Heading into the final weekend of polling and I have to say, the last five polls conducted in Iowa surveying likely Democratic caucus-goers have been all over the place.
Right now, the polls seem to indicate that the leaders are either U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont or former Vice President Joe Biden.
Sanders has a 3.6 point lead when you average the polls, he leads three of the last five, but Biden leads in two. Rounding out the top five, which has been pretty consistent for several weeks (if not months), are U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
Here is where we are thus far:
New York Times/Siena College
Conducted between January 20-23, 2020, this poll surveyed 584 likely Democratic caucus-goers and has a margin of error of +/- 4.8 percent. The last time they polled in Iowa was October, so we are not going to be able to track momentum since the previous poll was not recent enough.
Here are the top five results:
- Sanders – 25 percent
- Buttigieg – 18 percent
- Biden – 17 percent
- Warren – 15 percent
- Klobuchar – 8 percent
USA Today/Suffolk University
Conducted between January 23-26, 2020, this poll surveyed 500 likely Democratic caucus-goers and has a margin of error of +/-4.4 percent. The last time they polled Iowans was October.
- Biden – 25 percent
- Sanders – 19 percent
- Buttigieg – 18 percent
- Warren – 13 percent
- Klobuchar – 6 percent
Like the USA Today/Suffolk University, Emerson conducted their poll between January 23-26, 2020. They, however, only surveyed 450 likely Democratic caucus-goers, and their poll has a margin of error of +/-4.6 percent. They conducted their poll last in early December. Notice the difference between the USA Today/Suffolk poll who had Biden up by six points, and this one that has Sanders up by nine points conducted during the SAME time frame.
- Sanders – 30 percent (+8)
- Biden – 21 percent (-2)
- Klobuchar – 13 percent (+3)
- Warren – 11 percent (-1)
- Buttigieg – 10 percent (-8)
Iowa State University/Civiqs
Conducted between January 23-27, 2020, this poll surveyed 655 likely Democratic caucus-goers and has a margin of error of +/- 4.8 percent. They last conducted their survey in mid-December. They also show Sanders in the lead by nine points with Biden in fourth place, but his actual poll numbers are stagnant compared to December.
- Sanders – 24 percent (+3)
- Warren – 19 percent (+1)
- Buttigieg – 17 percent (-7)
- Biden – 15 percent (-)
- Klobuchar – 10 percent (+6)
Conducted between January 23-27, 2020, this poll surveyed 544 likely Democratic caucus-goers with a margin of error of +/-4.2 percent. They are the only pollster who polled in January already, and they polled last on January 9-12, 2020, and I highlighted them in my previous round-up of Iowa Caucus polls. I should note they also increased the sample size and saw their margin of error shrink by 0.7 percent. They show Biden in the lead, but Sanders is within the margin of error.
- Biden – 23 percent (-1)
- Sanders – 21 percent (+3)
- Buttigieg – 16 percent (-1)
- Warren – 15 percent (-)
- Klobuchar – 10 percent (+2)
So what to make out of all of this?
Sanders is solidly in the top two, but he has some baggage that creates a ceiling for him.
I don’t buy into the Emerson poll that has him at 30 percent. Elizabeth Warren would have to completely collapse for him to reach anywhere near that poll number. They also only have two candidates who reached the 15 percent threshold to remain viable, which is inconsistent with every other poll we’ve seen thus far that has four candidates meet the 15 percent threshold.
Sanders’ ideology represents an issue. Fifty-five percent of those polled in the New York Times/Siena College poll said they want a standard-bearer who is more moderate than most Democrats where only 38 percent want a candidate that is more liberal than most Democrats. Also, 56 percent in the same poll said a democratic socialist would have a difficult time defeating Trump. Sanders also performed the worst in that poll’s general election match-up with President Trump.
Watch out for the second choice; it can be a game-changer. Remember, if a candidate does not reach 15 percent in a precinct caucus, the candidate’s supporters can make a second choice. If Klobuchar does not meet the threshold, according to the New York Times/Siena College poll, 55 percent of her supporters say they would back Biden. Emerson’s poll said 38 percent of her supporters would back Biden. Also, in that poll, should Buttigieg not be viable, 35 percent said they would choose Biden, and he was the top second choice among all polled at 35 percent. In the New York Times/Siena College poll, it was Warren who had the most second choice support, but most of her second choice supporters came from Sanders, who should remain a viable candidate.
Monmouth had Biden with the most second choice support at 39 percent, followed by Warren at 34 percent, Sanders at 32 percent, and Buttigieg at 29 percent. They found that Biden has the advantage should the race boil down to four candidates, and they also found 40 percent of Klobuchar supporters would go to Biden.
Biden and Buttigieg have a potential Klobuchar problem. Her rise comes at their expense in the polls and the caucus, which could pave the way for Sanders to win. She’s the wild card.
There are intangibles that you don’t see with polling, with a caucus in particular.
I think there is some uncertainty with Biden. He has racked up loads of endorsements that are the who’s who of the Iowa Democratic establishment, but I don’t see the energy I see in other candidates. I don’t see the same size or energy of crowds that attend Biden events compared to Buttigieg events, which have not diminished even though he dropped in the polls.
Biden is the conventional choice, but his campaign has been lackluster. His debate performances have been ok, but not spectacular. He may seem like a safe choice for Democrats, which is why he is so many people’s second choice. I don’t see voters getting excited about him. Biden’s peak is 25 percent, but he also polls as low as 15 percent.
Two intangibles are turn-out and organization.
Sanders must absolutely, positively, have the under 30 demographic turnout for him. He leads by a wide margin among that group. The problem, however, is that they are the least reliable. In 2016, according to exit polling, those who were under 44-years-old made up only 37 percent of those who participated in the Democratic caucuses that year. He needs a higher turnout, particularly among 17 to 29 year-olds who only made up 18 percent of the caucus participants.
A candidate’s organization is also key, do each candidate have adequate staff, volunteer canvassers, and precinct captains? Will each candidate have someone who can speak on their behalf at a precinct’s caucus?
Sanders has 133 paid staffers in Iowa, Buttigieg has nearly 100 staff members, Biden’s campaign has 75. While it’s unclear how many staffers Warren has in Iowa, Politico reported she has 1000 full-time staffers in 31 states, Democrats have spoken highly of her ground game in Iowa.
Here is why this is important. Forty percent said they could be persuaded by another candidate in the New York Times/Siena poll. In the USA Today/Suffolk poll, 13 percent are undecided, and 45 percent said they could change their mind. Emerson reports 38 percent of those surveyed could still end up picking a different candidate. With the Monmouth poll, nearly half said they could change their mind on caucus night (I’ve seen that happen). This is why turn-out and having someone represent a candidate in as many precincts as possible is key.
More polls are expected over the weekend, including the Des Moines Register/CNN’s final Iowa Poll to be revealed on CNN at 8:00p CT on Saturday night. As I said, polls don’t measure everything, which is why Iowa has been hard to predict.