If Buttgiieg’s first alignment vote is in the single digits or the low teens, then realignment will hurt him. But if he gets around 20 percent of the vote in the first alignment, he’s projected to wind up with an average of somewhere around 24 or 25 percent of the vote in the final alignment. That’s actually a fairly big gain. It’s slightly better than Sanders, for instance, who would be projected to get closer to 23 percent of the final alignment vote with 20 percent of the first alignment vote:

Granted, these are not exactly huge differences — 23 percent as compared with 24 or 25 percent. But an extra percentage point or two added or lost as the result of the realignment process could make the difference in a race where the top four candidates remain fairly closely bunched together. Moreover, our model’s assumptions about who might be helped or hurt by realignment may be too conservative. Having well-trained precinct captains can help a candidate in the realignment process a lot, and there’s also the possibility of strategic alliances between the candidates. Klobuchar and Buttigieg, for example, could agree to try to send their caucusgoers toward one another in precincts where they hadn’t achieved viability. The one thing you probably don’t want to do is enter into an alliance with one of the front-runners.

This isn’t the final stage, though. Instead, the final alignment is translated into something called state delegate equivalents, which is the third way that Iowa counts its vote. Until this year, in fact, this was the only way that Iowa counted its vote. It comes from a now archaic process where the caucuses technically served to elect delegates to county conventions, which in turn elected delegates to district conventions and the state convention, which in turn elected delegates to the Democratic National Convention.