March 22, 2016
We’ve spent a good amount of time talking about how caucuses are different than primaries. Turnout is lower, the process takes longer, some candidates are favored, others are at a disadvantage. Many primaries are open to Independent and crossover voters. Many caucuses are not.
There’s another important factor. You can vote absentee or participate in early voting in a primary. In places like Florida and Arizona, a significant percentage of the votes are in well before the official voting day. With a few minor exceptions, caucus voting is day of only.
Though many caucuses aren’t as formalized as Iowa’s, voting takes place during a more compressed time frame and voters have more interaction with each other and advocates for the respective candidates.
There is more chance of changing your mind at a caucus than a primary where you vote quickly and privately, perhaps spending little time in line. Electioneering inside the polling place is generally illegal in primaries.
Given the structure of caucuses and the events in Brussels today, there’s an extra element of volatility. Do a few voters change their minds at the last minute? Do extra voters show up, feeling more urgency as we are reminded of the continued presence of ISIS?
Ted Cruz is very likely to win Utah. The question is by how much. If he clears 50%, all GOP delegates are his. With Trump likely to grab all 58 delegates in Arizona, he needs all 40 in Utah to keep things as close as possible.
Entering the day, Trump has 48% of the total delegates earned so far. Arizona would make that percentage very close to 50 heading forward. If The Donald can secure a few Utah delegates, he’ll possibly grab a full two-thirds of those issued today, putting him back on pace for 1237 before the convention.
Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders needs to win caucuses like this to have any remaining purpose as a contender. Can he hold on today in an environment that does not favor the one candidate to skip AIPAC yesterday?
Ted Cruz 55.7%
There are many states where a good portion of Marco Rubio’s support will wind up with John Kasich. Utah probably isn’t one of them. Cruz hit 53% in a Y2 Analytics poll, and was at 42% in a previous survey with Rubio still taking 17%.
It’s a caucus. Cruz does very well in caucuses, usually exceeding his final polling numbers. It was Ross Perot’s third best state in 1992. Cruz has already won the first, second, fourth and fifth best.
Cruz is very aware of the stakes and spent a good amount of his time and resources in Utah over the past week. His ground game will help and his campaign will make sure to reach out to voters today to get them to the caucus and lock down their support.
Even if Kasich puts up a representative showing today, Trump is so unpopular here that Cruz should still wind up over the 50% barrier. If he falls short, combined with a double digit loss in Arizona, it would indicate Cruz is making zero progress as a serious anti-Trump front runner, even in a part of the country he’s well suited to.
John Kasich 27.6%
Many are curious why Kasich invested time and money in a state he couldn’t win and where Cruz could sweep all the delegates. My guess is the opportunity to finish ahead of Trump was something he couldn’t pass up heading into Wisconsin.
Plus, Kasich is still focused on getting himself nominated, rather than helping Cruz block Trump. Should Cruz fall short of 50%, Trump will only get a few extra delegates. Kasich would get several himself. It would harm Cruz more than it would help The Donald.
Kasich would make that trade any day, hoping for maximum momentum heading into Wisconsin.
On the whole, the governor has performed poorly in caucuses. He lacks the ground organization of Cruz and the media coverage of Trump. It’s often difficult for him to rally his forces to turn out (where they exist.)
Much like Trump, he’s often dependent on votes from Democrats and Independents. Utah doesn’t have many available Democrats, and they can’t participate in the GOP caucus. None of this helps Kasich.
But the Y2 poll did have him in this range, and not all Utah voters are strictly conservative. His relatively conciliatory message may play well here. For those who aren’t thrilled with Cruz and abhor Trump, there’s a third option.
His age and experience may also matter on the day of terror attacks. Should he somehow clear 30%, it’s an indication Brussels may have pushed him forward quite a bit. I’m already calculating in a small benefit from the events to make up for his normal caucus disadvantage.
Donald Trump 16.6%
Whatever result Trump gets today represents his absolute floor. He does worst in mostly closed caucuses. His poll numbers in Utah were never good. Attacking Mitt Romney on his effective home turf probably didn’t work that well.
I’m taking the easy way out and averaging his last couple poll results. A finish in single digits would be extremely surprising. He’s the one candidate to have avoided that fate in every contest.
A showing in the low 20s wouldn’t shock me at all. He should wind up behind Kasich though. If he finishes ahead of the governor here, Kasich has little chance of reversing the story in Wisconsin.
To this point, Kasich has only finished ahead of Trump in Washington D.C. and Ohio. That’s not a formula for nomination. If he’s made progress, today’s results will prove it.
Bernie Sanders 56.6%
He needs Arizona for overall credibility, Utah and Idaho for any relevance whatsoever. Among committed Berners, the events in Brussels are evidence of why the Sanders approach to foreign policy is a better idea than Clinton’s.
We’ve seen zero evidence of defeats in important primary contests hurting Bernie’s performance in subsequent caucuses. The type of voters who would abandon him after losing all 5 March 15 contests are not the kind who would turn out for a caucus anyway.
I’m assuming wavering voters might wind up with Hillary. She picked up ground in polling against Bernie after Paris and San Bernardino. It’s possible voters may react differently with more knowledge about Sanders than they had then, but we’ll need to see it happen first.
Given the size of the projected caucus electorate, it’s unlikely any shift is enough to keep Sanders from a victory. With delegates assigned proportionately, a shift of a few points in the result isn’t going to change the bottom line very much, as long as Bernie wins.
Hillary Clinton 42.1%
On Saturday, the Democrats move to Hawaii, Alaska, and Washington. At least a couple of those are better targets for Hillary than Utah. If she can finish closer than I’m projecting here, she has a real chance to pick up at least one of those.
Bernie is counting on a winning streak between now and New York to give him momentum heading in to that primary. It’s hard to suggest that someone who is turning parts of the map their color should exit.
Here’s where we see if Hillary can shut things down early and completely wall Bernie off from coverage.