10 days left: Will someone break out?

Dan Guild expects one of the Democratic candidates to surge in the closing days, most likely Elizabeth Warren or Amy Klobuchar. -promoted by Laura Belin

Ten days before the 2016 Iowa caucuses, I wrote a piece here entitled Front-runners Beware.

Four years later, there is not one front-runner, but four. Importantly, New Hampshire seems just as close. As I wrote last month, the winner of Iowa can expect a 12-point bounce in New Hampshire.

The simple truth is the winner in Iowa is very likely to win the New Hampshire primary eight days later. And no Democrat has won Iowa and New Hampshire when both were contested and lost the nomination.

The history with tables is below, but in summary:

  • Expect volatility: fewer than half Iowans in polls have said they have made up their minds.  The parallel to 2004 is obvious in this regard.
  • Since 1980 there have been eleven Iowa caucuses with more than two candidates.  In nine of those races, at least one candidate has improved their percentage by at least 10 points. Critically, if any of the top four candidates surges like candidates have in the past, that person would win the Iowa caucuses by a reasonable margin.  History says someone is going to break through, and that candidate will win both Iowa and New Hampshire.
  • With the notable exception of 2004, not many candidates have collapsed.  It’s rare for candidates to decline by more than 5 percent in the last ten days.
  • As I noted in June, national front-runners rarely increase their standing. That pattern is just as true in the last ten days. I would be surprised if Joe Biden sees much increase from where he is now.
  • Candidates who have run before in Iowa tend not to see much increase during the last ten days. See the list below.
  • In my view, either Elizabeth Warren or Amy Klobuchar is the most likely to see a surge.
  • Here is the list of candidates who saw an 8-point swing in the last ten days.

    One thing the list makes clear is how different the Democratic and Republican caucuses are.  Rick Santorum, Pat Robertson, and Pat Buchanan all represented religious conservatives.

    What about the Democrats? Four of the eight on this list are from 2004.  I have explained before why I think 2004 is relevant, and why it would not shock me to see something similar happen in 2020.

    The other thing to note about those who saw their numbers increase: four of the five candidates on this list were outsiders.  Consider:

  • Gary Hart 1984: ran to Walter Mondale’s left for the most part, though his message was as much anti-establishment as it was ideological
  • Paul Simon 1988: ran as a good government liberal and was certainly not an establishment candidate.
  • John Kerry 2004: very different from Hart and Simon, though a liberal he in some ways was the establishment savior.
  • John Edwards 2004: ran an outsider campaign, based in part on electability.
  • Barack Obama 2008: Ran to Hillary Clinton’s left on the issue that mattered (Iraq), his message was entirely focused on change.
  • To me the most similar candidate to these is Warren.  She has not run before (none of the candidates on this list had), and she is running an anti-establishment campaign to the left of most of the field. Klobuchar reminds me in some ways of Kerry, in that the establishment would regard her as a “safe” choice, as was the case for Kerry.

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