For months, the political media have had nothing to talk about but polls and expectations. Yesterday reality crashed the party in Iowa, revealing the vacuity of the polls and the “expectations game.” Let’s examine how poll/expectations-based “analysis” differs from reality-based analysis.
The polls were totally off
Quinnipiac Republican Poll: Trump 31%, Cruz 24%, Rubio 17%.
Quinnipiac Democrat Poll: Sanders 49%, Clinton 46%
Des Moines Register Republican Poll: Trump 28%, Cruz 23%, Rubio 15%
Des Moines Register Democrat Poll: Clinton 45%, Sanders 42%.
Actual Republican Caucuses: Cruz 28%, Trump 24%, Rubio 23%
Actual Democratic Caucuses: Clinton 50%, Sanders 50%
The polls accurately predicted that Trump, Cruz, and Rubio would be the top three Republicans with the rest far behind. They overestimated Trump by 4-7%, underestimated Cruz by 4-5%, and underestimated Rubio by 6-8%. The polls differed by 6% on the Democratic result, each of them off in opposite directions from the actual result (a virtual tie).
Nate Silver explains that Iowa is hard to poll. But since polls are the only horserace information that the media has, there’s endless dissection of who is surging or receding. In fact, we were only looking at a pale shadow of the truth. The polls were bullshit.
Expectations are irrelevant, let’s analyze reality
Before the election, there were many articles that projected the future based on exceeding or falling short of expectations. Expectations come from media, which come from polls. So that’s a bullshit narrative. My news search today revealed hardly anyone talking about expectations — what happened to all that supposedly significant analysis?
Compare the expectations narrative with the reality-based narrative based on what happened yesterday.
Expectations: Donald Trump underperformed in Iowa, which hurts him.
Reality: Donald Trump lost Iowa. Even if he wins New Hampshire, his issue is that so many people hate him. This caps his chances. Expectations are irrelevant.
Expectations: Ted Cruz did better than expected, which boosts his candidacy.
Reality: Ted Cruz did great with religious conservatives in Iowa. He’s about to get a lot scrutiny on his views, for example, that God comes before country. That won’t play in New Hampshire. With Trump and Rubio splitting Republican votes, there might be enough religious conservatives to get Cruz the nomination, but they won’t win him the general election.
Expectations: Marco Rubio did better than expected, which boosts his candidacy.
Reality: Marco Rubio consolidated the votes of people scared of Cruz and Trump. If he can keep doing that, he’s got a path to the nomination.
Expectations: The rest of the Republican field did poorly, which will hurt them.
Reality: The rest of the Republican field spent an awful lot of money for minuscule vote totals. It looks doubtful any of them will change that any time soon.
Expectations: Bernie Sanders did better than expected, earning a tie in the first state to vote.
Reality: Bernie Sanders has to win in southern states to have a shot.
Expectations: Hillary Clinton didn’t decisively win Iowa. She was a loser there in 2008. This is her Waterloo.
Reality: Hillary Clinton now faces an actual challenge, but is still the most likely to win the nomination because of her appeal across racial lines.
Here are predictions based, not on polls, but on what actually happened.
The other Republican pretenders will drop out. Bush spent $2800 per vote in Iowa and came in sixth with 3%. Ben Carson is tanking after putting the electorate to sleep. Rand Paul’s issues aren’t what people are worried about right now. Kasich has little appeal with Southerners and must fight with Trump for Northeastern Republicans. It’s now about Trump, Cruz, and Rubio. The nomination depends on whether Rubio can roll up all the support from Republicans horrified by Trump and Cruz.
On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders has proven he can excite white people in Iowa. And he will win New Hampshire. The race depends on whether he can excite non-white people in the rest of the country. Fivethirtyeight.com now projects a 96% chance that Clinton will win South Carolina. That’s not a good sign for Bernie.
Final note for all the polemicists who may comment: my analysis is based on reality, not who I like. If you disagree, cite evidence, not passion. Vote based on passion; analyze based on facts.