Caucus Theory-palooza

Over the weekend, Barack Obama won caucuses in Washington, Nebraska, and Maine, bringing his total number of caucus victories to 11. He and Hillary Clinton have won nine primaries each. But in terms of caucuses, he’s way in the lead—she has won only two. Why does Obama do so much better in caucuses than in primaries?

There are as many theories as there are theorists. Here are some of the most prevalent ones, teased apart as best we could:  

The Organization Theory: Caucuses favor strong organization, and Obama supporters are better organized.
True? In most caucus states, yes. For a while there, Obama’s campaign was opening offices like cans of Pepsi. In late January, he had 12 offices and 75 paid staffers in Colorado , compared with Clinton’s single office. He was also the first candidate to open offices in Idaho and Kansas . In other states, however, Hillary’s organization rivals Obama’s.  

The Passion of the Caucus-Goers: Obama’s supporters are more enthusiastic, and enthusiasm counts in caucuses.
True? His supporters are generally younger and therefore probably have the edge in terms of energy. But these days, caucuses are more like straw polls than raucous rallies. Ever since John Edwards dropped out, viability thresholds are no longer an issue, so there’s usually only one round of voting, which offers little opportunity to persuade your fellow caucus-goers.

So Little Time: Obama’s supporters are younger and wealthier than Clinton’s, which means they’re more likely to have an hour or two to attend a caucus. Lower- and middle-class voters, by contrast, are more likely to be working late.
True? Sounds plausible, although both candidates made sure in Iowa and elsewhere to provide travel arrangements and baby-sitting for people who have trouble caucusing. Also, a caucus takes about an hour—not much longer than waiting in line to vote. Plus, when a caucus happens on a weekend, the “working class” excuse doesn’t carry as much weight.  

Clinton Wasn’t Trying: After Obama took Nebraska and Washington, the Clinton campaign reminded everyone that Obama “has dramatically outspent our campaign” in those states. She also declined to advertise in many caucus states, including Kansas and North Dakota. Instead, she focused her resources on large-impact, delegate-rich contests like Texas and Ohio.
True? Somewhat. While it’s true that Clinton abandoned Nebraska and Idaho to Obama, she made more campaign stops in Washington than he did. She also put up a fight in Maine, and it’s nonsense to claim she wasn’t trying in Iowa.

The Bradley Effect: The theory refers to black candidates who perform better in polls than they do on election night, suggesting that voters conceal their prejudices when talking to pollsters. It’s possible the same thing happens with caucuses: Voters support the black candidate in a public setting, but not in the privacy of the voting booth.
True? There’s no way to measure prejudice, but it’s hard to imagine that fear of appearing politically incorrect factors into the thinking of caucus-goers. If that were the case, wouldn’t they be equally ashamed of not voting for Hillary, the first viable female candidate? Caucuses might offer tyranny-of-the-majority scenarios, but they can swing both ways.