson was in the first set.

Interpreting The Polls And Understanding Polling Trends And Sub-Samples

One significant thing I haven’t covered yet is that a lot of the ways the media, even traditional polling experts, cover the polls is a big mistake and a misunderstanding of things. There are several key things to know. Polls typically have some sort of house bias. You should be looking at the trends between polls by the same pollsters and not the average trend. Looking at sub samples is fun and sometimes useful but its tricky with small sample sizes. Let’s do details.

Most polls have some sort of built in sample bias. Basically the pollster is weighting for certain groups they believe they have some reason to consider more likely to vote. Even with my particular way of grabbing a poll average over time you have to deal with the fact that outlier polls can cause the average to swing quite a bit. Emerson Polling, Change Research, and Morning Consult are more favorable to Bernie, in that order. Quinnpiac, CNN, and Monmouth tend to be less favorable, in that order. McLaughlin, Harris, and Ipsos tend to give lower results for Biden and Sanders both. One specific stream of the Harris poll is very friendly to Biden. Morning Consult also tends to have higher numbers for both Sanders and Biden.

These house biases in the polls can cause what seem to be wild swings and unsophisticated media pundits often get caught up. An Emerson poll followed by a Quinnipiac poll would have a huge spread. This was especially the case around Biden announcing because Emerson came right before that and Quinnipiac right after. Bernie went from 29 to 11 if you looked at those two polls. Biden went from 24 to 38. That’s a 32 point swing. If you used the very Biden favoring Harris polling stream the swing would have been 40%, as Harris polled Biden at 46. However if you looked at Emerson before and Emerson after, while acknowledging Emerson was a week after the best Biden polls, Bernie dropped 4 and Biden went up 9. Similarly, Morning Consult had +10 and -5, as did CNN. Quinnipiac had +9 and -8, while Harris had a similar larger change. But none of the polls swing 32-40%.

Sub samples are often small and quite unreliable. This can even alter overall results. Bernie went from 13 and 7 to 13 and 21, a 5% top line swing, in Quinnipiac. Seems very unlikely his white support stayed the same and his non-white support went so wild. In the table below of gender and race sub samples from polls that provided them you can see that his drop was from 13 and 25 before that. That white support is implausibly consistent especially during Biden’s announcement when every other poll had significant differences. In contrast Emerson had it at 27 and 30 to 22 and 28. Their March poll was 25 and 29. His white support rose as he rose, then dropped as Biden announced. I expect it will go back up when Emerson polls again in a week or two.

Conclusion

Bernie was closing the gap right until Biden announced and he took a big hit after that happened. Biden is quickly losing that bounce and Bernie is regaining ground. The polls actually haven’t moved that much if you compare them to the results at the tail of 2018 except that Buttigieg is up and Beto has fallen. The truth is that aside from announcements not a lot has happened and its still early. Debates are a month out. Realistically things are just about to start getting interesting.

Now that we’ve established that Bernie is actually in decent shape I’m going to be writing a long series on the groups he needs to win big with and what he can do to get real movement among them. Those groups include liberals, progressives, leftists, young voters, women, working class whites, African American voters, Hispanic voters, and climate voters. Of course many of these groups overlap.

Extra Tables

Bernie Does The Best With Non-White Voters And He Is Almost Even By Gender

Pollster Date White Non-White Black Hispanic Asian Native Other
Harris C+ May 23-25 13% 18% 14% 21% 11% -% 28%
Emerson B+ May 10-13 22% 28% 35% 22% 19% -% -%
Harris C+ May 8-13 15% 28% 19% 5% 21% -% -%
Morning Consult B- April 21 – May 5 19% 24% 20% 27% 23%  30% 28%
Emerson B+ April 11-14 25% 33% 29% 38% 34% -% 28%
Emerson B+ March 17-18 25% 29% 35% 16% 45% -% 27%

National Race And Gender Vs Total March To May

Pollster Date Total Men Women White Non-White
Harris C+ May 23-25 15% 13% 16% 13% 18%
Change C+ May 16-20 22% 21% 14% 24% 19%
Monmouth A+ May 16-20 15% 20% 12% 15% 16%
Quinnipiac A- May 16-20 16% 16% 16% 13% 21%
Fox A May 11-14 17% 19% 15% 18% 14%
Emerson B+ May 10-13 25% 24% 25% 22% 28%
Harris C+ May 8-13 20% 20% 20% 15% 28%
McLaughlin C- May 7-11 19% 21% 17% 16% 24%
Quinnipiac A- April 26-29 11% 15% 8% 13% 7%
Morning Consult B- April 21 – May 5 21% -% -% 19% 24%
Monmouth A+ April 11-15 20% 22% 19% 15% 27%
Emerson B+ April 11-14 29% 25% 34% 27% 30%
Quinnipiac A- March 21-25 19% 22% 17% 13% 25%
Emerson B+ March 17-18 26% 23% 30% 25% 29%
Monmouth A+ March 1-4 25% 25% 23% 30% 21%

Nation Polling Results And Average By Month, With And Without Morning Consult

February Polls:
Monmouth: 16
Morning Consult: 16
Morning Consult: 22
McLaughlin: 16
Emerson: 17
Morning Consult: 21
Morning Consult: 27 (First post announcement poll)
Harris: 22
Average: 19.6%
Without MC: 17.8%

March Polls:
Morning Consult: 27
Monmouth: 25
Harris: 19
Morning Consult: 27
Morning Consult: 27
CNN/SSRS: 20
Emerson: 26
Change Research: 24
Fox News: 23
McLaughlin: 17
Morning Consult: 25
Quinnipiac: 19
Harris: 17
Average: 22.8%
Without MC: 21.1%

April Polls:
Harris: 18
Morning Consult: 25
Harris: 19
Morning Consult: 23
Morning Consult: 23
Emerson: 29
LA Times: 16
Average: 21.9%
Without MC: 20.5%

The 50 State Strategy: The Greater And Core South

I divide the South into two sections. The Greater South and the Core South. While the Greater South technically contains Texas, Florida, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and certain other states, I omit them as they are covered in other sections. I have the delegate target tables for Core and Greater Southern states below:

The Greater South: 398 Delegates

State Delegates Bernie’s Target Date/Format
North Carolina 110 55%+ (61) March 3rd/Primary
Virginia 99 45%+ (45) March 3rd/Primary
Maryland 79 50%+ (40) April 28th/Primary
Tennessee 64 60%+ (38) March 3rd/Primary
Kentucky 46 70%+ (32) May 19th/Primary

The Core South: 297 Delegates

State Delegates Bernie’s Target Date/Format
Georgia 105 35%+ (40) Unknown/Primary
South Carolina 54 35%+ (19) February 29th/Primary
Alabama 52 30%+ (17) March 3rd/Primary
Louisiana 50 35%+ (17) March 7/Primary
Mississippi 36 40%+ (14) March 10th/Primary

As we can see the Abridged Greater South contains 695 total delegates which is 18.4% of all delegates. We included one early state, South Carolina, in the Core South. That leaves 658 delegates remaining in the states not covered if we don’t include Iowa and New Hampshire which got their own post. That does include Nevada. I have Bernie at 216/398 delegates in the Greater South, an average of 54%. I have him at 107/297 delegates in the Core South, amounting to 36%.

This puts him at 323/695 delegates overall in the South, an average of 46.47%, slightly ahead of the average he needs. The South is his worst area even though I’ve set targets well ahead of his 2016 numbers. Well perhaps you could argue that the 4 largest states are slightly worse for him, but not by much. Bernie needs 596 delegates and he gets 323 here, putting him at 273 to go. Considering that the remaining states are pretty good for him compared to the South, he is looking good in my model.

The major thing Bernie needs to do to get to his delegate targets in the 18 small states and the South is be frank and open. He needs to start each speech talking about his plans in the other part of the country so he can’t be misunderstood or accused of dishonesty. Directly tell voters what he plans to do for others, before getting to his plans for them. Explain in each place how this ties together to win him the election and flip Congress so he can actually pass legislation.

Bernie needs to spend a lot of time in the overall South. He has to talk to people, hold rallies, and have people on doors. He can’t afford the perception that was created, unfairly or otherwise, last time that he was focusing on northern and white states. He has the cash, and if you follow my post about the 100 days he spent in Iowa and NH last time, the time, to go national. His greatest chance for error is hitting Iowa and NH hard at the expense of more important states. He’ll do well there regardless. He needs to get out into the wider country. Especially if he wants to win the general election. The South is a major part of that.

The 50 State Strategy: Getting 70-100% Of Delegates In Small States

Below I have listed the total delegates, and my targets for Bernie, for the 18 smallest states, excluding Mississippi, Nevada, and New Hampshire, and adding Oklahoma. This is a total of 399 delegates, roughly identical to California’s total. These states account for 10.68% of total delegates. I have listed the targets in terms of delegates and not the popular vote. Delegate results can vary wildly from the popular vote depending on who fails to break 15%.

State Delegates Bernie’s Target 2016 % Date/Format
Oklahoma 37 80%+ (30) 55.3% March 3rd/Primary
Kansas 33 80%+ (26) 69.7% Unknown/Caucus
Arkansas 31 60%+ (19) 31.3% May 19th/Primary
Utah 29 70%+ (20) 81.2% Unknown/Caucus
New Mexico 29 70%+ (16) 47.1% June 2nd/Primary
Nebraska 25 80%+ (20) 60.0% Unknown/Primary
Maine 24 80%+ (19) 68.0% Unknown/Caucus
West Virginia 24 80%+ (19) 62.1% May 12th/Primary
Hawaii 22 80%+ (18) 68.0% Unknown/Caucus
Rhode Island 21 80%+ (17) 54.2% April 28th/Primary
Idaho 20 80%+ (16) 78.3% Unknown/Primary
Delaware 17 80%+ (14) 42.9% April 28th/Primary
Vermont 16 100% (16) 100.0% March 3rd/Primary
Montana 16 100% (16) 52.4% June 2nd/Primary
Alaska 14 100% (14) 81.3% Unknown/Caucus
North Dakota 14 100% (14) 72.2 Unknown/Caucus
South Dakota 14 100% (14) 50.0% June 2nd/Primary
Wyoming 13 100% (13) 50.0% Unknown/Caucus

If you do the math you see that I have Bernie’s target at 321 out of 399 potential delegates. That’s almost exactly an average of 80%. This would be equivalent to winning 77.25% of delegates in California. Getting 80% in these 18 states is actually far more plausible than scoring 77% in California. Bernie is assured of 100% in Vermont for one thing. There will be basically 0 competition in any of these states, perhaps excepting Delaware for obvious reasons. 7 states have caucuses which are a huge boost for Bernie, especially in a wide field.

The most significant factor in Bernie’s chance to hit these states hard is volunteer time and cash. If he gets started early in these states and articulates his strong positions on rural issues and plays up being from Vermont he will be unstoppable. A majority of the other candidates will be scrambling for votes in early states while Bernie already has immense power in Iowa and New Hampshire, and even perhaps Nevada. His rivals will not have the time or money to branch out and, Biden aside, they will not have much demographic or policy pull in these states.

Bernie can pick up 8.52% of the total delegates with the numbers I’ve set for his targets. That is 17% of the total he needs to win. That puts him way ahead of any other candidates. A 13% lead in a 1 v 1 race, as the remaining 78 delegates are 4% of the total needed to win. The advantage gained here can counter poor numbers in other competitive states. For instance if Bernie was to average 40% of the delegates in California, Texas, New York, and Florida, 1087 total delegates, against an opponent who hit 60% of the delegates, he would be behind 217 delegates. But he would have a net lead of 243 delegates from these 18 small states. That would put him at a combined lead of 26 delegates.

The 18 small states and 4 largest states account for 1486 delegates, 39.44% of the total. As noted in the previous post on medium to large mid west states, that is another 861 votes. That brings our total to 30 states and 62.28% of the delegates. With his net 26 delegates from the 18 and 4 states and a net of 205 delegates from the 8 medium to large states he sits at 231 net delegates. This means he only needs 596 or 41.94% of the remaining 1421 delegates to win. The remaining 21 states, counting Puerto Rico and the 4 early states, will be discussed in a future post.

The 50 State Strategy: Berning The Midwest

Below are the 8 states in the Midwest or Great Lakes regions that are not covered under other posts about delegates. Some states are in the 20 Smallest States post, or the Early States posts.

The states below account for 861 delegates or more than 20% of all delegates. As you can see Bernie would need to average ~62% of the delegates, gaining 533 delegates here to win. I use delegate percentages and not popular vote percentages because with so many candidates and the 15% rule its hard to deal with weird results.

State Delegates Bernie’s Target 2016 % Date/Format
Illinois 155 55%+ (85) 49.4% March 17th/Primary
Pennsylvania 153 60%+ (92) 43.9% April 28th/Primary
Ohio 136 60%+ (82) 43.4% March 10th/Primary
Michigan 125 65%+ (81) 51.5% March 10th/Primary
Minnesota 77 65%+ (50) 59.7% March ?/Primary
Wisconsin 77 65%+ (50) 55.8% April 7th/Primary
Indiana 70 70%+ (49) 53.0% May 5th/Primary
Missouri 68 65%+ (44) 49.3% March 10th/Primary

Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, and Illinois all come early in the process, withing 2 weeks of super Tuesday. This allows a decent chance for wasted votes meaning Bernie could score less than 62% of the total votes and still get the 62% of delegates he needs to win nationally.

Emerson polling has a great result for Bernie in Wisconsin:

http://emersonpolling.com/2019/03/17/wisconsin-2020-bernie-sanders-leads-democratic-field-trump-competitive-in-general-election/

Candidate Vote Share
Bernie 39%
Biden 24%
Warren 14%
Beto 6%
Harris 5%
Klobuchar 4%
Booker 2%
Other 6%

If, though its unlikely, these were the actual results Bernie would get 62% of the delegates, or 48. This is slightly below his target but totally acceptable.

California+Texas+New York accounts for 868 delegates, almost identical to the total for these 8 medium states. Sanders could get ~38% in those 3 states and he would end up with almost exactly 50% of the vote.

There are 3768 pledged delegates this time around. That means a win of 533 delegates in the 8 aforementioned states accounts for ~14% of the total of pledged delegates. Or ~28% of the delegates Bernie needs to win. With ~38% in CTN, that is another 330 putting Bernie at ~23% of total pledged delegates and ~46% of delegates needed to win. He would need 1022 more delegates.

As we can see Bernie needs to do very well in this medium to large Midwest/Great Lakes states to win the nomination. He has some room to improve here, especially if his campaign is smart. As I discuss in my Iowa/New Hampshire piece, Bernie could coast in those early states and spend the 100 combined days he spent there in these states, and 2 more, perhaps Oklahoma and Colorado, states voting on Super Tuesday.

10 days in each of these states instead of camping the early states could easily lead to gains of a few hundred delegates vs spending time in Iowa. These 8 states, not to mention the two others he could pick, account for roughly 20x the delegates in Iowa and they will be only lightly contested. No other campaign will have the cash or volunteer canvassers so early in the process to hit hard in these states.

A 5% gain in these 8 states is worth a whole New Hampshire and a 10% gain is a whole Iowa. If Bernie averaged 67% instead of 62% that would be an extra 2.5% of his total delegate requirement to win. Hitting 72% would put him 5% closer. With the minimal amount of opposition, whether cash or canvassers, Bernie has so much room to grow in states that receive little to no attention in a typical race. Compare with Iowa where individual citizens have met 100+ candidates in their lives and been to 800+ events. Most people in Missouri have personally met 1-2 candidate if that and been to maybe 8-10 events if they have been involved for 40 years.

Another key factor is that people remember where candidates campaign. If you campaign hard in the Midwest and Great Lakes in the primary, that is worth a lot to many voters in the general. Obama lost Missouri to McCain by 1%. Most Democratic candidates come here once or twice. Imagine a candidate spending 10-15 days here doing 20-40 events. Especially in mid sized towns vs STL and KC and maybe a rally as Mizzou. Further there are regional effects. Campaigning heavily in surrounding states impacts Iowa and New Hampshire. Bernie need to run an outside the box primary campaign to signal that he is serious about his outside the box plan for the presidency.

 

The 50 State Strategy: Iowa And New Hampshire Are For Newbies

Candidate Attention Is a Valuable And Scarce Resource

Its very important to understand that the vast majority of states do not get a lot of candidate money or attention. I have met people in Iowa who have gone to 80 events a campaign season for 10 seasons, which is 40 years of events. 800 events meeting 100 candidates over that time. Iowa and New Hampshire arguably get more campaign events and candidate visits than the entire rest of the country. Add in the other early states, Nevada and South Carolina, and this is definitively true. These states are supersaturated, every 4 years with ad cash candidate time and canvassing. A dollar goes a lot farther on Montana or Utah or Wyoming, or even Missouri or Alabama or Kentucky, than it does in one of these states.

Bernie needs to win pluralities in Iowa and New Hampshire to be on pace to get 50% of the vote and prevent a contested convention but he doesn’t need to win outright there. His policies are popular in these states, all the voters are aware of him, and he has huge ground operations there. Given his 100 days and 40 million dollars invested in these states combined a smart candidate would distribute that time and money elsewhere in 2020.

Spending Time In Iowa Is Overrated For A Front Runner Who Is Assured Of 20% Of The Vote

10 days each in Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Oklahoma would be worth far more than 50 days in Iowa. 44 delegates vs 414 delegates. These are mostly bigger states that cost more to run ads in but, as we discussed, ads are a low quality option for a front runner with massive on the ground support. 10 days is approximately 20 events, compared with the 3 or 4 events leading candidates engaged in in Missouri in 2016. Missouri only had offices for 2 weeks and yet Bernie almost won. Bernie needs to win these states with around 60% of the delegates, ~50-55% of the vote, to win nationally. Going from 50% of the delegates to 55% is 21 delegates.

These 5 states will be relatively uncontested in 2020 just as they were in 2016. Sanders won or barely lost these states against the united power of the Clinton Democratic party. They all have favorable demographics for him as well. All of them but Oklahoma border on Iowa as well so his efforts will bleed into the news there. There is a decent amount of regional correlation such that he will get an indirect boost in Iowa.

New Hampshire Is Just As Oversold As Iowa

Bernie could spend his 50 New Hampshire days in Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Connecticut and Delaware. These were all good states for Bernie besides Maryland and they account for 275 delegates to 24 from New Hampshire. Aside from perhaps Warren in Massachusetts these states will not be heavily contested. Harris and Booker will focus in the South, Castro in the Southwest, and maybe Klobuchar in the Midwest and Mountain states. Warren is his biggest issue in the Northeast. Ideally she gets out before Super Tuesday but if she doesn’t take a big hit in Massachusetts, where she did not significantly outperform the state fundamentals in her Senate election, would be very helpful to get her to a post Super Tuesday exit.

Massachusetts and Maine border New Hampshire, which is why Boston mayor Marty Walsh was a big surrogate for Hillary in New Hampshire in 2016, while Connecticut is one state away. These states have a basic regional affinity as well. A 5% boost in these states, vs spending the same resources in NH where you are competing against a dozen candidates, is worth 14 delegates. Realistically to have a 14 delegate lead in NH you’d need 60% of the vote in a super competitive state.

First In Last Out Isn’t Just For Programming

One thing most people don’t consider is that when you are the first on the air and on the ground you can build positive engagement without worry about negative attacks coming at you. The first mover bonus as far as demonstrating commitment to voters is large, and you get to define the terms of the fight. Voters will look at where you campaign in the primary and also compare that in the general to see if you are authentic and sincere in your actions.

Bernie could arguably gain a boost in delegates greater than the total delegate count of Iowa and New Hampshire by competing in surrounding states that typically receive little attention. Every candidate has the same number of days to allocate to the race. There is a huge advantage in strategic use of your time. If all the other candidates are blowing time, and cash, in the same state, that will split a lot of the vote. When you have a core level of support in every single state sufficient to break the 15% threshold, you have a ton of options as far as where you spend time which opponents with weaker support and minimal national name recognition don’t have.