A new Iowa poll shakes up the race

First up today, a big poll out of Iowa over the weekend has caused a TON of talk in the political press. I’m going to try to pull out the relevant details for you, so you can safely ignore everything else about it.

First, methodology and all that business. The poll was sponsored by the Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom. It took place between September 14th and 18th, polling 3,510 “active registered voters” via phone. From that larger sample, the Selzer pollsters identified 602 likely Democratic caucus-goers, and figured a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk results.

The big headline is that Senator Elizabeth Warren led the poll, although that lead is within the margin of error. She is the first choice of 22% of those likely caucus-goers. Compare that with 20% for Biden, 11% for Sanders, 9% for Buttigieg, and 6% for Harris. The rest are at 3% or below.

Now, things get even more interesting for Warren when you consider how Iowa’s caucuses work. Within those particular caucuses, you start out in a first-choice position. Meaning, you physically go to the part of the high school gym (or whatever) where there’s a sign that says Warren, or Bullock, or Biden, or whatever candidate you have as your number one choice. Then, if you happen to be standing in a group that has less than 15% of the room you’re in, you’ve gotta move to another group. That’s the second-choice scenario. Plus, other groups can actively pitch you and try to change your mind.

So when we look at who’s doing well in Iowa, it’s really about first choice PLUS second choice, AT LEAST. Because a lot of people are going to end up in precisely that scenario—that is the DESIGN of the caucus, intentionally. You might go in saying, hey, I’m totally in this for Representative Tim Ryan because of his rad album (or whomever), and then by the end of the night you end up voting for somebody else either because you’ve been persuaded by other voters or you had a second-choice candidate already in mind.

So how is Warren doing in terms of that first choice PLUS second choice PLUS you know, seriously considering her and maybe persuadable? Well, the poll calls this mega-number the “candidate footprint,” and to create it, they add up the percentages of voters who list a given candidate as their first choice, second choice, or in the “actively considering” category. Those three percentages added together equal the footprint. Warren leads the field, outside the margin of error, with a 71% footprint. Compare that to Biden at 60%, Buttigieg at 55%, Harris also at 55%, Sanders at 50%, and so on. If you go and read the poll, look for that footprint—it’s a really interesting way to understand why candidates like Booker, who polls at 3% first-choice, still see Iowa as a real opportunity—because he has a 42% footprint there. If you’ve got a big chunk of the field still CONSIDERING you, you’ve got some kind of shot.

The other thing to remember is that, overall, Democrats have a 15% threshold for apportioning any delegates. So if a candidate cannot reach 15% they get nothing. When you look at these numbers, it’s entirely possible that Iowa could come down to a small handful of candidates, and that will have a massive effect on the rest of the race.

Okay, so now let’s add some grains of salt. The poll asked people essentially how locked-in they were on those first choices. Reading from an article by Chas Danner in New York Magazine:

“88 percent of Warren’s first-choicers said they were open to changing their minds, as did 70 percent of Biden backers. Overall, just one in five would-be caucus-goers said they had made up their mind with less than five months to go before the Iowa caucuses on February 3[rd].”

So, don’t take this to the bank just yet. You’ve got roughly 80% of Iowa voters saying they’re open to being convinced, and you have a bunch of candidates working hard right now to do precisely that.

Reading once more from New York Magazine:

“Widely respected Iowa pollster J. Ann Selzer emphasized the current flexibility of Iowans’ support in her analysis of the results, telling the Register that while the poll was the “first major shakeup” of the race, she still saw “opportunity aplenty” for candidates to shake things up again. “The leaders aren’t all that strong,” she commented on Saturday. “The universe is not locked in.””

Gabbard gets that third poll

Last week I reported on the extremely long and complex saga of Representative Tulsi Gabbard and polling for the October DNC debate. Well, in that Iowa poll released over the weekend, Gabbard got her third result. She got 2% in the topline, and, for a change, that DOES count. As I record this, Gabbard now has three out of the four polls she needs, and has just about eight days to get that final result.

And right before I headed into the booth, I saw news that TOMORROW we will have a new Monmouth poll out of New Hampshire. Gabbard already has a 2% result in New Hampshire from CBS News/YouGov, so if she picks up the same result in tomorrow’s poll, she’ll be in the October debate. And by the way, YES, a candidate can have two polls in the same area as long as they are from different polling organizations.

One other minor bit of help in that Iowa poll was for Senator Amy Klobuchar, who got 3%. She was already qualified for both September and October, but this 3% result knocks out a previous 2% result, and brings her DNC polling average up to 3.25%. That means she is now tied with Senator Cory Booker and Andrew Yang.

The only reason those averages matter is for placement on the stage—higher averages get you closer to the middle of the row. That could be especially interesting if we have a two-night debate, which is still technically unconfirmed but seems extremely likely.

Iowa will hold satellite caucuses

Back on September 3rd, I reported that the DNC did not approve Iowa’s plans for a virtual caucus. That plan involved letting people dial in using an automated phone system in order to increase participation in what is normally an in-person event on a Tuesday evening. But the DNC wasn’t having it, due to security concerns about the whole phone thing. After that happened, there was genuine concern that Iowa could lose its first-in-the-nation caucus, because it wasn’t clear how to implement a new plan with just four months until the voting starts. And the DNC was still insisting that Iowa had to come up with some way to increase participation and access.

Well, Iowa has a new plan, and the DNC has approved it. So what’s the plan? Way more in-person caucuses. Okay, so here’s the basic idea. In Iowa, even in the previous cycle, there were a few events called “satellite caucuses.” These were run the same way as a regular caucus—which, go back to September 3rd for a run-down on that, link in the show notes—but they were held at nontraditional locations. So, for instance, in 2016 there were satellite caucuses at a Veterans Home, two behavioral health institutes, and a senior-living community.

Under the new plan, Iowa voters can petition a committee to consider essentially any location they request for their own satellite caucus. This could get very interesting. Party leaders have said they still need the event to happen on the same day as the regular caucuses, and as close to 7pm as possible—however, if there is an extreme need, that is something the committee will evaluate.

Part of what’s so interesting about this is that these locations don’t need to be in Iowa. A few examples given included college campuses outside the state, nursing homes, job sites where shift workers are working at 7pm, and locations overseas. Reading from an article by Brianne Pfannenstiel in the Des Moines Register:

“[Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy] Price said he would convene a satellite caucus review committee made up of State Central Committee members who have pledged to remain neutral in the caucuses. Any Iowa Democrat would be able to petition that committee to host a satellite caucus location before Nov[ember] 18[th]. The sites could be in-state or out-of-state locations.
The committee will approve those petitions by Dec[ember] 16th and make the list public by Dec[ember] 18[th], he said.
The satellite caucuses would operate like a traditional precinct caucus, with participants making first and second choices.”

Well, okay, but one of the big concerns about caucuses has to do with accessibility. If you’re going to have in-person caucus events, even if they’re in locations that aren’t, say, a high school gym, how is Iowa going to make sure that people with disabilities can actually participate? Well, reading again from the Register:

“The state party will also expand its staff “thanks to the support of the DNC” to make the process run more smoothly. The team will include a new caucus accessibility director and two caucus accessibility organizers. Price said part of the new jobs will be ensuring that anyone who wants to attend their precinct caucus has the resources to do so.”

In a conference call on Friday, the DNC officially approved the plan. So the next step is for Iowans to start submitting their requests.

Microsoft is helping with election security

Here’s a weird little item. Microsoft has announced that it will provide free security updates in 2020 for election systems that still rely on Windows 7. The core problem prior to this new announcement was that Microsoft was ending support for Windows 7 as of January 14th, 2020. After that date, if you still wanted to get security updates on Windows 7, you’d have pay $50 dollars per computer.

Given that Windows 7 was released in 2009, I would have thought this was kind of a non-issue, but apparently Windows 7 is actually quite popular in election systems. Reading from an article in ZDNet by Ed Bott:

“An Associated Press analysis earlier this year found that “the vast majority of 10,000 election jurisdictions nationwide use Windows 7 or an older operating system to create ballots, program voting machines, tally votes and report counts.” That count includes a significant number of brand-new systems in states that were highly contested in 2016.”

Cool. Great. Well, so I guess Microsoft is going to save democracy by patching a more than ten-year-old operating system for free. Reading here from an article by Microsoft Corporate VP Tom Burt in the Microsoft On the Issues blog:

“Today, as part of Microsoft’s Defending Democracy Program, we are announcing that we will provide free security updates for federally certified voting systems running Windows 7 through the 2020 elections, even after Microsoft ends Windows 7 support.
[…]
…We will do this through the end of 2020, both in the United States and in other democratic countries, as defined by the EIU Democracy Index, that have national elections in 2020 and express interest. We are also working with major manufacturers that have sold voting machines running Windows 7 to ensure any security updates provided to these systems are successful.”

Burt then goes on to provide a specific email address to contact if you happen to be an official who is running of these affected systems. And he points out that Microsoft is also providing a free and open source toolkit for makers of election software in general.

Democrats are targeting 26,849 local races in 2020

Next up, according to a story in Axios by Alexi McCammond, a group called Contest Every Race is targeting 26,849 local races across the U.S. in 2020. These are so-called downballot races, meaning they’re not the big headline positions up top like President and stuff. Reading from the article:

“2020 is more than just the presidential election. Democrats are getting serious about trying to gain more power at the local level, whether through city council seats, school boards, or state legislatures.
There are 520,000 elected offices in the country. As many as 75% go uncontested, per the group, ceding many of those seats to Republicans.”

According to Axios, the group is targeting five battleground states specifically, including Florida, Michigan, Arizona, North Carolina, and Iowa. They are providing support for local candidates, many of whom might be newcomers to the political process.

If you visit their website, there is literally a button to click that leads to a very short form you can fill out. If you meet whatever criteria they’re looking for, the group will contact you and encourage you to run for a specific local office. I didn’t fill out the form, for obvious reasons—I can’t be running an election that I’m covering—but, just saying, there is a link in the show notes.

So although the Axios article only briefly mentions this, I suspect the biggest reason this is happening has to do with redistricting after the 2020 census. That will be controlled by the states, and as we learned from Kirby Ferguson on the show one week ago today, whoever controls the state legislature controls the makeup of the districts, which controls who votes in which district, while leads right back to the first thing.

In other words, after those new census results come through, it would be really smart to have control over a lot of state legislatures so that gerrymandering doesn’t get out of hand. Or, to put it less charitably, to make sure you’re the party doing the gerrymandering.

Booker’s campaign needs $1.7 million dollars real soon

On Saturday, NBC News reported that Senator Cory Booker’s campaign was in trouble. According to a memo by campaign manager Addisu Demissie, the Booker campaign needed to raise $1.7 million dollars by the end of Q3, which is one week from today.

In the memo, Demissie wrote:

“Here’s the bottom line: ​Cory 2020 needs to raise an additional $1.7 million [dollars] by September 30[th] to be in a position to build the organization necessary to continue competing for the nomination. Without a fundraising surge to close out this quarter, we do not see a legitimate long-term path forward.
September is traditionally one of the strongest fundraising months for presidential campaigns. But after a surprisingly positive August, we simply have not witnessed the expected uptick in fundraising over the last three weeks.
To put it bluntly, we need to scale our operation up in October and November to remain competitive and need a strong September to make that happen.”

Now, as soon as I read that part, I thought…you know…this is a real headline-grabber, so maybe this is kind of a reverse psychology way of getting a fundraising bump. You know? Like if you, say, hey, my campaign’s really on the rocks, well, that headline goes everywhere. And that media boost improves your donations, and then your campaign—IF it even WAS in trouble—is now doing even better. Well, then I read this part:

“I want to be clear: This isn't an end-of-quarter stunt or another one of those memos from a campaign trying to spin the press. This is a real, unvarnished look under the hood of our operation at a level of transparency unprecedented in modern presidential campaigns.”

Well, so, to be frank, I think this is actually a little bit of both. It is a strategic admission that is explicitly designed to draw contributions. Having said that, it’s probably also true that Booker is ready to drop out if he doesn’t see a substantial change real soon.

Like I’ve been saying for a few weeks now, the time on the clock is running out. Candidates like Booker who are sitting at around a 3% polling average nationally might be better off suspending their presidential campaigns and flipping that money and time right over into their Senate races. Booker’s Senate seat IS on the ballot in 2020. So he’s gotta pick one eventually.

Early this morning, Demissie wrote on Twitter:

“Between 8am Saturday and 9:16am this morning, our supporters (and eventual supporters) have stepped up and contributed $508,629 [dollars and] 39 [cents].” END QUOTE.

So now Booker just needs the other $1.2 million and he’s good.

Well, that is it for one more episode of the Election Ride Home. I have been your host, Chris Higgins. You can always find me on Twitter @chrishiggins. In yarden news, I cobbled together a watering system for a new arborvitae that is taking the place of a very mature but also very dead arborvitae. After I looked into the post-planting care, it was kind of a shock—apparently I’m supposed to hit this thing with a garden hose for like half an hour every two days for AT LEAST A MONTH even though it’s already raining a little bit almost every day. I checked with three different people, and they were like, yeah, that’s why you see all those Home Depot arborvitae shrubs that are totally dead, because nobody believes us about this absurd watering scheme. So I got me a hose out of the garage, and a special sprayer-bob thing, and a timer, and an APP, because…I guess that’s a thing now, and I am heavily watering a four-foot shrub while it drizzles in late September. It feels like that’s a metaphor for something, but I just can’t put my finger on it. As always, thanks for listening, and I will talk to y’all tomorrow.