16 Iowa politics predictions for 2016

Hoping to improve on my percentages from last year, I offer sixteen Iowa politics predictions for 2016. Please spin your own scenarios in this thread.

I finally gave up on trying to predict whether Governor Terry Branstad will still be in office at the end of the year. Although his close adviser David Roederer “emphatically” says Branstad will serve out his sixth term, I am convinced the governor will resign early. But I can’t decide whether that will happen shortly after the November 2016 election or shortly after the Iowa legislature’s 2017 session.

1. Turnout for the Iowa Democratic caucuses will be below 150,000.

Nearly 240,000 people showed up for the 2008 Democratic caucuses, obliterating the previous record of 125,000 caucus-goers set in 2004. The three Democratic campaigns are all running extensive field operations, and Bernie Sanders is drawing phenomenal crowds all over the state, but I just don’t see turnout reaching anything close to the level of eight years ago. One thing makes me second-guess this prediction: a person who has already attended a precinct caucus is way more likely to do so again. With staff and volunteers for Hillary Clinton, Sanders, and Martin O’Malley scouring the lists of Iowans who caucused in 2008, they may be able to produce bigger numbers than I expect. However, I am going with my gut.

2. Turnout for the Iowa Republican caucuses will be lower than for the Democratic caucuses.

This should not be true. With far more candidates and a more wide-open race for the GOP nomination, there should be way more staff and volunteers pounding the pavement, ready to capitalize on excited potential Republican caucus-goers. But while Republican candidates and the super-PACs supporting them have sent tons of direct mail to Iowans, the almost total lack of a ground game for most of the campaigns is striking. Some candidates (Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Carly Fiorina) lack the resources for a strong GOTV effort. Others are putting their chips on New Hampshire (John Kasich) or have a decent staff but too many weaknesses as a candidate (Jeb Bush). Donald Trump and Ted Cruz seem to be the only Republicans running any kind of real ground game, but even they have nothing like what the leading Democratic candidates had going before the 2008 caucuses.

3. Hillary Clinton will win the Iowa caucuses by a larger margin than her lead in the state polling average in late January.

This was tough for me, and I could easily argue the opposite case (Bernie Sanders will outperform his final poll numbers on the strength of his supporters’ greater enthusiasm). I’m making this call because Iowa polls measure Democratic preferences as if we had a primary, where the final percentages reflect raw vote totals for each candidate. However, the Iowa Democratic Party will report the results only in terms of delegates won. Precinct caucuses elect county delegates, and the total number of county delegates for each candidate will be converted into “state delegate equivalents.”

The problem for Sanders (I suspect) is that more of his supporters will be packed into certain precincts, where the number of delegates has an upper limit, no matter how many people stand in your corner. John Deeth explained this dynamic in a 2007 post:

For example in 2004, in Iowa City Precinct 18, a hotbed of activism full of liberal professors and students, 534 caucus-goers recreated the Black Hole Of Calcutta in the Longfellow Elementary School gym. In North Liberty Precinct 1, full of trailer courts, newly developed housing and independents who marked their fall ballots for the Democratic ticket, only 171 people showed up. But based on their general election voting in 2000 and 2002, North Liberty 1 and Iowa City 18 each elected the same total of 10 delegates.

4. Ted Cruz will overperform and Marco Rubio will underperform his percentage in the final Des Moines Register poll by Selzer & Co.

Like the saying goes, the key to winning the caucuses is “organize, organize, organize, and get hot at the end.” It’s possible that Cruz peaked too soon. But I would bet on his underlying organization in Iowa rather than on Rubio’s largely media-driven campaign.

5. Most of Iowa’s Republican National Convention delegates in 2016 will cast ballots for someone other than the winner of the Iowa caucuses.

The Iowa GOP will want to avoid the embarrassment of the 2012 Republican National Convention, when most of the Iowa delegates cast their ballots for Ron Paul, who was neither the presidential nominee nor the Iowa caucus winner. This time around, I see most of the Iowa RNC delegates falling in line behind the eventual nominee, and I doubt that will be Ted Cruz, who currently seems positioned to win the Iowa caucuses.

6. Hillary Clinton will win Iowa’s 6 electoral votes, but her popular vote margin will be smaller than Barack Obama’s was in 2008 or 2012.

This was another tough call for me. I am way more confident that Clinton will win at least 270 electoral votes than I am that she will carry Iowa in November. However, the strongest general-election candidates in the Republican field do not appear to have good prospects of becoming the nominee.

7. The Iowa Supreme Court will reject a method for evading the state’s open meetings law.

I’m talking about this case.

The Warren County Board of Supervisors laid-off twelve county employees in March 2014. Instead of deliberating in a public meeting, the three supervisors communicated through the county administrator which positions would be eliminated.

Some of the laid-off employees sued unsuccessfully in district court, saying the supervisors violated Iowa’s open meetings law. The board argues since there was no gathering, it did nothing illegal.

Des Moines Cityview’s Civic Skinny provided more background on the case and the oral arguments before the Supreme Court. Although a District Court judge ruled that the Warren County supervisors “did not violate the open meeting law,” I think a majority of Supreme Court justices will hold that you can’t skirt this law by having a go-between discuss the same topic privately and individually with all members of a body subject to open meetings rules.

8. The Iowa Supreme Court will rule that not all felonies rise to the level of “infamous crimes” that justify revoking a citizen’s voting rights.

Kelli Jo Griffin was prosecuted and acquitted for perjury after voting in a local election, not realizing her 2008 felony conviction made her ineligible, thanks to Branstad’s January 2011 executive order on voting rights. The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa is representing Griffin in a lawsuit filed in late 2014, which

seeks to restore Griffin’s voting rights; asks the court to declare that the Iowa Constitution prohibits the disenfranchisement of people convicted of lower-level felonies (such as nonviolent drug offenses); and seeks an injunction to stop the state from bringing criminal charges against Iowans with past lower-level felonies who register to vote.

A District Court judge upheld the governor’s executive order late last year. But based on the Iowa Supreme Court’s split decision allowing Tony Bisignano to run for the state Senate in 2014, I think four of the seven justices will rule that certain low-level felonies should not deprive an Iowan of the right to vote.

9. The Iowa Utilities Board will approve the Dakota Access (Bakken) pipeline.

The only prediction I’m repeating from last year. I’m very confident about this one.

10. The Iowa legislature will not approve Branstad’s plan to extend the penny sales tax for school infrastructure and divert a portion of the funding to water quality programs.

This cynical attempt to pit environmentalists against education advocates will not gain traction, especially once it becomes clear how the governor envisions spending the new money for water programs.

11. The final compromise on allowable growth/supplemental state aid during this year’s legislative session will increase funding for K-12 schools by less than 3 percent.

Iowa Senate Democrats already passed a bill last year calling for a 4 percent increase in allowable growth. Governor Branstad will ask lawmakers for a 2.45 percent increase in his draft budget. House Republicans have signaled a desire to reach an early deal on school funding but seem reluctant to go above 2 percent. I hope to be wrong but I doubt House leaders will meet Senate leaders in the middle, much less agree to the 4 percent increase school districts need.

12. Some member of the Iowa legislature will be arrested on an OWI.

I also hope to be wrong about this one. Unfortunately, approximately every two to three years some state lawmaker is pulled over for driving while intoxicated. It’s been a while, so I feel like we’re due for another case.

13. No more than 36 women will be elected to the Iowa legislature in 2016.

Currently women hold 27 of the 100 Iowa House seats (21 Democrats and six Republicans) and seven of the 50 Iowa Senate seats (six Democrats and one Republican). Unless unexpected retirements open up many more House and Senate districts, I see the number of women serving in the Iowa legislature continuing to inch up slowly, because of our state’s tendency to re-elect incumbents.

14. No more than one Iowa Senate incumbent will be defeated in 2016.

Three sitting state senators lost in 2012 (one in a primary, two in the general), but that was mostly because of redistricting. Republican Merlin “build my fence” Bartz lost by a very narrow margin to Democratic incumbent Mary Jo Wilhelm in Senate district 26. Republican Shawn Hamerlinck beat his colleague Jim Hahn in the Senate district 46 GOP primary, only to lose the general election to Chris Brase.

15. Senator Chuck Grassley’s criminal justice/sentencing reform bill will pass the U.S. Senate but not the House.

Click here for background on what could be the biggest criminal justice reform legislation in a generation.

16. Three of the four winners of Iowa’s Congressional races will gain less than 55 percent of the vote.

Iowa has more competitive U.S. House districts than most states, thanks to our non-partisan redistricting system.

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  • Nice work

    I share your predictions about caucus turnout and results, although I’m amazed at how different I feel about things depending on what I’m doing or what I’m reading. From my ground-level, limited regional perspective, people are interested in caucusing but not fired up about it, with the usual suspects very motivated or not at all motivated. I agree with Deeth on the balancing act of the Dem caucus structure, at least in Johnson County. I have no idea what’s happening on the Republican side, but I wonder if middle-of-the-road folks who are annoyed by Trump simply don’t know where to turn and will therefore opt out and just follow the party line once the nom is finalized. Perhaps it’s self-serving, but I think Hillary will win by a larger margin than Bernie folks are expecting. That will be a bit of a game changer.

    Then I listen to a report about polling or ground game of candidates and think, wow, my ability to have insight is so specific to my area, so limited, that it’s hard to say what will happen. And then I go back to my gut.

    • I know a few people

      who are leaning toward not caucusing because they can’t decide between Clinton and Sanders. That shocked me.

      The Sanders supporters are extremely fired up, though, which gives me pause about that prediction.

      The thing about the Trump voters is that many of them have not caucused before or voted in primaries. They need to figure out where to go on caucus night (in most causes it won’t be their general election polling place), then they need to overcome the inertia to go out on a cold dark February evening.

      • Yes, me too..

        I spoke to a voter who said she “didn’t care” which won, Sanders or Clinton. I was able to talk her into caucusing after specifying some distinguishing factors that I felt were, you know, REALLY IMPORTANT.

        I agree about the Sanders energy. I’m just wondering if it extends out beyond the obvious blue centers into the rest of the state. Is the Bern as strong in rural areas? Is it the same kind of energy that motivated voters across the state in 2008? I’m a bit skeptical of that. I spoke to a lot of undecideds in my area and Sanders came up a few times, but mostly it was just…. apathy towards the caucus process, and interest in supporting a Dem in the general, regardless of who it was. However, my view is limited. I’ve had one Sanders person door knock me.

        I do think that Trump underestimates how hard it is to get butts in seats on caucus night. Getting people to show up is the ballgame — not to rally, or have a sign, but to get in the car and drive. And considering that a lot of caucus sites are NOT typical polling places, yeah — this could be very tricky. I read some reports that even volunteers recruited last month for caucus leadership really didn’t understand the process or commitment. That’s worrying. A caucus win is, IMO, something you can’t simply spend your way into.

  • #8 and #3

    I hope number 8 happens. As a criminal justice practitioner I hope we move in that direction. I work with felons that deserve a say in their government.

    And with #3, I hope this also happens. I think Hillary has a pretty spread-out ground game in Iowa and her strength with women and older voters is helpful. Like you point out, he can only max out in strongholds like Iowa City. I am canvassing in Davenport this weekend for Hillary. If anyone is interested let me know!