How many people will turn out for the Iowa caucuses a week from today? The answer to that question will shed light on how accurate or inaccurate the latest attempts to poll Iowa Republicans will be.
CBS News/YouGov released a poll that shows Trump with a 5 point lead:
1. Donald Trump – 39%
2. Ted Cruz – 34%
3. Marco Rubio – 13%
4. Ben Carson – 5%
5. Rand Paul – 3%
6. Chris Christie – 2%
7. (Tie) Jeb Bush, Rick Santorum, Carly Fiorina and John Kasich – 1%
11. Mike Huckabee – 0%
This poll was conducted on January 18-21 among 491 Republican caucus goers. The margin of error is +/-5%. They did not release their methodology. The total sample was 1247 that also included Democrats that they polled.
Fox News also released their own poll that shows:
1. Donald Trump – 34%
2. Ted Cruz – 23%
3. Marco Rubio – 12%
4. Ben Carson – 7%
5. Rand Paul – 6%
6. (Tie) Chris Christie and Jeb Bush – 4%
8. (Tie) John Kasich, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum – 2%
11. Carly Fiorina – 1%
This poll was also conducted on January 18-21. They conducted polling among a sample of 801 likely caucus goers, 378 of which were screened as likely Republican caucus goers. Among the Republicans polled the margin of error is +/-5%. Also included in their methodology they write, “Landline (602) and cellphone (199) numbers were randomly selected from a statewide voter file of registered Iowa voters using a probability proportionate to size method. This simply means that phone numbers are proportionally representative to the number of voters in all regions across the state of Iowa.”
It should be noted that their sample size has also shrunk from 504 Republicans polled on January 4-7 and 450 Republicans polled on December 7-10.
Both the CNN poll and the Fox News poll appear to be based on a model with a high voter turnout. Nate Silver who is a polling guru stated after the CNN poll:
For instance, the CNN poll implies a turnout of about 320K in the Iowa GOP caucus, versus ~120K in 2012.
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) January 21, 2016
Predicting a high turnout for the Iowa Caucus up to 300,000 will make a poll unreliable.
We had 162,633 people turn out for the 2014 Republican primary when we had a very competitive U.S. Senate race. To put this in perspective it was super easy to vote in this primary. You were able to vote absentee. You were able to vote early in satellite locations. Also you can vote and leave on the primary election day at any time.
That isn’t the case with a caucus where you go to your site at 7:00p listen to speeches from neighbors in support of their candidate and then vote.
Consider that the Republican turnout in 2008 was 119,200 which represented 20.69% of the Republican registration of 576,231 at the time. It was higher in 2012, we saw 121,503 caucus for Republicans which represented 19.76% of the Republican’s 614,913 registered voters at the time.
In 2012 exit polling showed 25% (2% Democrat, 23% independent) changed their party registration to caucus. In 2008 it was 13%. Democrats that year saw 20% of their voters were independents who registered as Democrats so they could caucus.
Right now there are 612,112 registered Republicans in Iowa. If we repeat 2008’s percentage we’re looking at a turnout of 126,646. Mind you the 2008 and 2012 percentages and turnout numbers also include the crossover vote. In 2012 there was not a competitive Democrat presidential race which explains the high crossover percentage seen in exit polling. 2008 when there were competitive races for both parties the crossover percentages was lower for Republicans. My feeling, especially now that it looks like Democrats have a competitive race, we’ll have a lower crossover and independents who register will be split between parties.
Even in 2012 when, according to exit polling, 27,945 independents registered as Republicans accounted for 23% of the Iowa Caucus vote that was just shy of 3.9% of registered independent voters at the time. To reach 300,000 in the Republican caucus it would need an extra ordinary turnout of those who are currently registered Republicans. 25.3% would land us 155,000 to come out to caucus. When you consider an average of 15.9% of registered voters voted in their state’s primary in 2012 that would be pretty remarkable. The highest recorded primary (not a caucus mind you) turnout for Republicans didn’t break 25% in 2012. If we had a repeat of 2012 with a turnout of independents reregistering as Republicans we’d still need 44% turnout of registered Republicans. IF we doubled the number of independents that changed their registration in 2012 we’d still need a 39.8% turnout of registered Republicans. For a little perspective bear in mind that states who had record high turnout in primaries only saw under 31% of their registered voters turnout for a primary when you can vote all day. Even with this scenario we would need almost 56,000 people to register as Republicans on caucus night.
It’s not going to happen.
I think we’ll have a good turnout, but I will be shocked if we break 150,000. I’m pretty confident it will be under 130,000.
Trump’s voter turnout strategy, in my mind, is on shaky ground if he’s relying on first time-caucus goers and cross-over vote. I just don’t see him being able to turn out the numbers he needs to live up to his polling.
So in a nutshell, right now I don’t trust any poll of Iowa Republicans that has any candidate over 30%. It’s all about organization and voter turnout. Ted Cruz is currently well positioned. I believe Rand Paul could end up surprising people and out perform his polling. Trump is a wildcard, and it will be interesting to see if those who are undecided/not strongly committed to a candidate (who are not interested in Cruz or Trump) will end up coalescing around Rubio.
Disclosure: This writer has endorsed U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) for President.