Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders thinks that to beat Donald Trump, Democrats will, as he explained during the South Carolina Democratic debate, “need to bring working people back into the Democratic Party. We need to get young people voting in a way that they never have before.” Obviously, Sanders believes that his campaign is the best position to increase voter turnout, pointing out to huge number of supporters who attend his rallies or his grassroots movement’s energy.
Compared to former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign, the Sanders campaign had all the advantages, entering the Super Tuesday primaries. Yet, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders underperformed and here are three reasons why.
First, and probably most important, voter turnout increased in many of the Super Tuesday’s primaries. But rather than supporting Sanders, voters by in large backed Biden, as the next graph illustrate.
The numbers for California are eye-popping. Even though California is still counting votes — it still has to process 6% of the vote — the lower-than-expected turnout may have hurt Sanders the most. His campaign’s plan was to win big in California to expand his small lead of pledged delegates entering Super Tuesday. Today, Biden leads with 664 delegates to Sanders’s 573.
The second reason is probably the most worrying given Sanders’s opinion that his campaign is the best positioned to turnout young voters. The exit polls show that Sanders won most voters between the ages of 17 and 44, but he did poorly with voters older than 45. While he needs to find a way to get more support with older voters, his campaign’s biggest challenge is mobilizing and turning out these voters, who stayed home. Had he been able to mobilize and turnout these voters, the outcome of Super Tuesday could have been very different.
For instance, 18% of North Carolina’s primary-goers in 2016 were between 18 and 29. The number declined by 4% on Tuesday. In Texas, 20% of young voters participated in the primary in 2016. The turnout rate in 2020 decreased to 15%. We saw this problem for the Sanders campaign in New Hampshire were the young vote declined by 5% to 13%. Massachusetts and Virginia experienced the same drop, from 19% in 2016 to 16% in 2020.
Finally, we have assumed that Sanders has strong backing from Latinx voters. But a closer look at exit polls data shows that he has very strong support among young Latinxs and not older ones.
The first set of graphs looks at California’s Latino vote in more detail, which represented 26% of the electorate. Sanders’s won California with 34% of the vote, while Biden received 27%.
The exit polls estimate that Sanders’s won 49% of the Latino vote and Biden captured 22%. The Vermont Senator’s victory is explained in part by his
The story in Texas is different. while Sanders received 30% of the vote, Biden won Texas by 5% points. According to the exit polls, the Latinx voter turnout did not increase in the last four years. It represented 32% of the electorate. The next graph breaks down this group into different age categories.
Unlike California, Sanders did not do well with Latinx voters aged 45 and higher and this explains in part why he did not win Texas.
Will Sanders win the next states with substantial Latinx voting populations? His strengths in Western states indicate he should do well in New Mexico and Arizona. But, he is going to face an uphill battle in Florida, where many Latinxs are critical of socialism. Sanders’s most immediate challenge however, is younger voters’ decision to sit out the primaries. If Sanders wants to win the next big primaries and stop Biden’s momentum, his campaign has to figure out how to turn the energy of his rallies and the passion of his grassroots movement into votes and it has to do so fast.
I recently wrote why I thought that Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders would win the Democratic primaries in California and Texas. I noted that his win was predicated on his campaign’s ability to mobilize young and Latinx voters. If Sanders fails to turnout these voters, it is difficult to see how he can claim to be an alternative to former Vice President Joe Biden or be the best candidate to beat President Donald Trump.
Surveys completed after Biden’s big win in the South Carolina primary show that the former Vice President is gaining ground in the polls. These numbers do not capture the possible impact of Biden’s new endorsements from his former rivals — Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke and Kamala Harris. Let’s not forget that South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn’s endorsement of Biden before the Palmetto state’s primary did give his campaign a much needed boost.
Let us look at the moving averages for the following states to get an idea of the state of the race going into Super Tuesday: California, Texas, North Carolina, Massachusetts, and Virginia. The next figure reminds us that these states have the most pledged delegates.
In California and Texas, Sanders’s lead has been very consistent. But it seems that his support has a ceiling in both states. The reality is that Sanders has failed to consolidate the progressive vote and this is partially due to Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren’s candidacy.
Biden’s numbers have dramatically improved after his commanding win in the South Carolina primary. I thought before the primary that Biden’s victory would translate in modest gains on the Super Tuesday’s primaries. What my analysis failed to consider was voters’ deep desire for a candidate who can beat Trump in November. Ideological debates are not influencing their choice. They want to support a person who can win.
Before the Iowa caucuses, Biden had a firm control over the race. His poor debate performance and his weak showings in Iowa and New Hampshire forced many voters to reconsider their support for Biden. This helped Mike Bloomberg grow his support and gave Sanders’s an opportunity to become Biden’s alternative.
After South Carolina, the Democratic establishment has lined up behind Biden. The endorsement from his rivals echo the Democratic Party’s faith that he is the best candidate to take on Trump in November. This is why Bloomberg’s support has declined. Many voters who considered voting for the former New York City Mayor have been moving towards Biden and this has raised questions about Sanders’ long-term viability.
Does this mean that Sanders is out of the race? No. He has more money than Biden and his campaign is stronger on the ground. Biden’s surge in the polls will test his campaign’s get-out-the vote operations. If he can mobilize young and Latinx voters, he will win California and build a big lead in terms of pledged delegates, which will be difficult for Biden to close. While a Sanders win in Texas is more difficult, if he can mobilize his base and pull off a victory, he will be able to show that he can take on Trump and stop Biden’s momentum.
Sanders lets not forget is poised to win the primaries in Vermont, Maine, Utah and Colorado. Now that Amy Klobuchar has ended her campaign, he may win Minnesota’s primary. He may win the Massachusetts primary, which may convince Elizabeth Warren to end her campaign.
Biden should win the primaries in Virginia, North Carolina, Arkansas, Alabama, Tennessee, Oklahoma. But it is worth noting that these are states where Bloomberg could do well as well. After all, Bloomberg has built an impressive ground operation too and if he can mobilize his supporters he could limit Biden’s gains in the delegate count. As I noted in my earlier post, Biden’s financial difficulties forced him to dedicate all his campaign’s resources to South Carolina and this could hurt his chances of winning these primaries by big margins. Also, Sanders may actually gain more than 15% in all these primaries, adding delegates to his tally and helping him grow his existing lead.
I still believe that Sanders will win the majority of the pledged delegates at stake on Super Tuesday. But, there is a good chance Biden, Bloomberg and Warren will limit the margin of this victory.
Post-Super Tuesday the race for the Democratic nomination does not look too rosy for Sanders’s supporters. Even if Warren ends her campaign, it will be difficult to win many of the upcoming contests by big margins. If Biden can keep the race for pledged delegates close, there will be a contested convention. Given the Democratic establishment’s backing of Biden, it is difficult to see how Sanders will be able to convince superdelegates to support his presidential aspirations. This will tear the Democratic Party apart and favor Trump’s reelection chances.
On March 3, 2020, 14 states and the American Samoa will hold their primaries for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Together these contests are known as Super Tuesday and they are the most consequential day in this race.
The Democratic candidates have been competing for a majority of the 3,940 pledged delegates distributed across 57 caucuses or primaries — comprising the 50 states, 6 unincorporated territories, and Democrats Abroad. The first four contests only represent 4% of the total. At stake on Super Tuesday is 35% of the total count of pledged delegates.
The two most important primaries, as the figure shows, will be held in California and Texas. Together they represent close to half of Super Tuesday’s haul.
Will Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders win these primaries? Polling data plus the Sanders’s win in the Nevada caucuses indicate that not only will he win these key contests, but also that he may do so by big margins.
The following graphs include moving averages for the main Democratic candidates in California and Texas. I collected the polling data from the RealClearPolitics website.
The numbers suggest that Sanders will win both primaries. In California, the margin of victory could very big. While the polls capture former Vice President Joe Biden’s declining popularity after the Iowa caucuses, it also shows growth in his support after the South Carolina Democratic Debate and his commanding victory in South Carolina’s primary. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s numbers are fluctuating around 15%, which is the threshold candidates need to meet to win pledged delegates. Interestingly, while earlier polls showed gains for Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, the last few polls may be a sign of her weakness entering Super Tuesday.
Sanders’s biggest advantage is the early vote. The University of California, Berkeley’s latest poll indicates that Sanders’s leads in the early ballots by 15%. He also holds a demographic advantage over the other candidates — an issue I address more closely in the next section.
Sanders’s projected winning margin in Texas is less pronounced. The race for second place is very interesting. Bloomberg’s early strength may have been tempered by Biden’s big win in South Carolina’s Democratic primary. Could these moderate candidates thwart a Sanders’ s win? It will depend on who turnouts to vote.
The latest CNN poll shows that Sanders is struggling with voters who are 65 or more. These voters prefer Bloomberg (34%) and Biden (29%) over Sanders (11%). In contrast, 40% of voters between the ages of 18 and 49 favor the Vermont Senator.
The Racial/Ethnic Composition of California’s, Texas’s and Nevada’s Registered Voters
Sanders’s commanding victory in Nevada was very impressive. The results challenged the media narrative that Sanders’s message only resonated with young voters or very liberal ones. The entrance polls demonstrated that Sanders has been able to broaden his coalition, increasing his support among moderates and older voters.
Most importantly, Nevada was the first contest that had a sizeable non-White population. Over a third of non-White voters participated in the caucuses and Sanders won 42% of these votes. While Joe Bide won 38% of the African American vote, which represented 11% of caucus-goers, Sanders captured 28%. Most impressive was Sanders’s 50% win among Latinxs, who represented 17% of caucus-goers.
Repeating Sanders’s strong win in Nevada will be more difficult in future contests. But his popularity among Latinx voters gives him a critical advantage in states with an active Latinx electorate. The exception to this rule may be Florida given Puerto Ricans’ and Cuban Americans’ aversion to socialism.
The next figure illustrates the racial/ethnic makeup of California’s, Nevada’s and Texas’s registered voters. The data was collected by the U.S. Census.
Based on these numbers, will Sanders’s winning margin in California be as big as Nevada’s? Recent survey data shows that Sanders’s support among Latinxs is mixed. The poll conducted by the University of California, Berkeley finds that 51% of Latinos will vote for the Vermont Senator, while the CBS News/YouGov estimates his support to be around 30% in this voting group.
As noted above, the race is closer in Texas. However, the NBC News/Marist poll indicates that 46% of Latinxs will vote for Sanders in the primary, while the CBS News/YouGov estimates that this support is closer to 42%.
It is clear that Sanders is poised to win both states, but the margin victory will be decided by the turnout rate among Latinx voters.
Does Age Matter?
Nationally speaking, 60% of the Latinx voters are
Here is a breakdown of registered voters in California, Nevada, South Carolina, and Texas.
While Biden won the South Carolina primary by a huge margin, the state’s electorate is older. Sanders’s performance with African Americans was not as strong as in Nevada, but polls suggest that his message appealed to younger African American voters. Only 29% of primary-goers in South Carolina were between the ages of 17 and 44 and Sanders won 38% of the vote, edging Biden’s 36% share. His share was higher among 17–29 group was 43.5% and Biden’s was 29.5.
If we look at Nevada’s registered voters by age, we can see that the 18 to 44 age group is bigger in both California and Texas. These numbers bode well for
Age is an important factor that can play
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.