Before our robotics team meet started the kids unwound between the routine of the school day and the excitement of building a robot. Some of them were still bubbling from the visit from Bernie that took some of them away from our last meet. Sanders came to St Paul on Tuesday and gutted the team leadership for the evening – seniors eligible to vote for the first time & feelin’ the Bern!
But one thing quelled their enthusiasm quickly. “When I saw a video on how the caucus system works I thought it was a joke. Then, I found out that’s how it really works. Why do we do it that way?”
It’s not a conspiracy, it’s a tradition. The difference is sometimes hard to spot when you’re young, but Monday’s Iowa Caucus is not just a made for teevee event – it’s small town democracy at it’s finest, weirdest, and most personal. And that’s why anyone making a hard, definite call is kidding themselves.
You can’t call yourself a pundit right now if you’re not writing about Iowa. The process is complicated and the result that really matters doesn’t actually count. Its proper name is the Iowa Walking Subcaucus System, but don’t confuse it with a Walking Taco – the latter being fried ground beef and taco sauce in a Fritos bag. The Walking Subcaucus is less filling and the system used by Democrats to pick the real winners.
It’s also a bit like doin’ the hokey pokey, which really is what it’s all about.
What will be announced after the evening is over will be a net total of votes in a straw poll, which doesn’t count one bit if your are a Democrat. The poll is only taken to satiate the mediate and get them out of the way so that the real fun can start. Republicans allocate delegates from each precinct to the County Convention based on a secret ballot, but even that doesn’t precisely predict the number of delegates anyone will win.
Going into the evening the polls are absolutely crazy all over the map. Sanders is surging! Clinton has regained the lead! Bernie takes it again! You’d have to think there’s something seriously wrong in Iowa for people to change their minds so rapidly just weeks before they take the center stage, right?
No. It’s all sampling and computing error.
The caucus system, like any election, is about who shows up. Given the complexity of the caucuses, it’s also about who stays. It also matters when the poll is taken, too, although it’s usually placed at the start of the evening before everyone gets antsy. Still, it can be some time in a hot elementary school classroom with weensy desks before anyone gets to do what they came to do.
Polling shows two groups of people coming into this evening – party stalwarts who are heavily for Clinton and we’re all pretty sure will be there versus more iffy first-time voters who are polling 78% for Bernie. Turnout is absolutely everything, and the different polls we’ve all seen have different turnout models.
Iowans aren’t crazy. The pundits are – or they act crazy ‘cuz it makes better nooze.
When it’s all over with, who will win? A narrow win by Clinton is still in the cards, despite all the noise, but it wouldn’t take too much for Sanders’ team to take this thing. It should be close no matter what.
On the Republican side, Trump appears to be beating Cruz but we have to see if his people bother to show up. Betting money there is on Trump to take it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Cruz pulls it out in the end. They have the same problem as Democrats in that it entirely matters who shows up, and in their case the Trump crowd are the most rookie supporters.
There are many ways to spin this beyond Iowa, but on the Democratic side it probably doesn’t matter. Sanders should win New Hampshire, but there’s a good chance Clinton will exceed expectations which are now being set very low. Clinton should absolutely kill in the Nevada Caucus and South Carolina Primary that come afterwards, meaning that momentum for Sanders will be hard to maintain.
About a third of all Democratic delegates are “Superdelegates”, so called for their pajama-like costumes. No, seriously, they are elected officials who have an automatic vote in the process. They are breaking about 90% for Clinton based on her party loyalty (Sanders has always been an independent / socialist) and the hard work of Bill Clinton, in case you wonder what he’s been up to. Yes, they sent him to the pajama party. Still joking!
So Clinton has this thing already won, more or less, so much of this doesn’t actually matter. Votes for Trump will still count, at least until the Republican Party comes up with a more effective way of neutralizing him.
Whether it counts much or not, if you’re in Iowa you get to do the hokey pokey for your candidate. The rest of the country only gets to marvel at how we in the Midwest get to make our own fun!