Trump is going to lose the Iowa Caucus, and here's why

As of 8:45 or so PM:

Cruz 28.9 Trump 25.6 Rubio 20.8

I'm privileged to live in Minnesota, which is Iowa's neighbor and thus not so different from Iowa, except our college football teams are better.

And it isn't just the corn, but also, the caucus. We do that here too. Our caucus system is similar enough to Iowa that one can have a sense of what goes on over the border just with some local experience.

So let me tell you a story. I volunteered one day to help out a friend with a local campaign. The idea was to show up at the local VFW post and engage in a caucus to determine a DFL (that's what we call Democrats in Minnesota) candidate for a local election. I met the candidate and the other volunteers in the parking lot, and coffee was passed around. As we stood around sipping our coffee, the other candidate's team showed up, parked their van with that candidates name on it near the door, and attacked the VFW hall in the prescribed way. They plastered signs up everywhere, and positioned themselves around to meet and greet everybody who walked into the hall, giving them literature and buttons.

I asked the person who seemed to be in charge of our team where our signs were, suggesting that we needed to get in there and take some wall space before it was all used up. The response, "Well, people shouldn't really be picking a candidate on the basis of signs, but rather, on where they stand on the issues."

A little while later, I suggested that we get in position around the entrance ways and by the food table and bathrooms and such in order to hand out buttons and literature. "We didn't make any literature, but here's some buttons, if you want to hand them out. It shouldn't really matter, though, our candidate is so much better that we don't need to do that."

A little while later each candidate got to make a speech outlining their respective positions. My candidate was indeed way better. Articulate, intelligent, made sense. The other candidate mainly talked about her inexperience, and how she didn't really want this job but her neighbors talked her into it.

Then the process started. We were creamed. We got something like single digit support.


No signs. No buttons. No literature.

Here's the thing. A caucus is a commitment of time. It takes a few hours. The majority of caucus goers are party activists or people otherwise motivated to spend a few hours in a confusing and sometimes frustrating environment. There are elements to the caucus process, at least in Minnesota, that seem to be designed to weed out the less committed or interested individuals, such as votes on who should be in this or that job that nobody ever even heard of, or resolutions that everyone already supports, etc.

So when you get a room full of activists and they are trying to decide who to put up for election, what do they base that decision on? Well, first, they eliminate the candidates that are simply untenable. At another caucus a few years ago, a candidate who would be running against Michele Bachmann got up and explained that she was the best DFL candidate because she was anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage and such, and so she was the only Democrat that could get those votes away from Bachmann. The room remained silent as she exited the stage, and not another word was said about her. (That is the modern day Minnesotan method of drawing and quartering someone.)

Once the untenable candidates are suitably ignored, we then get to the number one actual question we must ask of this candidate: Can this candidate win?

In a general election, it has been suggested that lawn signs and such matter little. Everybody knows that most of the literature ends up in the recycling. In fact, too much lit can annoy people. Campaign buttons don't do much either, because once you've handed them out most people will not wear them again. None of that really means much in a general election.

But in a caucus it means everything. These are signals a candidate sends out the the activists indicating that they have a clue as to how the process works. I know this does not make much sense at first, but then again, the giant schnoz on the front end of a male elephant seal does not make much sense either. Nor does the giant tail on a male peacock, which mainly serves to make it hard to get away from predators. But these are signals sent out to indicate not too indirectly some aspect of quality.

Sexual selection in animals often causes the evolution of traits that make no sense in most contexts, but end up serving as honest advertisements of some innate quality that females will prefer. Union printed wall and lawns signs, literature and buttons, and having a lot of volunteers standing around clearly identified as working for a given candidate are honest indicators of seriousness, ability, knowledge of the process, support, and so on.

At the local caucus for my friend, the activists saw a candidate that knew the ropes, and a candidate that did not. They picked the one who sent out the proper signals, even though the choice based on positions, speaking ability, etc. should have gone the other way.

Why will Donald Trump lose the Iowa Caucus?

The word on the street in Iowa is that the Cruz campaign is running a tight and effective ground game. They have all the parts. People have arrived from hundreds of miles away to phone bank and door knock ... having someone at your door telling you they just drove in from Montana to visit their grandmother in the ancestral Iowa home, oh and caucus for this candidate please, is effective.

Meanwhile Trump is not letting the press near or in the local headquarters. They are playing the ground game totally differently, more like the run up to the latest greatest reality TV show. Trump is inviting random children to tour his private plane. His daughter made a video on how to caucus, as though anyone in Iowa needs to know how to caucus. In short, Trump is sending almost none of the proper signals, and if anything, is sending bad signals. Iowans don't care about someone's private plane and they don't need to be told how to do their jobs.

Iowans, today, will see on the news Cruz's machine pulling out all the stops and doing all the things. They will see some dude in the parking lot outside of the blacked out windows of what appears to be Trump's headquarters saying that they have no comment about anything, asking the press to go away. Caucus delegates who might have been leaning towards Trump will caucus instead for someone else, most likely Cruz. And Cruz will trounce trump.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it. For now. I'll delete this post in shame if I'm wrong. Which is a distinct possibility. Becauase you never know with a caucus...

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By Raucous Indignation (not verified) on 01 Feb 2016 #permalink

In other words, signs and buttons during a caucus are like a peacock's feathers, or a howler monkey's vocal cords, and an actor's tits.

I'm afraid.

By Desertphile (not verified) on 01 Feb 2016 #permalink

"... Both the Princeton Election Consortium and 538 disagree with you on this. They have Trump running well ahead on Cruz....

This election cycle is even worse than the previous six because the leading fascist has not even bothered trying to hid the fact that he is fascist; it has actually helped him get support. I'm thinking you are right; signs and buttons perhaps matter in other caucuses, but not in the Iowa Republican Party one. But then, aren't most Iowa citizens intelligent?

By Desertphile (not verified) on 01 Feb 2016 #permalink

Raucous, yes, I know that those guys disagree with me, but they are not making the case I'm making. I'm providing special insight here that has been ignored by others. When this caucus is over and it turns out I'm right, everyone will bow to my genius.

Or not.

Desert, not as bad as it seems. These things are honest indicators if important abilities that have to do with how to run a campaign. Not so much the specific methods, but that you understand the system.

And yes, being the overt leading fascist does seem to work as a strategy. But he needs to be a fascist with lawn signs!

Greg Laden Raucous, yes, I know that those guys disagree with me, but they are not making the case I’m making. I’m providing special insight here that has been ignored by others. When this caucus is over and it turns out I’m right, everyone will bow to my genius.

Indeed, if I did not recognize the fact you are right up there with Newton and Twain and Abbey (Ed), I would not read your blog. And I also very much hope you are right: Trump needs to lose Iowa, and badly (by more than 8%) if for no other reason than to give sane, non-lunatic USA citizens hope that the USA has a future.

I suppose Stalin had banners and buttons.

Will Cruze's latest flyers, with the blatantly false accusations of "voting scores and penalties" for residents, influence attitudes towards him?

I don't think Trump will lose, but if it happens it will be very interesting to see his response. Hyperbole with almost infinite asymptotes would result, I'm sure.

dean: Will Cruze’s latest flyers, with the blatantly false accusations of “voting scores and penalties” for residents, influence attitudes towards him?

His targets were likely voters who are also likely RNC voters; so the answer is "It probably didn't help or hurt" if his victims are stupid (which is already a "given").

Funny how Cruz worked so hard to prevent people (The Correct Type of People) from voting....

By Desertphile (not verified) on 01 Feb 2016 #permalink

In reply to by dean (not verified)

I have 300 shares of Cruz at PredictIt. Hundreds of shorts against Trump and the rest. 50 shares of Trump to come in second.

So I hope you're right!

I've been betting on politics for a long time now, and I win more than I lose, so I've given up poker, craps, and the lottery to do this. Great fun.

By Scott Supak (not verified) on 01 Feb 2016 #permalink

Scott Supak: I’ve been betting on politics for a long time now, and I win more than I lose, so I’ve given up poker, craps, and the lottery to do this. Great fun.

Alas, I consistently lose. In fact I always lose, without exception. Damn it. I keep expecting people to act in their best interests; it looks like time for me to change my strategy.

By Desertphile (not verified) on 01 Feb 2016 #permalink

In reply to by Scott Supak (not verified)

I hope you are right.

Any republican but Trump is my motto.

RickA: "Any republican but Trump is my motto."

Instead of voting for a lesser evil, why don't youy vote for a good?

By Desertphile (not verified) on 01 Feb 2016 #permalink

In reply to by RickA (not verified)

I'm leaving to caucus for Bernie at 6 pm and I'm taking some other "Berniebots" with me.

Bernie - Hillary = Too close to call.

Trump - Cruz = Trump win by 3 points.

OK Greg. You're a genius. ^^^^^^^ bowing now ^^^^^^^^

Yep. Aussie TV and online news reporting that Cruz beat Trump and Rubio and Hillary Clinton has very narrowly won and claimed victory over Bernie Sanders :…

Huckabee and Martin O'Malley are now it seems officially out not that either ever stood much chance anyhow.

Round 1 down just another fifty odd to go ..

Impressive prediction Greg.

By John Seers (not verified) on 02 Feb 2016 #permalink

I think you have given one reason why Rubio did so well. I think if instead of a caucus it were an election, the result would have been Trump-Cruz-Carson-Rubio.

Also, there is the problem that people supporting Christie can see they are not doing well, and jumping over to Marco. Same with Carson, Bush, Kasich, Fiorina, Huckabee, Santorum. I think Trump picks up little of these votes.
I suspect many of this group were at 5-6%, and with an uneven split may have been non-viable in many precincts so they have to go elsewhere to be worth anything. Or they just chose to make their vote matter more by going to Rubio or Cruz.