Welp, this is never fun. We discovered an issue with how our primary model was making state-by-state and district-by-district forecasts. Specifically, the model was not properly calculating the demographic regressions that we use as a complement to the polls.
It’s not often that a third-place finish grabs more headlines than first place, but there’s nothing the media loves more than an underdog, and they got one in spades with Sen. Amy Klobuchar on Tuesday night.
Welcome to FiveThirtyEight’s weekly politics chat. The transcript below has been lightly edited.
Just before the now-infamous Iowa caucuses began, I concluded the final wave of my recurring interviews with early-state Democratic activists. Thirty-one activists responded to my questionnaire, and the results were consistent with my findings from December that suggested that although a considerable portion of Democrats were still undecided, many were rallying behind — albeit reluctantly, in some cases — former Vice President Joe Biden.
The Sen. Bernie Sanders rally that I attended on the evening before the New Hampshire primary drew a reported 7,500 people — about twice as many as his actual 3,867-vote margin of victory in the primary the next day. I say that not to endorse crowd sizes as an alternative to the polls. (Despite the large crowds, Sanders slightly underperformed his polls in New Hampshire, in fact.1) Nor do I mean to imply that Sanders won in New Hampshire because of the rally. (It was held before a largely student audience at the University of New Hampshire — people who were already likely to vote for Sanders.) But it does go to show how razor-thin the margins have been so far in the primaries. The voters who pushed Sanders past former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg in New Hampshire might only halfway fill a college hockey rink.
According to the FiveThirtyEight primary forecast, the single most likely outcome of the Democratic presidential primary is that no one wins a majority of pledged delegates (there is a 2 in 5, or 41 percent, chance of this). However, it is almost equally likely that Sen. Bernie Sanders will bag a majority (a 2 in 5 chance, or 37 percent). And a recent avalanche of national polls has been particularly good for Sanders.1
Many observers of the 2020 Democratic primary expect that the race will be much different as it moves to states with more diverse electorates. In particular, the expectation is that former Vice President Joe Biden will do better and former Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg will do worse. After all, polls have consistently shown Biden leading among black voters and in the top two1 with Hispanic Democrats, and Buttigieg way behind with both groups.
It’s been a good 24 hours for Michael Bloomberg. Early this morning, on the brink of the deadline to do so, the former New York City mayor qualified for Wednesday’s Democratic presidential debate thanks to a NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist College poll that gave him 19 percent of the national primary vote. He’s up to 16.3 percent in our national polling average — essentially tying him with former Vice President Joe Biden for the first time. However, he’s still 9 points behind front-runner Sen. Bernie Sanders, and — by Bloomberg’s own design — it will be a couple weeks before we know how much actual voter support Bloomberg has.
Three days after the New Hampshire primary, we are finally getting some polls that reflect the new state of the race — including a poll in Nevada, the next state in the voting sequence, for the first time in a full month! And overall, they’re not showing that any candidate has grabbed a ton of momentum out of Iowa or New Hampshire. That’s probably good news for former Vice President Joe Biden, whose firewall in Southern states appears weakened but still standing. But mostly it’s a recipe for a long, drawn-out nominating contest. In fact, our national primary forecast currently says that the single most likely outcome of the primary season is that no candidate gets a majority of pledged delegates.