- Recent surveys of the Iowa Democratic caucusgoers show Sen.Bernie Sanders in a strong position ahead of the state’s February 3 caucuses, but the contest is still unpredictable and largely up for grabs.
- A New York Times and Siena College poll conducted from January 20-23 showed Sanders coming in at first place with 25% of likely caucusgoers listing him as their first choice.
- That same survey showed 17% of caucusgoers preferring former Vice President Joe Biden, 15% preferring Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and 8% preferring Sen. Amy Klobuchar, with a margin of error of 4.8 plus or minus percentage points.
- Still, the race is still very volatile, and there is no guarantee that any single candidate will easily carry most of Iowa’s 41 pledged delegates on caucus night. Two other recent polls have shown Biden in the lead.
- The Times found that even when the choices were narrowed down to the top four candidates, Sanders still leads the field with the support of 30% of likely caucusgoers.
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Recent surveys of the Iowa Democratic caucusgoers show Sen.Bernie Sanders in a strong position to perform well in the state’s February 3 caucuses, but the contest is still unpredictable and largely up for grabs with no clear leader.
For weeks, Real Clear Politics‘ and FiveThirtyEight’s polling averages have shown the top four candidates, Vice President Joe Biden, Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and former Mayor Pete Buttigieg closely bunched together with no obvious frontrunner going into the caucuses.
A New York Times and Siena College poll conducted from January 20-23 and released on January 25 showed Sanders coming in at first place with 25% of likely caucusgoers listing him as their first choice, seven percentage points ahead of Buttigieg, who 18% of surveyed caucusgoers listed as their first choice.
That same survey showed 17% of caucusgoers preferring Biden, 15% preferring Warren, and 8% preferring Sen. Amy Klobuchar, with a margin of error of 4.8 plus or minus percentage points.
The New York Times/Siena poll comes after a Des Moines Register/CNN poll conducted by J. Ann Selzer, widely considered the gold standard of Iowa polling, similarly showed Sanders in the lead at 20%, followed by Warren at 17%, Buttigieg at 16%, and Biden at 15%.
When Sanders ran for president in 2016, Hillary Clinton won 49.8% of the state-wide vote and 23 delegates compared to 49.6% and 21 delegates for Bernie Sanders in Iowa.
Two other recent polls, however, have shown Biden narrowly leading the field in Iowa. Both a Focus on Rural America survey conducted by pollster David Binder and a Monmouth University poll fielded in mid-January both showed Biden leading with 24% of caucusgoers identifying him as their first choice.
Biden who has been the Democratic frontrunner for much of the 2020 cycle, is in a particularly advantageous position in the nomination process due to his significant support in delegate-rich states in the south with large proportions of African-American voters, who overwhelmingly back his candidacy.
Still, the race is still very volatile, and there is no guarantee that any single candidate will easily carry all or most of Iowa’s 41 pledged delegates on caucus night. Because there are so many candidates all preforming in double-digits in the state, there may not be a clear leader in delegates on caucus night, and the candidate who wins the most first-choice preferences may not necessarily carry the most delegates.
The Times said that Sanders’ strength in Iowa can be owed to his consolidating the progressive vote as Warren, the main fellow progressive candidate, has steadily lost support in Iowa and nationwide over the past several months.
The Times/Siena survey found that importantly, Sanders has retained the support of many of those who backed him in 2016, and is supported by 43% of caucusgoers who call themselves “very liberal,” while moderate caucusgoers are relatively split between Biden, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar.
Presidential contenders consistently polling in double digits is important, since in Iowa, contenders must break 15% of the vote in an Iowa congressional district or at the statewide level to win any of the state’s pledged delegates at all.
And because every Iowa precinct with a caucus holds not one but two rounds of preference expression, or alignments, caucusgoers’ second choices are more important than ever before.
If a caucus-goer’s first-choice candidate doesn’t break 15% of the vote on the first alignment, they can either switch their preference to a candidate who is viable in their precinct, be an uncommitted caucus-goer, or try to combine forces with other caucusgoers to make their first-choice candidate viable.
The Times found that even when the choices were narrowed down to the top four candidates, Sanders still leads the field with the support of 30% of likely caucusgoers, indicating he is a good position to pass the viability threshold on caucus night.
While Biden and Sanders both hold significant support later in the process, the results of the Iowa caucuses will likely be more important for upstart candidates like Warren, Buttigieg, and Amy Klobuchar who are going all-in on Iowa and are relying on a strong performance in the state to fuel their campaigns forward.
If Buttigieg or Klobuchar win very few or no delegates in Iowa, the state in which they have invested the most resources, it will be a troubling sign for their campaigns.
But still, the results of the Iowa caucuses don’t necessarily make or break campaigns. While Iowa gets disproportionate attention from campaigns and the media by virtue of going first in the process, it only holds 1% of the total pledged delegates allocated throughout all the states and territories that send delegates to the convention.
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