Q12 Thoughts on Elizabeth Warren running for President?
2018 New Year’s Eve Forecast (What’s this?)
I see Warren as the mirror image of Cruz, and because they are mirror images of one another they will find the same problems in getting a path to the Presidency. They are both Senators who have found routes to power outside of the Senate by being firebrands on issues extremely popular with their base. And although this gives them an independent base of power that they can then use to cudgel and advance things in the Senate – it doesn’t make a ton of friends inside the establishment as well as alienating those who don’t fall within that red-meat base. This puts them in an odd position of being boxed-in for most primaries in that it’s easy to run to the center on them, BUT they’re also “part of the problem” (by being a longer-serving Senate member) and so it’s easier for an ideological purist to run against them from their flank as well who hasn’t had to take unpopular votes or be tarred with the general moniker of “establishment politicians” which these days is a lot more of a negative than a positive.
This leaves them with a very narrow path to navigate out of the primaries intact if there’s any number of competitors against them. It’s not impossible, Cruz held on for a long time against Trump. But it also indicates they may be much stronger as a VP or Cabinet pick in a campaign that already has momentum. A Bush-Cruz or Biden-Warren ticket for example signals good things to both the center and the fringe, without having to pick a totally untested looney-tunes fringe candidate like McCain did in Palin. It’s also why running from the Senate (traditionally) is super hard to do successfully, I think President Obama overcame it with his superb political instincts and skills…but that’s no sure-fire thing to replicate the magic in the bottle.
Well, Senator Warren is still in it, but she’s not doing well. I think the weakness of her position is obscured that she’s only in third place in a race with many candidates and maintains strong national appeal. It makes her look stronger than I think she is. And these races are complex consisting of many contests, the first four of which are Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, strong or “dark horse” outcomes from any of those can mix things up. Let’s look at this a few ways:
First if the vote were held today, and we used all available primary polls as a result the results would come in Biden (27.3), Sanders (17.8%), Warren (14.7%), and Buttigieg (8.0%). But that’s now how primary races are held. Warren doesn’t lead in any of the first four contests. Current FiveThirtyEight aggregate polling is, by race:
- Iowa: Buttigieg (19.7%), Biden (19.1%), Sanders (18.3%), and Warren (13.4%)
- New Hampshire: Sanders (18.0%), Biden (17.3%), Buttigieg (15.6%), and Warren (13.9%)
- Nevada: Biden (27.3%), Sanders (20.7%), Warren (15.0%), and Buttigieg (7.1%)
- South Carolina: Biden (37.2%), Sanders (13.9%), Warren (9.8%), and Buttigieg (5.6%)
In none of the early four races is Warren first, or even second. She’s only 3rd in two states, both of which she trails the leader by 12-28pts. Her best shots for come-from-behind victories are in Iowa and New Hampshire where there’s only a 5-6pt spread between 4th and first, but she’s in 4th there.
A third way of looking at this is what’s called Second-Choice polling. And Senator Warren isn’t looking good there either. Second-choice polling asks supporters for each candidate, if their candidate drops out, who would they vote for next. This allows us to run scenarios of “Biden leaving the race” and asking, “Where does his votes go?”
FiveThirtyEight regularly publishes this data and there’s a recent chart from mid-December 2019. After a sophisticated optical-analog-matrix-analysis (e.g. “eyeballing the chart”) I don’t see many contingencies where Senator Warren does well by other candidates leaving the race. Remember, she’s in 3rd or 4th place in every early primary, and 3rd place nationally – which means the share of voters she gets from any departure has to be greater than or equal to the current gap between her and first minus the share going to her competitors between. (That made sense in my head.)
So let’s say Biden leaves. That moves Sanders to #1 and Warren to #2. This puts her in striking distance. Unfortunately, the candidate gaining the largest share of his voters is actually Bloomberg, and of all the other candidates Warren gains the least. That means even as she gains some of Biden to catch up on Sanders, Sanders is gaining more.
Or Sanders leaves. This moves Warren from #3 to #2, but Sanders was already #2 and Biden hasn’t lost any position. She still has to bridge that gap and even as she gains ~30% of Sanders voters Biden is gaining ~20%, the net 10% delta doesn’t look enough for her to catch up to Biden.
On paper if Buttigieg leaves this is also good for Warren as she gains the most of all candidates of his voters. But the amount she gets, 23% isn’t much. Only a quarter. And it’s a quarter of a pretty-small pie as Buttigieg is running last of the top four in most areas other than Iowa.
Finally, there’s the dynamic of when these departures happen. The two races where Warren is closest to taking the lead are also the ones (Iowa and New Hampshire) where it’s least likely a top-four contender is going to drop out due to a bad showing. Usually early dropouts are reserved for abysmal showing and Beto and De Blasio has already set the mark there.
This means Warren’s pathway is a challenging endurance test through potentially four repeated losses to try and hold on until Super Tuesday. She has the campaign war chest to do it. In the similar scenario last cycle with the Republicans, there were still five contenders by Super Tuesday (three serious) from a field of twenty. But only the top two contenders took enough to sustain momentum and the rest quickly dropped out leaving a Trump v. Cruz primary into the home-stretch.
This is all subject to change. There are some tricks left in the bag that Warren could pull to shake things up, but I’ll save those for 2020 AMA on the “off-chance” anyone asks me about the Democratic primaries.
Score: 1 (One could argue I should only give myself .5 because we don’t know for sure yet but 10/12 is an ugly repeating decimal while 10.5/12 is a nice clean final grade!)
Running Total: 10.5 out of 12