How Iowa Chooses National Convention Delegates and What That Means For Us

Yves here. Who dreamed up this crazy process? I thought Iowa citizens were straightforward types.

By Thomas Neuburger. Originally published at DownWithTyranny!

Iowa’s four congressional districts. Note Cedar Rapids in CD1, Iowa City (a major college town) in CD2, Des Moines in CD3 and Ames (the other large college town) in the otherwise heavily rural CD4.

Most people think, innocently enough, that the coming Democratic Party Iowa caucuses held in each of the state’s voting precincts selects pledged delegates to the national convention.

The real situation is much more complex. Precinct caucuses do select pledged delegates, but the delegates they select are to the county convention. At the county conventions, delegates are selected to the congressional district conventions, where, finally, pledged delegates to the national convention are selected.

All of this layering, despite its indirectness, is nonetheless intended to produce a national delegate mix that roughly approximates the vote ratios at the precinct caucuses — “roughly” because of rounding rules. Are there unfortunate consequences to this indirectness? Yes, and they could be considerable.

Iowa Delegates, What Kind and How Many

Let’s start with the pledged delegate allocations themselves, then look at the process in more detail. For a source we’ll use an excellent if weedy site, The Green Papers, to explain the details. (Here’s the Iowa Democratic Party’s explanation, if you want to look at the ultimate source.)

Iowa, like all states, has been allocated a number of pledged and unpledged delegates by the DNC. Pledged delegates come in three kinds or types: per-district, at-large, and “pledged PLEOs” (party leaders and elected officials).

Starting with per-district pledged delegates: The state has four congressional districts (CD1, CD2, CD3, CD4), each of which, at its district convention, allocates its assigned delegates based on viable candidates’ performance at the precinct caucuses in that district.

“Viable” means that a candidate has received at least 15% or more of the caucus vote in a precinct (but see explanation and example below; the viability threshold changes depending on the number of pledged delegates available in a precinct’s district). Any candidate who receives less than the viability minimum of caucus votes for that precinct’s district gets no delegates.

In addition, the DNC has granted Iowa Democrats a number of at-large or state-wide pledged delegates, which are allocated at the state convention to viable candidates based on their performance in the precinct caucuses.

Finally, Iowa Democrats have been granted a number of pledged PLEO (“party leader and elected official”) delegates who are also allocated at the state convention — again, according to viable candidates’ performance at precinct caucuses.

In Iowa’s case, the pledged delegate allocations are as follows:

  • 7 for CD1
  • 7 for CD2
  • 8 for CD3
  • 5 for CD4
  • 9 at-large or state-wide delegates
  • 5 pledged PLEOs
  • Total = 41 pledged delegates

In top of all of that, the state has been granted eight unpledged PLEO delegates — these are the so-called superdelegates — for a grand total of 49 delegates to the national convention.

How Iowa Delegates Are Chosen

Here’s a more detailed look at the selection process for the pledged delegates from The Green Papers (emphasis and some reparagraphing mine). Note how many layers it contains and how byzantine the process is.

Democratic Party Caucuses meet in each precinct at 7 PM CST. Absentee or proxy voting is not allowed. Each Precinct Caucus chooses the precinct’s delegates to the County Conventions based on presidential preference. …

At each caucus, each presidential contender who fails to get at least 15 percent support among the participants in the initial balloting after a period of discussion will be considered “non-viable” and all supporters of such “non-viable” presidential contenders will then be required to join in the support of presidential contenders who have remained “viable”.

To determine the viability of a presidential contender, multiply the number of eligible caucus attendees by the percentages below and round to the nearest whole number. This is the minimum number of delegates needed for the contender to remain viable.

  • 50% (majority vote) for caucuses electing 1 delegate.
  • 25% (one quarter) for caucuses electing 2 delegates.
  • 16.66…% (one sixth) for caucuses electing 3 delegates.
  • 15% for caucuses electing 4 or more delegates.

Example. 57 people attend a caucus electing 3 delegates [case 3 above]. The viability is 1/6th of 57 = 9.5 rounded which is 10. Say 29 people support candidate A, 19 support candidate B, and 9 support candidate C. Candidates A and B are viable since they have support of 10 or more of the attendees. Because candidate C did not receive the support of 10 attendees, those supporting candidate C must realign to another candidate [or go home]. At this point, the attendees realign themselves so 34 support candidate A and 23 support candidate B.

The caucus will next choose the precinct’s delegates to who will be allocated in proportion to the percentage of the support each “viable” presidential contender received in the second round of balloting at the precinct caucus as of the time of its adjournment.

Continuing the example from above: For Candidate A: 3 (total precinct delegates) × 34 (supporters) ÷ 57 (total attendees) = 1.789 which rounds to 2 precinct delegates. Candidate B receives 3 × 23 ÷ 57 = 1.211 which rounds to 1 precinct delegate.
Note: Due to rounding, the sum of precinct delegates may exceed the total number of precinct delegates allocated to the caucus. If this happens, round down the candidate with the smallest fraction. Candidates receiving 1 precinct delegate are not subject to this rule, that is, candidates cannot loose their only precinct delegate during this adjustment.

National Convention delegates are allocated from the state delegate equivalency results of the precinct caucuses. …

Saturday 21 March 2020: County Conventions convene in each county to choose Congressional District delegates of which the county is a part as well as the county’s delegates the Iowa State Democratic Convention.

Saturday 25 April 2020: Democratic Party District Conventions convene in each congressional district at 9:00am to elect the district’s delegates to the Democratic National Convention according to the results of the precinct caucuses.

This accounts for the congressional district delegates. Now for the selection of pledged at-large delegates and pledged “party leaders and elected officials” (PLEOs):

Saturday 13 June 2020: The Iowa State Democratic Convention convenes at 9am CDT. The State Convention elects the 9 At-Large and 5 PLEO of the Iowa’s Pledged delegates to the Democratic National Convention according to the results of the precinct caucuses.

Finally, this is the makeup of the group of Iowa’s unpledged or superdelegates:

The remaining 8 National Convention delegates consist of 8 Unpledged PLEO delegates:

  • 5 Democratic National Committee members.
  • 3 Members of Congress (0 Senators and 3 Representatives).
  • 0 Governors.
  • 0 Distinguished Party Leaders.

These 8 delegates … will go to the Democratic National Convention officially “Unpledged”.

Again, notice the layers.

How to View the Delegate Selection System

I offer three takeaways from this look at the selection process.

First, in an honestly run election the process will indeed, at each stage, allocate pledged delegates “according to the results of the precinct caucuses” as required by the rules — allowing for very small differences due to rounding.

Second, because the entire selection process isn’t over until after the June 13 Iowa state convention, those small differences can (and most likely will) be reported intermittently as adjusted per-candidate delegate totals. That is, a candidate may be reported as having X number of delegates on caucus night, but actually receive a slight different number by the time the state convention is held.

Third, because of the many layers…

  • Precincts choosing precinct delegates to county conventions, followed by
  • County conventions choosing delegates to the congressional district conventions, followed by
  • Congressional district conventions choosing delegates to the national convention

…the people chosen as delegates by the precincts are unlikely all to be the people who vigorously represent the candidates at the national convention. (This will almost certainly be true of many of the “pledged PLEOs.”) Instead, national convention delegates are just as likely to be people who have been most deeply involved with the Democratic Party for the longest time and have simply promised to vote a certain way on round one. This is not just true of Iowa pledged delegates, by the way, but to all of them.

Which means that at the national convention, a Sanders or Warren or Biden pledged delegate may not in fact be a Sanders or Warren or Biden loyalist. In many cases, that delegate may just be a state party official or loyal party functionary who’s being rewarded for their service with a nice, perhaps pre-paid, trip to the week-long party (in both senses) event in Milwaukee.

What Will the Democratic Party Do On the Second Round of Convention Voting?

Keep all this in mind as you game out the results of a second round of voting in Milwaukee, when all delegates who were “pledged” on the first round, become decidedly unpledged on all subsequent rounds. The opportunities for second-round mischief are many.

On the second round of voting, and on each round afterwards, the entire convention is composed of unpledged delegates, many of them merely state party loyalists, each free to vote as they choose. The aggregated response of the Party to that second-round freedom may well define the Party in the eyes of voters for the next generation.

And the response of voters to the way the Party exercises that freedom may well define the Party’s future, or lack of it, as well. After all, if primary voters select one of the revolutionary candidates by a solid plurality, and at the convention the Party denies that candidate the nomination, the Party itself may not survive the voter revolt against it in the battle to unseat Donald Trump.

Could the Democratic Party actually Whigify itself in 2020? It seems unlikely given the many advantages secured by the bipartisan duopoly.

But do stay tuned. These are epic times, when even the almost unthinkable of outcomes is entirely possible.

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  1. ambrit

    And people call this a representative democracy.
    A modern Benjamin Franklin, upon being asked what sort of government the country had would answer today, “A Republic, if you can afford it.”

  2. John A

    As a European, I have a very vague understanding of the entire US electoral process. However, one thing stuck in my mind from 2016, when, for whatever reason in certain areas, who got the nod had to be decided by coin toss between Bernie and Hillary, and that Hillary ‘won’ six tosses out of six (and perhaps the same in other coin toss deciders). I fully expect some fix to be in to thwart Sanders and his supporters. The entire system appears totally corrupt. When will people finally say, ‘no mas’ to quote the wonderful Roberto Duran.

    1. Brooklin Bridge

      The forces marshled against Sanders are mind boggling as is the desperate need by the public (the deplorables) for radical, largely economic, change. Bets are on the ability of the DNC (and all their insidious offspring of acronyms) to squeak through with the heavy thumb on the scales of time feathered corrupted processes such as the Iowa Caucus maze, or the new, bright and shiny use of black box technology combined with the ability to keep a straight face while canaries (statistical improbabilities such as you mention) escape the Medusa mouths* or public interface of the party.

      *See Amanpour And Company’ s 1/30/2020 episode for an excellent example of a slimy covered-up hit job on Sanders masquerading as an interview with Gary Hart about the Iowa caucus. Hart insists (and Amanpour questions in harmony) that no one cares about economic conditions anywhere near as much as they care about who – Biden, Biden, Biiiiii-den – can defeat Trump.

      But other than this uniquely gaudy yet recognizable Mark Twain like caricature of the American public’s decency and gullibility being exploited, the end result is largely the same as what you have in Europe, a byzantine maze built up over the last 50 years providing the illusion of representative government that nevertheless evaluates (6 out of 6 times) to the interests of a global overlord class with the ability to resort to an iron fist when and as the illusion wears too thin.

    2. Kitty

      Are you referring to Iowa & its grossly undemocratic exclusionary caucuses. And for that matter all states where democratic party implements Caucuses.

      Were the coin tosses you refer to all in Iowa? Or spread across all Caucus states.

      Sooner democratic party in caucus states get rid of caucuses the better. Washington state did in 2019 – this year it is paper ballots by mail. Everyone who is registered and wants to vote can – even if they are working in a potato processing plant, pig farm or Walmart.

  3. WheresOurTeddy

    An absurdly byzantine and — yeah, I’ll say it, Iowa — self-important process.

    It’s ridiculous that 3 out of every 48 months we fetishize one small state’s voters, goose their economy artificially and then forget about it for the next 45 until we do it again, giving said state an outsize influence on the process at the onset every single election.

    California is Super Tuesday this year (because the DNC hilariously thought Kamala Harris would possibly be in position to be the nominee), but we are almost always near the end and a non-factor in nominating the candidate. The primary was in June in 2016 and he AP called California for Clinton *the day before* despite no votes being counted. Many people didn’t bother to vote at all.

    For Democrats, California is an ATM machine and safe electoral votes and 2 safe senate seats while being an afterthought electorally despite being the most populous and economically important state.

    I wonder how many health care admin jobs and Big Ag suits would be shipped out of state if, say, Nebraska or Missouri or Colorado went first instead…

    1. Big River Bandido

      Iowa is a must-win state in the general election. That’s especially true for Democrats — because a Democrat that doesn’t possess enough strength to win Iowa cannot hope to win Ohio.

    2. Jeffk

      Yes! if, at the end of this national election, the states drew lots to determine the sequence of the primary elections in four years, then that would be far fairer than having Iowans always be the people that start the conversation about who can be president. This country was founded by different groups of people. The people who left the east coast to settle in Oregon, Washington, and California were different than those who settled Alabama and Nebraska, or stayed in the cities of New England, or moved to Iowa. Why should Iowans always be the first to winnow the candidates? How many of the candidates will drop out after New Hampshire – long before the voters on the west coast get their say? If there was a random process for setting the primary schedule then each state’s voters has an equal chance of beginning the selection process.

      What am I saying! We’d have to change! Mon Dieu! I think it would be as simple as Chief Justice John Roberts requiring the senate impeachment votes be cast unanimously on secret paper ballots – undercutting any fear of retribution. Simple solutions get undercut by tradition and intransigence.

  4. flora

    Iowa citizens are straightforward types; the Dem party, on the other hand…
    (Each state party sets its own caucus or primary rules with a heavy ‘guiding’ hand from the national organization.)

    1. cheese

      The state sets the law about what system is used and when, not the party. There’s only so much they can do to change it

  5. Mark Gisleson

    Good explainer. Things to remember:

    Iowans understand this process, Bernie’s folks understand it very well.

    Yes, there is migration between caucus and state convention, usually because the presidential preferences are no longer important. As a rule of thumb, one candidate will emerge out of Uncommitted’s dark and gnarly ranks to acquire a delegate or two, but mostly the shifting occurs because of candidates dropping out.

    College campuses and other potential hot spots are limited by delegates. No matter how many people caucus, the number of delegates remains the same BUT next cycle heavily attended sites will be rewarded with more delegates. This is for the same reason as Steve King’s CD getting fewer delegates: this process rewards Democratic voters, not voters in general.

    The purpose of the Caucus is not to select a President. It’s to exploit the energy created by that process to get a new generation of Iowans involved in Democratic politics and in that regard IT IS INCREDIBLY EFFECTIVE. If you’ve never lived in a caucus state, you really haven’t participated in politics. Not like Iowans or Nevadans do.

    But it is elitist. It assumes you have time and can attend and will take the time to become informed. This process assumes you want to be on lists, to be called, to be asked to volunteer, and that if you can, you’ll give money.

    it’s a great process for newbies as you will see almost everything in real time. Almost anyone who attends a caucus can be seated at their county convention as an alternate (unless the Presidential race is still going and then it does get a bit tighter). In even-numbered off-years they hold caucuses and pretty much everyone is a delegate and has their choice of committees, and this is a great way to get your feet wet before the circus comes to town two years later.

    But mostly EVERYTHING IS OUT IN THE OPEN AND DONE IN FRONT OF EVERYONE ELSE. Friendships die on caucus night, new friendships are born. This provides the process with a remarkable clarity.

    You can’t use signed ballots in a general election, but they are very powerful tools for keeping democracy alive in a political party. The skullduggery in Iowa comes from the higher ups meeting in closed rooms and then having dinner or drinks later with the swells. Nothing bad comes out of a caucus, and that helps Iowans get rid of the awful taste in their mouths from watching a year of insane commercials and listening to important people try to suck up to them.

    1. Brooklin Bridge

      A terrific description, but I’m still not quite sure what to take away from it. How, for instance, does the recent introduction of smart phone app usage play into it? The DNC is keeping the technology, who wrote it, etc. secret. So I’m assuming, correctly or not, that it is potentially impenetrable cover for more of the skullduggery of back rooms you mention.

      1. anonymous

        The app is a reporting tool to help with the calculations and to send the results in quickly. Voters will write their choices on presidential preference cards, which will be retained. The candidates will also have their volunteers or workers checking the counts and submitting the results to the campaigns, and a paper form with the vote counts will be filled out at each precinct, with copies to different offices and individuals. The Iowa Democratic Party will release the raw counts in addition to the state delegate equivalents for each precinct. Any flaws with the app should readily become apparent.

        1. Mark Gisleson

          Great explanation. There’s some wrongheaded concern about the app on Twitter, but anyone foolish enough to game the reported results would reap lethal corrections dominating the news cycle going into New Hampshire.

          Politically speaking, there would be a huge negative upside to that kind of ‘cheating’ (is it cheating if all you get is a brief headline strangled by its own entrails a day later?).

          The Anyone But Bernie crowd is going to want to talk about anything but Iowa after Monday night.

    2. cm

      The purpose of the Caucus is not to select a President. It’s to exploit the energy created by that process to get a new generation of Iowans involved in Democratic politics and in that regard IT IS INCREDIBLY EFFECTIVE. If you’ve never lived in a caucus state, you really haven’t participated in politics.

      Strong disagree. I participated in Washington State in 2016, winding up as a state delegate (not national). It was an ENORMOUS waste of time and hugely inefficient.

      The 2nd round (held on another day where we selected congressional district delegates) went from approx 10AM to midnight (when the school kicked us out). Tons of people left before critical votes, because they had actual lives. No food. Luckily, I had come prepared after hearing about similar clusters in other states.

      Caucuses are a sham. You want transparency? Hold a normal (fair) ballot vote and count the ballots in public.

      1. Mark Gisleson

        When I say “Caucus” I mean “THE Iowa Caucuses.”

        2016 was the year that the Hillbots tried to break the caucuses everywhere. They were least successful in Iowa.

        I can’t speak to anything that happened in a state I’ve never visited or lived in. Caucuses, like unions, work best when people participate. Clogged process speaks to a failure of the electorate to stay engaged and speak out when the cloggers start clogging things up. Not a perfect process, requires more work than a primary. Definitely a bad process for larger states.

      2. anonymous

        IA had been like this, too. A couple of weeks ago, we were being told by the Sanders field office staff to make sure that precinct captains or very committed volunteers were selected as delegates, to increase the liklihood that they would show up at the subsequent conventions and stay through the voting. More recently, the Iowa Democratic Party publicized that one of the 2020 rule changes is that the allocation of national delegates will be determined by the caucus night precinct votes, so a candidate will not lose delegates if his representatives are unable to attend the subsequent county and district conventions.

        1. Mark Gisleson

          I’m going to have to reread the new rules and I think I should probably check the more recent revisions to the IDP Constitution (just looked and first link was to a dead page, funny how that works).

          But thanks for your comment, that’s a different approach and a sensible one as Bernie should be more focused on the convention and locals tend to give away those slots for other considerations.

          Not trying to be the NC Caucus expert, just easily moved to comment in defense of a system that works well for Iowa (a similar but not identical system is a nightmare for Minnesota).

            1. Mark Gisleson

              That’s a huge change. Not sure I can think that through, will have to see how it plays out. Impact will all be on Iowans, nothing presidential really, but it will change the tenor of the county and state conventions tremendously.

              Also means there’ll be a lot more vanity in play when delegates are selected, and that will be a much bigger issue in marginable and nonviable groups.

  6. Big River Bandido

    As someone who grew up thinking all this was perfectly normal, I have…not really a “defense” of the obtuseness of the Iowa caucuses, but an explanation for the thinking behind them and how they came to be. I’m a native Davenporter, still have family there and visit often. I attended caucuses there as a participant in 1988 and as an observer in 2004, and I’ll share some of my recollections from that at the end of this. There are several other Iowans on this site who could probably chime in as well.

    Iowa is far from the only state that uses a caucus system. Most of the states still using this system entered the Union in the late 19th century and are situated between the Upper Midwest and the Pacific Northwest. What these states have in common, besides agricultural origins and spread-out populations, are deep political roots in the various reform movements of the 19th century: Transcendentalism, anti-slavery, Populism, Progressivism, etc. There’s a lot of overlap between states which use the caucus system and states which amended (or wrote) their constitutions during this era to add devices like recall and initiative at the state level. Iowa is one of the oldest states in this group, in which the balance of power between left and right has always been more even. So some of the Progressive state constitutional reforms got enacted and some didn’t. Iowa does not have a true recall, and the citizen initiative is very weak, as I recall merely advisory. Iowa was very late to adopt the intraparty primary for state and local races, and has never had it at the presidential level.

    Some of the deepest change to come out of the Progressive movement in these states were at the municipal level. Whereas the “older” cities of the East have large city councils elected by small districts, and “strong-mayor” systems, many of the cities in these states adopted a “weak-mayor” system with smaller city councils, in which more (or even all) members elected from the city at-large rather than from districts. The effect of these proposals was to dilute democracy: to restrain the influence of the new working class (then mostly immigrant) and to squelch “politicization” and maintain efficiency and professionalism in government, thus the widespread adoption in this region of “city managers”. [Modern readers will recognize the origins of contemporary PMC rhetoric and its emphasis on meritocracy, gatekeeping, and technical operation.] Some of these features are a part of Davenport’s city government even today: fairly small city council, two of its members elected from the city at-large, figurehead mayor, city manager beholden to seemingly no one, etc.

    In other words: there’s a strain of deep distrust of direct democracy in this region. The Progressives, in particular, trusted the judgement of “the people” in the aggregate — but not at the individual level. They also feared the rise of the industrial working-class — for, it was thought, how could people that did not own property be responsible citizens of a republic? Hence, their governmental “reforms” devised systems of indirect democracy — multilayered systems with multiple “filters”. This is the political environment there.

    At the same time, one can see in the caucus system the vestiges of the New England “town meeting”, modified for use in the Midwest and Plains states — the idea of meeting with others in the community, engaging in discussion, bargaining, persuasion… It doesn’t really happen that way in actual procedure, but that’s intended to be the ideal. Neuberger is correct that the idea of the caucus is to translate (as much as possible) the consensus of the whole into percentages of support for each candidate. Why all the filtering? In part it’s to tamp down the “noise” of individual democracy.

    In 1988 I was a participant in the caucuses; the field was large and rather split. My precinct caucus was pretty evenly split between Paul Simon, Richard Gephardt and Jesse Jackson. As I recall, we had 6 delegates to the county convention, and the math was also pretty even, so each of those 3 candidates got one delegate. Usually the caucus system is least accurate when the vote is close — 2016 being the perfect example. A caucus will never be able to accurately determine “who won” when things are that close — especially if you are determining “who won” based on raw numbers alone, which Iowans don’t do.

    In 2004 things were messier. Numerically, Dean had the most supporters in that precinct — probably 55-60% of the attendees. That gave him 2 delegates to the county convention, out of 7 to be chosen in that precinct; Kerry and Edwards had considerably fewer supporters but still managed to get 2 delegates. That left one delegate to assign. Kucinich and Clark had only a handful of supporters each, not enough to reach the 15% threshhold, and were eliminated after the first round. During the “realignment”, capitalizing on fear of Dean as “unelectable”, the Kerry people managed to convince just enough of the holdouts to switch, giving Kerry that third delegate. This mistake by the Dean campaign (whose supporters were green and didn’t understand the process) represented a failure of organization — Kerry’s people were old hands in the local party, going back to Ted Kennedy’s 1980 campaign. They knew exactly what they had to do, and quietly rounded up just enough “undecided” attendees to block Dean from getting the extra delegate that would have changed the precinct math entirely. Replicate that type of organizational error across 1600 precincts in the state, and you can start to see how Dean lost that campaign. This, by the way, is almost certainly where the infamous “coin flips” happened…where you have an even split among caucus attendees and *someone* has to have that last delegate at the end of the night. This is where the caucus system is at its weakest — it cannot fairly or clearly draw distinctions between candidates who are evenly matched, as in 2016.

    But this illuminates another of the goals of the Iowa caucus — to evaluate the strength of a candidate by their level of organization at each level — precinct, district, and state. Iowa party leaders want candidates who are well-organized, because you can’t hope to win a spread-out, heavily rural state like Iowa without a strong, consistent organization in all corners of the state. (Recall the incredible disorganization of both Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaigns — the contact sheets in Michigan that never got entered into the database and piled up in the offices then got thrown out when an aide spilled coffee all over them. This explains why she lost the Iowa caucuses in 2008, probably lost them again in 2016, and why her vote share in Iowa was the lowest of any Democrat in 30 years.)

    Sorry for the overlong post.

    1. Mark Gisleson

      One correction, kind of. Having Republican roots, I find it harder to include Iowa in the ranks of progressive rural states. You need to remember that the first Iowa Caucuses were held in 1972, not the 1890s.

      Iowa is different from other states, but like most states its demographics took a pounding in the Reagan ’80s and the state is still realigning itself, politically. I’m confident it will become more progressive going forward just as it was doing the in 1970s before now Ambassador to China then Gov. Branstad brought scab meatpacking to Iowa and over 100,000 Iowans had to leave the state to look for work. That left a mark.

  7. anonymous

    Thank you for posting Thomas Neuberger’s caucus description, and I appreciate Mark Gisleson’s and Big River Bandito’s added insight.

    Mark Gisleson is correct that Iowans are generally familiar with the process and that the Bernie folks, assuming he means field workers and volunteers, know it well. I still worry that Bernie supporters who are less familiar with the process, after having been burned in 2016, might accuse the party of fraud when they observe legitimate results (by the convoluted rules) in a precinct that differ from what the results would be for a simple, direct vote (or simply using the 15% viaiblity threshold everyone seems to know), and that their complaints will be picked up by the MSM and used to tarnish Bernie. There is also the potential to use Bernie voters’ valid caucus strategy as a smear, like this:
    At a mock caucus at Drake, Bernie wasn’t viable, and his supporters refused to realign with the viable candidates Warren or Buttigieg. There are twitter accusations that the Bernie supporters are going to make the actual caucus “ugly as well”, that they “took their toys and went home”, that “they all behave like jerks”, that they are “obstinate, uncooperative, cultist a__holes”, etc. Also posted: “I’m waiting for ‘our votes are being erased'” and “They think that if they aren’t winning it must be rigged and I’m sick of it.” Mediaite headline: “Bernie Sanders Fans Leave Iowa College’s Mock Caucus in Protest As He Gets Trounced by Elizabeth Warren”. Now, if you read the Thomas Neuberger post above, you know that the Democratic nominee is not going to be determined solely by that one precinct, and there is a legitimate argument to be made for not increasing the delegate count of a competitor, as that might, in the end, contribute to that competitor’s having more delegates than your preferred candidate and to denying your candidate the nomination that he might otherwise have won. A second choice in the caucuses is not like ranked choice voting, because all the first choice votes across the state, which would include the votes for candidates not viable in certain precincts, aren’t added together for a state-wide first round winner. Big River Bandido helpfully gave an example showing the consequences of the realignment process. This year, realignment has been limited to members of nonviable groups to try to eliminate some of the gaming and to make the process faster. Big River Bandito’s 2004 example would have the same result now, as he only described movement of the nonviable groups, but campaigns also used to try to figure out how many supporters they could peel off not to lose a delegate themselves, but to shift a delegate away from a serious competitor to a candidate unlikely to win in the end. (There are some examples of this in a Bleeding Heartland post 1-30-16 of how the IA caucuses used to work before this year’s rules revision.)

    My precinct tends to have more conservative voters and does not include a college or university. I doubt that Bernie will win in my precinct and, with so many candidates, I am not even sure he will be viable. Warren would be my second choice if we had a state-wide ranked choice primary, but, like the kids at Drake, if Bernie turns out not to be viable here, I will probably not realign. If Bernie has a real chance of winning the state, I would prioritize not giving Warren an extra delegate that contributes to her count up the layers (and I would expect Bernie to do much better in precincts other than mine) over my preference for Warren in comparison to the other likely viable candidates.

    1. anonymous

      Adding, or I could help make another nonviable candidate, one with no serious chance, viable. It will all depend on what the numbers Monday night are at the caucus. Obviously, no precinct will lose delegates if voters walk away, as the delegate number is predetermined. It’s all about how the delegates get assigned.

    2. Mark Gisleson

      I would be shocked to see this play out like that. No clue how gamed that Drake practice session was, but there will be very few Iowa Caucus sites where Bernie is not viable. He obviously won’t win every site or even half, but he won’t be shut out. His support is simply too wide and too deep and that’s exactly what Iowa’s system is set up to reward.

      The math I’m seeing from Iowa astonishes me. This is New Hampshire 1968 except the media figured that out weeks ago. Some have twigged to it, most are still stonewalling.

      [If NC allowed animated GIFs, you’d be seeing Michael Jackson eating popcorn in this space.]

      1. anonymous

        Mark, I hope you’re right. My particular precinct, though, is composed of mostly financially comfortable individuals who are more conservative. There are lots of successful business owners in single-family homes, the college kids are away at school (maybe we’ll get some high school kids), and most of the elderly (Biden voters?) who still own homes here are snowbirds. I would not be surprised to see Klobuchar near the top, in which case it wouldn’t make sense for me to move to Warren if it would take a delegate from Klobuchar or another candidate unlikely to win the state and shift it to Warren. How it would break would all depend on the numbers that night, and all I know for sure is that I should bring a calculator. The Drake Bernie kids would have been smartest moving to make a nonviable candidate without a chance of winning the state viable, taking a delegate from one of Bernie’s top competitors (and they probably wouldn’t have gotten the backlash for leaving the game). I wish we had a primary instead of these nutty caucuses!!!

    3. Lambert Strether

      > I still worry that Bernie supporters who are less familiar with the process, after having been burned in 2016, might accuse the party of fraud when they observe legitimate results (by the convoluted rules) in a precinct that differ from what the results would be for a simple, direct vote (or simply using the 15% viaiblity threshold everyone seems to know), and that their complaints will be picked up by the MSM and used to tarnish Bernie.

      Yep. It’s hard to manage an army of volunteers, and I do mean, for sheer scale, an army.

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