Interpreting The Final Des Moines Register Poll Showing A Statistical Tie Between Clinton And Sanders

Des Moines Register Poll Final

The final Des Moines Register/Blomberg Poll before the Iowa Caucus shows Hillary Clinton leading Bernie Sanders with 45 percent compared to 42 percent. The three point lead is within the poll’s margin of error at four percent. Martin O’Malley trails at three percent.

While I have often pointed out the limitations of polls before primaries, the final Des Moines Register poll is probably the most likely to be predictive. Among its virtues, it does not exclude voters based upon past lack of participation in the caucuses as many other polls do. While it has a better track record than other polls, it still suffers from the same problem of all pollsters in not knowing who will actually turn out. Traditional Democratic voters favor Clinton while more independent voters strongly favor Sanders, but we don’t know how many of them will participate in the caucuses. Higher turn out than usual would increase the chances of a victory for Sanders.

Being a caucus rather than a pure primary vote creates additional questions. A candidate has to meet a fifteen percent threshold for their vote to count towards selecting delegates in the Democratic caucus. If they do not meet this threshold, then the second choice becomes crucial. Greater support for Sanders than Clinton among O’Malley supporters nearly erases Clinton’s lead.

Another question is the consequence of the difference in date for the caucus this year compared to 2008, when Obama came in first and Clinton came in third. The 2008 caucus occurred on January 3, when many college students were still on vacation, and possibly out of the state. Will having the caucus occur after students have returned to school provide an additional benefit to Sanders? On the other hand, will college students be more likely to caucus near their campus as opposed to at homes throughout Iowa. There is the danger that this will lead to Sanders having huge leads in some areas, such as Iowa City and Ames, while not doing as well as Obama did in other parts of the state. This could result in Clinton picking up more delegates statewide even if Sanders narrowly wins the popular vote.

Donald Trump leads among the Republicans at 28 percent with Ted Cruz in second place at 23 percent.

Update:  Buzzfeed reports on how the Clinton campaign is trying to game the system by having some of their supporters back O’Malley so that he will meet the fifteen percent viability requirement to keep his supporters from going to Sanders. Of course plotting such a strategy and getting Iowa voters to go along are two different things. I recall how Clinton protested over similar actions by the Obama campaign eight yeas ago. Plus Bloomberg has more background on Clinton’s strategy in Iowa–basically doing the opposite of what she did in 2008.

An updated post with further news, including Sanders leading in latest pre-Iowa poll, is here.


  1. 1
    Shelley Jacques Pineo-Jensen says:

    A key element of Iowa caucuses is that you have to actually show up in order for your "vote" to count. People who support Bernie Sanders are passionate about dismantling the stranglehold billionaires and transnational corporations have over our elected officials – legal bribery. They want to stop biosphere destruction and prevent the exacerbation of the sixth extinction that we are experiencing. It is hard to imagine that supporters of Ms. Monsanto have the same kind of strong feelings about their candidate – "health care for all – no we can't – and besides it's too much work" hardly seems to stir emotion. I reckon the Bernie people will help each other out to make sure they all get there to the caucus on time. You know – all those people who turned out to see Bernie speak all over the state. We'll know soon enough. I have a very good feeling about people looking out for their own best interests this election . . . ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! 

  2. 2
    Mike Hatcher says:

    I've read a story that Clinton was sending in operatives from out of state to try to influence the caucuses.  Assuming they don't try to "vote" I am guessing there is nothing wrong with that.  But I don't really understand the voting process in Iowa primaries other than a description that makes it sound like you don't get to vote unless you hang around for a couple of hours or more listening to people try to persuade you.  I do know Michigan isn't all that far from Iowa, you could probably get to Dubuque in, what 6 hours or so? Thinking of helping out?

  3. 3
    Ron Chusid says:

    I probably could get to Iowa in around six hours, but I’m busy working. I’m sure a lot of other people are out there, but traveling around the country like that is done more by younger people who can do so.

Leave a comment