Monday, January 25, 2016

Iowa Election Night Guide, Key Counties and County Benchmarks

After months of traversing the state, arguing about poll numbers and fighting for Iowan voters, the Iowa caucuses are in one week. The race started off with Clinton in a nearly insurmountable lead. Then in the summer, Bernie Sanders started to gain strength. By October, Sanders was nearly tied in Iowa but after the 1st debate and Hillary Clinton’s Benghazi smackdown, Clinton regained a lead. In January though, polls released after Christmas showed a narrow race and the polls have continued to show a close race. The RCP average as of Sunday January 24th show Clinton with a seven point lead but as history shows, the polls can shift within a week and some observers believe the polls are skewed.

This post will show what counties to watch in Iowa on Election night. The post will have an explanation of the three regions of Iowa and show county benchmarks for counties Sanders and Clinton need to win in order to win the caucus.

  1. It should be noted that unless one is privey to the Clinton or Sanders data, it will be nearly impossible to make an accurate prediction as to who will win which counties. I calculated it by giving Sanders all of the Obama 2008 voters, giving Hillary all of the Hillary 2008 voters and splitting the Edwards voters between them until Hillary received 50%. These benchmarks assume Sanders will keep the Obama voters (younger, urban and college educated) and Hillary will keep her voters.

2.  I would like the comments on the diary to be as civil as possible, yes from both sides.

3. Polls show the Iowa caucuses are hard to predict. Some polls predict massive voting turnout and a Sanders win (CNN Sanders +9) and other polls predict smaller turnout (around the low 100s) and a Clinton win (KBUR Clinton +9). The number Sanders needs to win of new voters is between 25%-30%, higher and he wins, lower and he loses.

4. It should be noted that the way caucuses work for Democrats is that they are voting for precinct representatives who are already allocated proportionally so if turnout is concentrated (for example in college towns which should support Sanders), it  may be difficult for Sanders to win especially with Hillary’s support more spread across the more moderate rural areas. Also, the percentages may be changed if actual votes are not reported but instead delegates are.

5. Martin O’Malley is not included and it should be noted the percentages listed are only for Hillary and Sanders.

County Benchmarks:
Dark Yellow: Hillary 55%+
Light Yellow: Hillary 50%-54%
Light Green: Sanders 50%-54%
Dark Green: Sanders 55%+

Google doc with full county percentages:

Eastern Iowa
A few counties here went narrowly for Clinton but eastern Iowa is where Sanders must run up numbers in order to win. There are large numbers of Progressives and college towns here. There are rural voters too but this is a less rural part of Iowa. Here are a few key counties:

Johnson County is Sanders’ best county and he needs it to be. Johnson County is home to the University of Iowa (which Carly Fiorina famously supported in hopes it would win her votes but instead won her the title of a flip flopper and slayed her polling numbers). Iowa polls on average show a mid single digit Clinton lead but a few such as CNN/ORC show a Sanders lead. Those polls show a Sanders lead because they predict an Iowa caucus turnout higher than in 2008. In order for Sanders to win the Iowa caucus, he needs to run up the score in college counties such as Johnson. Sanders can attract crowds but he needs them to turnout, especially in the snow which is predicted for Monday.

Linn County (Cedar Rapids) is the 2nd largest city in Iowa and has a Progressive history as well requiring Sanders to perform well there.

Winneshiek County may not be as populated as the other two but it is important because Sanders had a rally with 2,000 people there in a town of 8,000 a week before the caucus. While those attendees may be from different towns as well and some may be swing voters, it could indicate that Sanders support is strong here.

Eastern Iowa is also more populated than the other two regions which is why this map is 50-50, even most counties supporting Clinton because the Sanders counties are urban counties.

Counties to watch:
Johnson: Sanders 62.2%
Linn: Sanders 53.4%
Winneshiek: Sanders 56.7%

Central Iowa:
It appears the election can be won or lost in Central Iowa. It is a mixture of both urban and rural areas with Des Moines, the capital of Iowa mixed in with Story County, another college town and many rural counties predicted to strongly support Hillary which are mainly sparsely populated. Here are the key counties:

Polk County:
Des Moines, the Iowan Capital is here and 16% of the state’s Democratic votes were cast here, cementing its status as a strong factor in the Iowa caucuses. Historically, Polk County casts more votes than a large number of the Clinton heavy counties on Iowa’s southern border combined. While many of the White Progressives in Polk are expected to support Sanders, Clinton may be able to narrow the margin (but not enough to win Polk in a 50-50 race) by winning large margins among the voters of color (Polk County has a 21% voters of color population which is larger than other Iowan counties). Sanders needs four or more points here to win.

Story County:
Story County is another college town and Iowa state is located here. It is also the location of the famous Iowa straw poll. Sanders also needs heavy turnout here in order to win.

Wayne County:
While Wayne County is not a densely populated county such as Polk County (2,900 votes were cast in 2012 there, compared to 228,000 for Polk), it is a barometer for Hillary Clinton and how well she is performing with rural voters.

Polk County: Sanders 51.7%
Story County: Sanders 54.6%
Wayne County: Clinton 64.3%

Western Iowa
Western Iowa is much different from eastern Iowa. It is less populated and has more Republicans, meaning there are less potential caucus goers here. It is also home of Rep. Steve King (R) who  make immigration comments that would make Donald Trump appear xenophobic. At the same time, a large number of western Iowans do not  share these views and 45% in 2012 backed his opponent. There are few college towns here so this is where Hillary will need a strong showing. Almost all counties are shown as Hillary counties but President Obama won in Sioux County which is the most conservative county in Iowa by winning over disaffected Republicans. Should Bernie have a great night he could surprise observers by winning either Sioux or Plymouth Counties.

Sioux County:
Romney won 83% of the vote here in 2012, making it the most Republican county in Iowa. President Obama won it by winning over disaffected Independents and Republicans, it remains to be seen if Sanders can exert the same pull here.

Pottawattamie County:
One of Western Iowa’s larger cities, Council Bluffs is located here. This is part of Hillary’s base if the benchmarks prove correct and she will need a strong margin from here. The problem for her though is that there are less Democratic voters here than in similarly populated counties in eastern Iowa.

Dickinson County:
Dickinson County is one of the few western Iowa counties where Sanders is leading with the benchmarks. It also voted 50.9% for Sanders so Dickinson could be viewed as a bellwether.

Sioux County: Clinton 51.3%
Pottawattamie County: Clinton 59.6%
Dickinson County: Sanders 50.9%

Overall, while watching election night, keep a few points in mind.
1. Is Bernie Sanders turning out voters in the urban and college counties such as Polk, Johnson and Linn?
2. Is Hillary Clinton turning out the vote in rural counties in western Iowa, making inroads in rural eastern Iowa counties and are the voters of color in Polk County making Polk a close county?

3. Most importantly, are these benchmarks consistently holding muster? Do not watch just one county early in the night and predict a Clinton or Sanders win if one candidate overperforms in one or two counties.

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