Joe Biden’s Projected Victory in South Carolina Will Not Stop Bernie Sanders’s Surge

After poor showings in Iowa and New Hampshire, former Vice President Joe Biden argued that he would do better in states with more diverse electorates. His subsequent second-place finish in the Nevada caucuses supports his claims, but Bernie Sanders’s commanding victory has prompted many South Carolinians to give the Vermont Senator another look. Will Biden’s South Carolina firewall hold? Could his campaign change its fortune and find a way to win the nomination?

After poor showings in Iowa and New Hampshire, former Vice President Joe Biden argued that he would do better in states with more diverse electorates. His subsequent second-place finish in the Nevada caucuses supports his claims, but Bernie Sanders’s commanding victory has prompted many South Carolinians to give the Vermont Senator another look. Will Biden’s South Carolina firewall hold? Could his campaign change its fortune and find a way to win the nomination?

Polling data indicates Biden will win the South Carolina primary. The current RealClearPolitics polling average estimates that the vote will be fragmented between Biden (34%), Sanders (22%) and Steyer (14%). The rest of the field will probably fail to clear the necessary 15% of the vote needed to win a portion of the state’s 54 pledged delegates.

Can a Biden victory in the Palmetto state thwart Sanders’ momentum? It is unlikely in the short term for at least four reasons.

First, even if Biden outperforms his polls, a win will not affect Sanders’ frontrunner status. Biden’s bounce will be tempered by the fact that the Super Tuesday primaries will be held four days after South Carolina’s primary. Sanders’s lead in the national polls is so big that it is difficult to see how Biden will be able to close the gap in such a short time.

Second, The New York Times reports that Biden’s campaign is not on the ground in many of the Super Tuesday states, while Sanders has established an impressive ground game. At stake are 35% of all pledged delegates distributed along 15 contests, including primaries in California and Texas. While the Sanders campaign wants to win the South Carolina primary, its goal for the last weeks has been to win a majority of the pledged delegates on Super Tuesday. Current polls show that Sanders is leading in California and Texas. A big win in South Carolina could help Biden cut down Sanders’ small lead in Virginia and North Carolina, but given California’s 416 pledged delegates and Texas’s 228 all eyes will be on the other two states.

Third, the Biden campaign entered 2020 with the “least amount of cash on hand”. To secure a victory in South Carolina, the campaign has spent over $1 million in advertising in the state. This may explain why it is only spending a modest “six figures” on television commercials on Super Tuesday states. In comparison, Sanders has spent close to $14 million in these states. Biden has even been outspent by former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, who have spent $1.6 million and $3.5 million respectively on advertising in these contests.

Fourth, Sanders has won 45 pledged delegates and Biden is in third place behind Buttigieg (25) with 15 delegates. The FiveThirtyEight Democratic Primary Forecast predicts that Sanders will win 14 of South Carolina’s delegates to Biden’s 32. To be sure Biden will celebrate his first victory, but Sanders will still be frontrunner. And once the vote is counted after Super Tuesday the margin between both candidates will widen in Sanders’s favor.

In the long term, a victory in South Carolina may boost the Biden campaign’s finances and help it craft a post-Super Tuesday game plan. Even if Klobuchar were to win her state’s caucuses on Super Tuesday, which is not guaranteed, it is unlikely she will be able to raise enough money to stay in the race. Buttigieg faces a similar predicament. As the field of candidates narrows and future primaries include more diverse group of voters, Biden will have an opportunity — however improbable — to frustrate Sanders’s presidential aspirations.

Biden’s most immediate obstacle is not Sanders, but the state of his campaign’s finances. To add insult to injury, former New York City Mike Bloomberg and Tom Steyer, the California philanthropist, are both using their personal wealth to finance their campaign and their messages appeal to Biden’s core supporters — moderates and African American voters. If Biden fails to consolidate his support among these voting groups in the next weeks, it will be difficult, if not mathematically impossible, to close Sanders’s lead.

Biden will win the South Carolina Democratic primary. And while a “win is a win”, this victory will have a pyrrhic quality to it. Biden has spent so much time and resources protecting his firewall that his campaign has been unable to mount a serious effort to stop Sanders’ momentum or to win a majority of the pledged delegates in the Super Tuesday contests.

Did Mike Bloomberg’s Poor Performance on the 9th Democratic Debate Stalled His Momentum?

On February 25, 2020, Mike Bloomberg will participate in his second Democratic primary debate in Charleston, South Carolina. After his poor performance in the 9th Democratic Debate on February 19 in Paradise, Nevada, this could be a defining moment in the race.

While he will not be participating in South Carolina’s Democratic primary, the debate will be held a week before Super Tuesday, when 15 states, including California and Texas, will hold their primaries and the eight candidates will compete for 34% of all the pledged delegates.

How bad was Bloomberg’s performance in the Nevada debate? Recent evidence suggests that his momentum has stalled. This does not mean that Bloomberg is out of the race. But his path to victory may be more difficult if he has another lackluster performance in the upcoming debate. 

Before we look at two metrics that show Bloomberg’s decreasing popularity, it is important to point out that more than 33 million saw the debate. To put this figure in perspective, 11 million viewers watched each of the previous two debates.

Bloomberg’s Polling Averages

Before the Iowa caucuses, Joe Biden enjoyed a big lead in the polls, followed by Bernie Sanders. Biden’s centrist positions appealed to many Democrats but weak showings in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary raised questions about his electability and his long-term viability. 

Unsure about Sanders’ progressive policies and as a reaction to his growing popularity, many Democrats see Bloomberg as an alternative to Biden, Pete Buttigieg or Amy Klobuchar.

The following graph charts Bloomberg’s increasing popularity before the debate and also his decreasing support after. The gray vertical line depicts February 19, 2020  —  the date of the Nevada Democratic Debate. 

While his support has dropped, it is important to note that only two nationals polls were conducted after the debate. The survey conducted by CBS News/YouGov estimates his support at 13%. The Morning Consult/Politico Poll conducted before and after the debate indicates that Bloomberg’s support fell from 20% to 17%. To be sure, these two polls do not represent a trend, but they do point out that Democrats are questioning his electability.

Bloomberg’s Social Media Followers

In a post I wrote after the New Hampshire debate, I explained why political campaigns are trying to grow their social media followings. 

When I started to track Bloomberg’s following on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at the end of November 2019, he had 2.3 million followers on Twitter and 233,891 on Instagram. Facebook provides us two measures: Page Likes and Page Follows. He had 762,190 page likes and 766,443 page follows.

Today, his Facebook measures are 891,955 and 933,644 respectively. He currently has close to 2.7 million Twitter followers and 420,262 on Instagram. 

The next graph measures the change in followers for each social media network. The gray line depicts February 19, 2020  —  the date of the Nevada Democratic Debate. 

We can clearly see sharp drops in the number of followers on Facebook and Instagram after February 19, 2020. The decrease in Twitter is less pronounced, but still noteworthy.

Can Bloomberg Regain His Groove?

While Bloomberg’s momentum has stalled, he has an opportunity to right the ship. Sanders’ overwhelming victory in the Nevada caucuses has rattled the Democratic Party’s leadership. Many moderate Democrats are still searching for an alternative to Sanders.

However, Elizabeth Warren’s attacks during the last debate undermined his credibility among women, Latinxs and African Americans. It is difficult to see how Bloomberg can win a majority of pledged delegates in the Super Tuesday contests without the support of these three voting groups. This is why a strong performance in the upcoming South Carolina debate is critical.

Three Numbers From New Hampshire’s 2020 Primary That Should Give Democrats Heartburn

I have been thinking a lot about the presidential elections. Could President Donald Trump win reelection? 

The newest national poll conducted by Emerson College has Trump beating all his Democratic rivals by slim margins. The exception is Bernie Sanders, who beats Trump by 2%. The recent ABC News/Washington Post survey has better news for Democrats as all the potential nominees beat Trump by a few percentage points. An USA Today/Suffolk University Poll from December 2019 finds that Trump wins by healthy margins if respondents are asked to choose between Trump, one of his Democratic rivals, and an unidentified third-party candidate. 

Seen through the lens of this November’s presidential elections, the results of the New Hampshire primaries offer Democrats three warning signs.

15%

Many of New Hampshire’s voters are registered as independents. The state’s Democratic primary is semi-closed. The exit polls that 52% of primary-goers this year are Democrats, 45% are independents and the rest were Republicans. 

New Hampshire may be once again a battleground state and in a tight election, its four electoral college votes could make a difference for either side. Thus, both parties need to attract independents, while energizing their base. This is not always an easy balance as efforts to increase one group of voters could dissuade the other group from turning out. 

The exit poll for the Democratic primary asked primary-goers if they would “vote Democratic in November regardless of nominee”. And 15% of respondents said “No”. More worrying, 27% of these respondents are Sanders supporters and 22% voted for Buttigieg. This means that around 10% of the state’s Democratic primary-goers could potentially either vote Republican, support a third-party candidate, or stay at home. 

-6%

Young voters part the Democratic Party’s coalition and in the past the Sanders campaign has energized this voting bloc. In 2016, the exit poll for the New Hampshire Democratic estimates that 19% of primary-goers were between the ages of 18–29. Sanders won 83% of these voters’ support.

The exit poll for the 2020 New Hampshire Democratic primary indicates that turnout among this voting group declined by 6%. Sanders won 47% of this vote, which is in line with our expectations. We see a similar pattern in this year’s Iowa Democratic caucuses. Voters ages 17–29 represented 13% —  a drop of 15% from 2016. Like in the Granite State, 47% of these young voters supported Sanders. 

Sanders argues that the only way Democrats will beat Trump is by expanding the electorate and obviously he believes that he is in the best position to do it. Will young voters, who are more diverse than older Americans, turnout in big numbers come November?

129,461

According to Dante Scala’s calculations, New Hampshire’s Democratic primary broke the 2008 voter turnout record. This is good news for Democrats, especially given the lower than expected voter turnout in the Iowa Democratic caucuses. 

Trump may be the incumbent, but he was still in the ballot in New Hampshire’s Republican primary. Unsurprisingly, the president won 88% of the vote. What was surprising was the estimated 146,896 Republican and independent voters, who participated in the primary.  

Why does this matter? Read the table carefully.

This year’s voter turnout may have not matched 1992 levels, but Trump won a bigger share of the vote than the other incumbent presidents, including Reagan!

Does this mean that Trump will win in November? Not necessarily. But Trump’s margin of victory is higher than other incumbent presidents, who successfully won re-election.

These three numbers — 15%, -6% and 129,461 — should give Democrats something to think about as they select their nominee and get ready for the general election.

Could President Donald Trump win reelection? The newest national poll conducted by Emerson College has Trump beating all his Democratic rivals by slim margins. The exception is Bernie Sanders, who beats Trump by 2%. The recent ABC News/Washington Post survey has better news for Democrats. All the potential nominees beat Trump by a few percentage points. An USA Today/Suffolk University Poll from December 2019 finds that Trump should win by healthy margins if respondents are asked to choose between Trump, one of the main Democratic candidates, and an unidentified third-party candidate.

Seen through the lens of this November’s presidential elections, the results of the New Hampshire primaries offer Democrats three warning signs.

15%

Many of New Hampshire’s voters are registered as independents. The state’s Democratic primary is semi-closed. The exit poll estimates that 52% of primary-goers this year were Democrats, 45% were independents, and the rest were Republicans.

New Hampshire may be once again a battleground state. In a close election, its four electoral college votes could make a difference to either side. Thus, both parties need to attract independents, while energizing their base. This is not always an easy balance as efforts to increase one group of voters’ participation could dissuade the other group from turning out.

The exit poll for the Democratic primary asked primary-goers if they would “vote Democratic in November regardless of the nominee” and 15% of respondents said: “No”. 

More worrying, 27% of these respondents are Sanders’ supporters and 22% voted for Pete Buttigieg. This means that around 10% of the state’s Democratic primary-goers could potentially vote for Trump, support a third-party candidate, or stay at home.

-6%

Young voters are integral part the Democratic Party’s coalition. The exit poll for the 2016 New Hampshire Democratic primary found that 19% of primary-goers were between the ages of 18–29. Sanders won 83% of these voters’ support.

The exit poll for the 2020 New Hampshire Democratic primary suggests that turnout among this voting group declined by 6%. Sanders won 47% of this vote, which is in line with our expectations. We see a similar pattern in this year’s Iowa Democratic caucuses. Voters ages 17–29 represented 13% — a drop of 5% from 2016. Like in the Granite State, 47% of these young voters supported Sanders.

Sanders argues that the only way Democrats will beat Trump is by expanding the electorate and obviously he believes that he is in the best position to do so. So far, Sanders’ candidacy has not increased voter turnout among this group. Will young voters, who are more diverse and progressive than older Americans, turnout in big numbers in November? 

129,461

According to Dante Scala’s calculations, New Hampshire’s Democratic primary broke the voter turnout record set in 2008. This is good news for Democrats, especially given the lower than expected voter turnout in the Iowa Democratic caucuses.

Trump may be the incumbent, but he was still in the ballot in New Hampshire’s Republican primary. Unsurprisingly, the president won 88% of the vote. What was surprising was the estimated 146,896 Republicans and independents, who participated in the primary.

Why does this matter? The next table shows that Trump’s victory should not be taken lightly. 

Even though he did not face a serious challenge from Bill Weld, the former Massachusetts Governor and the Libertarian Party’s former vice presidential nominee in 2016, the Trump campaign was able to energize and mobilize their supporters. This year’s voter turnout may have not matched 1992 levels. However, Trump’s share of the vote is bigger than Reagan’s share!

Does this mean that Trump will win in November? Not necessarily. But the figure above shows that Trump’s victory is in line with the performance of other incumbent presidents who successfully won re-election.

After the New Hampshire Primary: Who is Leading the Democratic Race for the 2020 Presidential Nomination?

In this year’s Democratic presidential nomination, the candidates will compete for the support of a majority delegates in 57 contests — the 50 states, the District of Columbia, the five unincorporated territories and Democrats Abroad. There are two types of delegates: 3,979 pledged delegates and 771 automatic delegates, more commonly known as superdelegates. The last contest will be held in the U.S. Virgin Islands on June 9, 2020. 

Who is leading the Democratic race now? The simple answer is that the candidate who has won the most pledged delegates is in the lead. But, at this time, this is not a great measure. Iowa is re-canvassing some of its vote and New Hampshire’s “first-in-the-nation” primary only represents 0.6% of the pledged delegates. 

Assuming Iowa’s first count was correct and adding the New Hampshire primary’s results, Pete Buttigieg enjoys a narrow lead over his rivals. 

Even though we should not dismiss Buttigieg’s strong performance, Iowa’s and New Hampshire’s populations are not very diverse. Polling data indicates that he has not connected with African American and Latino/a voters. This is a problem for Amy Klobuchar too. We need to question their long-term ability to win the necessary 1,990 pledged delegates to clinch the nomination. 

Bernie Sanders’ support among non-White voters seems to be higher than in 2016, but there are still questions whether he can broaden his coalition. Joe Biden’s and Elizabeth Warren’s poor showings in New Hampshire have raised questions about their electability. And then there is Michael Bloomberg’s self-funded campaign, which is gaining traction in national polls. 

Until Super Tuesday, when 15 states hold their primaries representing 34% of the available pledged delegates, we should pay little attention to the delegate count. At this time, national and state polls are a better measure of who is leading the race. Figure 2 summarizes the candidates’ polling averages for the last few weeks. 

Looking at these trends closely, we can see three important patterns. First, as Sanders’ popularity increases, Warren’s decreases. It looks like he is consolidating the progressive vote at her expense. Second, Biden’s declines are matched by the rise in Bloomberg’s and Buttigieg’s support. While Klobuchar did win a surprising third place in New Hampshire, her performance has not really affected her popularity at the national level. Thus, we can assume that moderate voters are divided. Finally, the last polls show that Buttigieg’s surge seems to have stalled. 

Because I think that social media matters in political campaigns, we should also consider the number of people following the candidates’ Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. Figure 3 provides the percentage increase in followers in the three platforms from January 20, 2020, to February 14, 2020. 

The graph shows why Warren and Biden should be concerned. These numbers also suggest that Bloomberg is doing the best, followed by Buttigieg and Klobuchar. But, it is important not to exaggerate their growth in followers. While Sanders’ numbers are not as strong as some of his rivals, he has the most followers — as Table 1 shows. But, as Bloomberg spends more on television and online advertisings, we should expect that he will gain more followers.

Similarly, Buttigieg’s strong performance in Iowa and New Hampshire as well as Klobuchar’s surprising third place in the Granite State has boosted their number of social media followers.

Which of these measures is the best to determine who is leading the race for the Democratic presidential nomination? At this time, polling data is the best. But metrics on candidates’ social media followings can help us contextualize the race. Sanders is clearly in the lead and strong performances in Nevada and South Carolina will further cement his lead. But Bloomberg’s rise in the polls and social media reminds us that this race is just starting, a problem for Buttigieg, who leads — for now — the count of pledged delegates, but nothing else.

Could Candidates’ Visits to New Hampshire Indicate Who Will Win the Democratic Primary?

Introduction:

In the last Democratic Debate, Joe Biden noted in regards to his fourth place finish in the Iowa caucuses and his chances of winning the New Hampshire primary: “I took a hit in Iowa and I’ll probably take a hit here. Traditionally, Bernie won by about 20 points last time, and usually it’s the neighboring senators that do well.” In 2016, Hillary Clinton’s surrogates dismissed Bernie Sanders’ victory as “a matter of geography”. These statements are problematic in two levels. 

First, in 2020, Bernie Sanders is not the only candidate from New England in the race. While Clinton did not win the primary in 2016, she pulled off a surprise victory in 2008. Thus, she should have been able to compete against Sanders in 2016. Second, these views are an insult to New Hampshire voters’ intellect. Primary-goers proudly study the candidates’ positions very carefully, they expect candidates to spend a lot of time answering their questions, and they usually make-up their minds late in the game.

In this post, I will look at the candidates’ campaign events in the Granite State, especially those events that took place after the Iowa caucuses. To try to gauge the popularity of these events, I tap on data collected on each candidate’s Facebook page, which includes information on the number of Facebook users (i.e. guests) who demonstrated an interest in many of these events. 

The Data:

I scraped the data on campaign events from the NECN’s 2020 New Hampshire Candidate Tracker. I cross-referenced each event with the list of event indexed in the candidates’ Facebook page. I then collected the number Facebook users who said they would attend these events. 

It is important to add two caveats at this point. The Facebook “event guests” data does not represent the total number of people that attend an event. I suspect that the number of attendees is higher as the candidates use many tools to advertise their events. I use these data to help us make sense of each candidate’s support in Facebook. Second, the events listed in the Candidate Tracker are not included in some candidates’ Facebook pages. In these cases, I relied on the NECN’s reporting to construct my dataset.

My dataset also classifies each event into different types, including “town halls”, “rallies”, “speeches” and so forth. Although this analysis will not use these data points, the dataset includes specific information of the venues that hosted these events and the time of day. 

Who Will Likely Win the Primary?

Before we start our analysis, the RealClearPolitics average indicates that Bernie Sanders will more than likely win the primary. Pete Buttigieg should place second, while Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, and former Vice President Joe Biden compete for third place. The rest of the field is in the single digits. 

Given this forecast, we should expect that the leading candidates organized more events than the weaker ones. But this is not the case. Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who is expected to receive around 3% of the vote, held 126 events since she announced her candidacy last year. Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, who is likely to get less than 1% of the vote, held 82 events.

It is worth highlighting that the Biden campaign organized only 42 events in New Hampshire since April 2019. This is the lowest number of appearances for one of the major contenders in my dataset. 

Rather than looking at all of New Hampshire’s campaign events, I focus on those events held in January and February of this year. In addition, given their low polling average, this does not include events for the following candidates: Bennet, the philanthropist Tom Steyer, and former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick.

Total Number of 2020 Campaign Events Per Candidates:

The next figure summarizes each campaign’s events for January and February 2020. In line with the figures above, Yang and Gabbard organized more events than their counterparts. For Gabbard, a poor showing in New Hampshire will more than likely end her presidential hopes and it may explains why she devoted some much time and resources in the state. 

Yang’s long-term prospects are better than Gabbard’s but it is not clear why he organized so many events. The polling average suggests that he will win around 4% of the vote. Does his internal polling suggest he receive a higher share of the vote?

Geographical Distribution of 2020 Campaign Events:

The next map shows that most of the events were held in the counties bordering Massachusetts, were the majority of the state’s residents live. More specifically, 76 events were held in Hillsborough County, where the city of Manchester is located, closely followed by 30 events in Merrimack County and 24 in Rockingham County. The candidates did not visit Coos County this year, though several candidates held events in this part of the state last year. 

In the last days of the primary, the candidates concentrated most of their time and resources in Manchester and Concord. This following bar graph shows that Yang visited many of the listed towns and cities. The same applies to Buttigieg, Sanders and Klobuchar. In contrast, the Biden campaign prioritized more densely populated communities over rural areas. It indicates that the former vice president may have difficult connecting with rural voters. 

Which Candidate Held the Most Events in February?

Most of the candidates participated in at least two events per day. The exception is February 7, 2020, as most of the candidates used this day to prepare for the debate. As expected, the majority of campaign events since the Iowa caucuses took place in the last days of the race. 

Yang appeared in 28 events, while Sanders had 22 and most of these took place in the last three days of the race.

Main types of campaign events and their popularity:

Town halls are the most popular type of campaign events in my dataset. The events labeled as “speech” include events or forums, where the candidate was been invited to speak. Not included in this graph are informal “meet and greets”, canvassing events and so forth. What can we learn from these data?

The candidates with the least recognition — Gabbard and Yang — held the most town halls in January and February. The Klobuchar campaign organized more rallies than town halls, which is surprising given her strong debate performance.

 In contrast, it is not accidental that the Biden campaign favored rallies to town halls as the former Vice President has in the past confronted attendees who have asked questions about his son’s connection to a Ukrainian gas company or challenged participants who questioned his electability. 

What type of activities did the campaigns selected in the closing days of the primaries? And which events attracted the most attention? To answer these questions let’s look at the collected Facebook data. 

Keeping in mind that the Facebook Guests data are not representative and that many more people attended these events, Sanders seems to have received the most total support. Nonetheless, Yang’s numbers are very impressive too. But if we average the total number of guests by the type of events, his popularity declines relative to the rest of the field. 

To gauge each candidate’s popularity, we can average the number of Facebook guests who expressed interests one of these types of events (i.e. see second column in the graph above). Although these data are noisy, these findings are in line with the primary’s forecasted outcome. 

Concluding Remarks:

In this short analysis, I have used different data points try to measure the campaign’s overall strengths and the candidates’ popularity. In reaction to Biden’s opinion that New Hampshire voters prefer New England candidates over nominees from others part of the country, this analysis shows that this is not the case. Sanders’ popularity is an outcome of his high name recognition as well as his campaign’s organizational capacities. 

It will be interesting whether the forecasts are correct. While Facebook data are not representative, they could be one way to measure and contrast candidates’ level of popularity. This is an area for further exploration and it will be interesting to see how this analysis applies to events data from Iowa or the upcoming nomination contests in Nevada and South Carolina, which require the candidates to spend some time in those states engaging voters.

Is Pete Buttigieg Surging in New Hampshire?

My Twitter feed was abuzz with videos and pictures of long lines of people waiting to see one of Pete Buttigieg’s rallies in New Hampshire.

Could Buttigieg pull off a surprise win in the New Hampshire primary? I collected all the polls conducted this year. In addition, I have calculated the average scores. To help us visualize the trends, I graphed these findings.

Here are a few quick observations:

1. Even though Buttigieg’s support has increased since his finish in Iowa, Bernie Sanders still leads by an average of 5%.

2. Buttigieg’s post-Iowa bounce seems to have subsided and Sanders’ support seems to be growing.

3. Buttigieg’s rise is not a threat to Sanders but to Joe Biden or Amy Klobuchar, who share his more moderate positions. Sanders’ main challenger is Elizabeth Warren. Thus, Buttigieg’s gains or loses are not necessarily affecting Sanders’s standing in the race. 

4. Biden’s declining support explains why he has decided to reorganize his campaign. Failing to finish in the top three will hurt his campaign’s fundraising operations or its get-out-the-vote efforts in Nevada or South Carolina.

5. Klobuchar’s increasing support is modest, but it parallels Buttigieg’s small decline. As I noted in an earlier post, she had a strong performance in the last debate and it seems that voters are giving her candidacy a second look.

6. Warren’s fluctuations are also interesting. The graph indicates that she will come in third in the primary. Her sagging numbers seemed to have hurt her fundraising efforts and it may explain why her campaign has canceled television ads in Nevada and South Carolina, saving precious resources for the Super Tuesday primaries.

At this point, I think that Sanders will win the New Hampshire primary, but Buttigieg could still pull off an upset. The latest CNN/UNH poll still shows that 28% of likely voters are still undecided. But, the Sanders campaign’s organizational advantage in New Hampshire should help the Vermont senator secure the victory.

Which Candidate Earned the Most Social Media Followers after the New Hampshire Democratic Debate?

I did not have a chance to see the New Hampshire Democratic Debate and it seems that the candidates did not make any major mistakes. FiveThirtyEight, working with Ipsos, interviewed, voters before and after the debate and the results are quite interesting. Respondents were asked to rate each participants’ debate performance. Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar were at the top of the list, followed by Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, and Joe Biden. At the end of the list were Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang – in that order. 

The goal of the debates is to help voters decide who to support in the upcoming primaries and caucuses. The FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos survey can help us understand whether the candidates’ debate performance affected respondents’ voting choices. Figure 1 summarizes these findings. 

Most of the candidates’ performances convinced some voters to give them a second look. Yang’s numbers were basically flat, while Biden’s decline should be seen as one more signal that his campaign is in some trouble. 

For the past year, I have been collecting data on each candidates’ number of followers on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Campaigns need to build their social media followings to accomplish at least four important goals: (1) communicate their ideas, (2) promote their events; (3) request financial support; and (4) to get out the vote. More savvy campaigns also analyze followers’ comments to evaluate the effectiveness of their social media strategies.

Even though social media platforms are not representative of the United States public, the Pew Research Center finds that at least 72% of Americans use “some type of social media” and Facebook is currently the “most-widely used” platform.

Thus, I assume that political campaigns want to grow their social media followings and noteworthy events, such as debates, should help these campaigns attract new followers and keep existing ones.

Which of the candidates who participated in the debate attracted the highest number of new followers? 

I collected the number of followers on each platform a few hours before the debate and 14 hours after. Rather than reporting each candidate’s number of new followers. I calculate the increase as a percentage of their post-debate total. Figure 2 summarizes the Facebook statistics, which includes two measures “page likes” and “page follows”.

Figure 3 describes the percent increase in Instagram followers and figure 4 summarizes the statistics for Twitter followers. 

Although the growth patterns in each social media platform are different, the graphs echo some of the FiveThirtyEight-Ipsos’ survey. Klobuchar is the big winner in the three platforms, while Buttigieg comes in second. While it seems unlikely that Klobuchar will win the New Hampshire primary, her growing popularity may weaken Biden’s support and halt Buttigieg’s gains. Yang’s and Steyer’s increasing followers, especially on Twitter and Instagram, suggest that people want to learn more about their views.

While it is difficult to make sense of Sanders’ and Warren’s modest growth, the figures indicate that Biden’s campaign is in trouble. He lost followers on Instagram, while his gains in the other two platforms were at best anemic. Biden is no longer the front-runner and his presidential hopes seem to be fading.

Can the number of each candidates’ social media followers tell us something about their popularity and their campaign’s strength? This is one of the questions that informs my current research. But it seems that at first glance the findings of the FiveThirtyEight-Ipsos’ survey are in line with the amount of followers each of the participants gained 14 hours after the debate.

Iowa’s Democratic Caucuses: Turnout Lower than Expected, But Not Lower than in 2016

Like many observers, I thought that we were going to see an increase in the number of caucus-goers in Iowa. News reports suggested that the Iowa Democratic Party was expecting numbers closer to the record-setting caucuses of 2008, where around 240,000 voters participated in the nominating process. The Monmouth Poll of January 29, 2020, which documented Bernie Sanders’ rising popularity in Iowa and Joe Biden’s slide, indicated that its forecast assumed the turnout rate would be closer to 2008 than 2016.

Although the numbers may change as the Democratic National Committee has asked the Iowa Democratic Party to conduct a recount of the vote, the turnout rate is similar to 2016 as Figure 1 demonstrates.

The caucuses are only open to registered Democrats, though the rules allow participants to change their registration or register as Democrats at the caucus sites. Rather than looking at the total number of caucus-goers, we should measure the percent of “active registered” Democrats who participated in the caucuses.

Trying to calculate this figure is tricky given that we do not know how many caucus-goers registered with the Iowa Democratic Party before the start of this year’s caucuses. As documented in Figure 2, we know that past caucuses have increased the Iowa Democratic Party’s count of active registered voters.

Based on past trends, we can safely assume that the number of registered Democrats will increase and Iowa’s Secretary of State will publish new numbers in early March 2020 that should support this view. For now, we can average the observed increases since 2000 and estimate that the IDP’s voter roll will increase by around 24,191.

If this is a valid estimate, the turnout rate for this year’s caucuses would be around 29.87%, which is a little bit higher than the 2016 rate of 27.95% but lower than the 36.11% record set in 2008.

What may explain the lower than expected voter turnout in Iowa? One possible answer is that the campaigns failed to energize voters and to attract new caucus-goers. This year’s entrance poll demonstrates that for 37% of participants this was their first caucus. In comparison, the rate was 44% and 57% in 2016 and 2008, respectively.

Another reason could be voters’ difficulty trying to decide who to support. Caucuses are more demanding than primaries. They are communal events where participants publicly announce their preferences and they need to be ready to change their to support if their candidates fail to garner the backing of 15% of voters in the caucus. This process is tedious and puts undo pressure on voters. It may even explain why turnout rates in primaries are higher than in caucuses. Thus, caucuses should attract participants whom are certain about their choices rather than those who are undecided.

This year’s entrance poll reveals that over 36% of caucus-goers decided “whom to support” a “few days” before the caucuses. In comparison, these late-deciders represented 16% of caucus-goers in 2016. This discrepancy may suggest that many voters did not attend this year’s caucuses because they were unable to make a choice and, as explained below, the fact that we currently have 12 candidates in this race make this process even more difficult.

One final cause for the lower than expected turnout rate could be that there were too many candidates. The academic literature on choice overload may not only explain this year’s turnout but it could also shed light as to why many Democrats have been so angered by the caucuses’ results. This research argues that people are overwhelmed when presented multiple choices, forcing many to defer the choice or not make a choice altogether.

Writing April 2, 2019 in Politico Magazine, Lily Kofler, reacting to the growing field of Democratic presidential aspirants, used this research to predict that “too many options will, counterintuitively, result in lower satisfaction among Democratic voters – and possibly lead to lower enthusiasm and lower turnout.” Her prescient insights foreshadowed Democrats’ mixed emotions with the state of nomination process today.

While many Democrats are dissapointed by the turnout rate in this year’s Iowa caucuses, they should find some comfort that the number of caucus-goers increased slightly. Another positive outcome is the fact that the Iowa Democratic Party will likely add new voters to its roll. The challenge is not the lower-than expected turnout, but the fact that the results of the Iowa caucuses did not produce a clear winner or put enough pressure on weaker candidates to end their presidential aspirations.