Monday, July 28, 2008

Iowa and Nebraska: The Caucus Question 2008 Wrap Up

This is more housekeeping than anything else. However, I wouldn't want to pose a question like the caucus question and not gather a full data set for the 2008 cycle. The flooding in Iowa in mid-June pushed the Democratic convention there back two weeks and around that time I was heading out of town (...and thinking about other things). That said, here is how things finished in both Iowa and Nebraska:

Iowa Final Tally: 37.6% of the Vote, 71.1% of the Delegates

Nebraska Finally Tally: 67.5% of the Vote, 66.7% of the Delegates

Just as a refresher, the premise of the caucus question is that there is movement in the level of support for a candidate throughout the steps of caucusing. Factors that intervene are how early the original contest was, how many steps -- and thus opportunities for delegate support to shift -- were there in the caucus process, and how many candidates competed. In most years during the frontloaded campaign era, it is fair to say that with nominations clinched early, competition dropped, making it a foregone conclusion that the front-runner/presumptive nominee would gain as the process progressed. With the Clinton-Obama contest stretching to the last days of actual contests in 2008, there was a natural opportunity to see if, in fact, there was anything to this caucus question idea.

With Iowa and Nebraska, you have two states on opposite ends of the spectrum. Iowa had the earliest contest; one that was competitive to say the least. And the near equal distribution of the vote between Clinton, Edwards and Obama demonstrated that. In Nebraska, Edwards had already dropped out and Obama had apparently laid the grassroots foundation in a caucus state that would, collectively with the other caucus states, prove the cornerstone of his successful nomination run. In other words, Nebraska was not as competitive as Iowa.

In Iowa, then, there was room for improvement for Obama. In Nebraska, on the other hand, any gains would have been hard to come by for Obama or Clinton. The battle for gains in Iowa, though, centered on John Edwards' delegates and most moved over to Obama. The others opted to stick to their guns and continue to back Edwards instead of moving toward Clinton. So, while initial estimates had the delegate breakdown in Iowa pegged at a 16-15-14 Obama/Edwards/Clinton split, Obama ultimately ended up with a 32-4-9 distribution of pledged delegates heading to Denver next month.

In Nebraska, the story was slightly different. Obama won the post-Super Tuesday caucus in the Cornhusker state handily, but had nowhere to go. Even after having clinched the nomination, a total consolidation of Nebraska's delegates didn't happen for Obama as it might have in a less competitive enironment. Clinton was able to improve based on her delegate numbers rounding up at the state convention in two of Nebraska's three congressional districts as well as in the statewide tally.

What emerges from this tale of two states are three possible options: 1) a move toward Obama, 2) a move toward Clinton and 3) no movement at all. Iowa, we can pencil in as a gain for Obama, and Nebraska most resembles the no movement group of caucus states.

The Caucus Question: 2008 Movement
Obama MovesClinton MovesNo Movement

North Dakota
*The delegate decisions in the Hawaii process were determined by the first step. The decisions made at the Hawaii state convention were bound by the precinct caucus decisions. The Aloha state was prevented from exhibiting any movement.
**Texas defies any of these characterizations. Initially the movement from the first to second step was toward Obama. From that point to the state convention, though, some support drifted back toward Clinton.

That the environment was so close had much to do with the overall lack of movement that we saw throughout the various caucus processes. In a "normal" cycle, the front-runner/presumptive nominee would have been able to peel off most, if not all, of the opposing delegates. But that has a lot to do with the amount of space between first and second place. There was barely any light between Clinton and Obama. That had the effect, in most states, of causing Clinton delegates to stay true to who they backed in the first place. And that is the story of this historic nomination race: that it was so close. That competitiveness overwhelmed the possibility of seeing any variation in the delegate movement based on how early a state held its caucus or how many steps a particular state's caucus process contained.

Note: If I can get a hold of the GOP data for comparison, I'll revisit this. That data though has been difficult to come (and the reason there hasn't been a Republican series of caucus question posts.).

Recent Posts:
An Update on the Rasmussen "Leaners" and a Look at How They Affect the Electoral College

The Electoral College Map (7/27/08)

Guam: Oh Well, So Much for Frontloading the General Election

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