[UPDATE: as of 7 Feb 2020, the observations, concerns, and criticisms outlined in this article were addressed, at least in part, by each candidate. Videos from both candidates are below. The points raised in this article have now been very articulately presented on National Public Radio (source) by University of Northern Iowa political science professor Donna Hoffman and also discussed on MSNBC. (source) Thanks to everyone for the positive feedback on this article. On 8 Feb 2020 after the New Hampshire debate, Pete Buttigieg echoed almost precisely the advice given in this article, not claiming to have won Iowa and congratulating Bernie Sanders in a CBS News interview. (source) On 9 Feb 2020, in a CNN interview Bernie sanders clarified the Iowa results and his use of 6,000 versus 2,500 final vote spread. (source) On 9 Feb 2020, in an interview with Jake Tapper, Pete Buttigieg refrained from claiming a win in Iowa and congratulated Bernie Sanders. (source) ]
According to a New Hampshire Public Radio report from 5 Feb 2020, Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg are in New Hampshire each claiming they won the Iowa Caucus, and both are using that messaging through campaign communications such as the ads at the bottom of this page from Bernie Sanders.
They obviously can’t both be right.
So, one of them is knowingly lying to deceive their supporters and manipulate public opinion. Or, perhaps one of them is simply misinformed. Maybe one of them doesn’t know how the winning candidate is determined in Iowa. Or is maybe they are selectively choosing their own metric for declaring their victory. Given how close the results are, it could be concluded that they are being petty about a race that was almost a tie. None of this is good.
The confusion created by this irresponsible messaging is going to create infighting in the Democratic Party. In fact, it already has. It’s going to create a climate of mistrust. It will provide more fodder to opponents who want to portray the party as deceptive, corrupt, incompetent, or untrustworthy. The ‘points’ they gain by convincing some people they won Iowa will not offset the trust and support they will lose or the harm done to the party.
They need to correct for this mistake as soon as possible. If they don’t, it will be fair to say they both lost the Iowa Caucus. They may have won on paper, but they won’t get the actual reward of garnering greater support and trust going forward.
A better announcement from both campaigns would be to congratulate the other and proclaim:
“Whether we came in first or second doesn’t matter. It was a close race. Both of our campaigns proved that heading into New Hampshire, we are in the lead and are running very formidable campaigns.”
It wouldn’t be too difficult to add something positive about their opponent such as:
“However the numbers ultimately come out, Bernie and his supporters have been working hard since 2016 and it’s paying off, so I want to congratulate them.”
“However the numbers ultimately come out, it’s clear he was able to come out ahead in a race with many other strong candidates, some who had decades of experience in politics, so that is something to acknowledge.”
It wouldn’t have been difficult or complicated to explain in about 60 seconds how the caucus works and how a winner is determined:
“In Iowa the Caucus results tell us how many supporters came out for their candidate. This popular vote gives us a sense of how much support a candidate has. There is also a delegate outcome and that tells us over a broad geographic area in a state how popular a candidate’s message was. In the 2020 Iowa Caucus there were two winners depending on which figure you look at. Both figures are significant.”
Bernie is claiming in his victory speeches that he had about 6,000 more people turn out to vote for him in Iowa, so that makes him the winner. “When some 6,000 more people come out for you in an election than your nearest opponent, we here in northern New England call that a victory.” (source)
Is that what Bernie is going to say in November after the general election? Will he tell us he won the popular vote, and that’s what really matters? That didn’t work out so well for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Did Bernie and his staff not know the rules in Iowa? Did they know the rules, but just not strategize properly? Bernie has loyal hard working supporters and funding to achieve just about any results he wants and beat any candidate. How could he have not overwhelmingly achieved a greater victory over a 38-year-old mayor who only had a year to prepare? In addition, the 6,000 figure is incorrect and inflated based on the final results. With 99.9% of the results in, Bernie was ahead in the popular vote by 2,681 in the final alignment. Groups supportive of Sanders are accurately reporting to 2,500 votes which highlights the discrepancy. This is all very disconcerting.
Meanwhile, Mayor Pete’s ‘victory’ announcement on Caucus night seemed to be out of character for him and inconsistent with his overall message and ‘brand’ of transparency, humility, and trustworthiness. With Mayor Pete as president, are we going to be going to war with countries based on gut feelings with limited data? Will it be revealed what that data is or where it came from? Whether making a decision to proclaim a political victory, or to proclaim something else, we would hope the public would be informed as to how that decision was made. In this regard, the Sanders campaign was at least transparent by disclosing their internal realtime caucus results numbers.
It’s important to note that the delegate system serves an important function. It helps determine how candidates performed and who won in an election in the following ways:
- The delegate system is designed to prevent someone from winning a state-wide race by only campaigning in cities and densely populated areas that don’t represent an entire state.
- If there were corruption in a certain highly populated city or area, it could significantly impact the outcome if the delegate system wasn’t used. By distributing the democratic process across the entire state into smaller towns and precincts, it helps secure elections.
- One would think that a city like Des Moines or Cedar Rapids with so many people should have a right to determine how the entire state is governed and choose elected officials. That’s how Democracy works, right? Well, not really. We have a hybrid system to ensure a populist or billionaire doesn’t just tap into a few large cities and throw an election. The goal is to ensure that people can govern themselves wherever they live.
- To the extent that the Caucus is a gauge of how well a candidate might do in a general election, a geographically distributed sampling will offer insights into the outcome with a broad range of voters. A party and its voters don’t want to assume a candidate will win in a general election because there were big crowds in a certain city, only later to find out their nominee loses because they don’t perform well in diverse regions.
Ultimately, the goal of the Iowa Caucus is to determine who the frontrunners are. It’s a helpful measure for the public and for the candidates. While the status of coming in first has some value, a close tie can make that irrelevant. This year the Caucus served its purpose. The competitive machismo and posturing needs to stop.
For more on this topic, including a defense of both candidates and their claim to have won in Iowa, read “Here’s how the top Iowa Caucus contenders were able to claim ‘victory’ for their campaigns.”
Here’s how CBS News is reporting the Iowa Caucus outcome: “Iowa caucuses: With 100% of precincts reporting, Buttigieg and Sanders top Democratic field.” Here’s another from Politico: “Buttigieg and Sanders separated by razor-thin margin with Iowa count nearly done.” Below is a Tweet from NPR about the outcome. As these stories continue rolling out, the urgency of a response from Sanders and Buttigieg grows.
UPDATE: Pete Buttigieg Interview with Stephen Colbert (6 Feb 2020)
On the evening of 6 Feb 2020, Pete Buttigieg was interviewed by Stephen Colbert. The video below is queued up to 3m 54s where Mayor Pete explains how he was able to declare a ‘victory’ in Iowa before the votes were fully counted – the process of the caucus was public and counted in realtime and was not a secret ballot.
UPDATE: Bernie Sanders Press Conference (6 Feb 2020)
As of 6 Feb 2020 around 1:30 PM ET, Bernie Sanders held a press conference partially addressing the concerns raised above. He discussed his rationale for declaring that he won Iowa. Here is the video of that event.
Video Ad From Bernie Sanders
Below is the video ad being run by the Sanders campaign. Similar messages are coming from the Buttigieg campaign.
Here is the Facebook ad being promoted by the Sanders campaign. Buttigieg is also promoting an Iowa victory message through various means.
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