There’s Something Happening Here (Maybe)

Woke up Monday morning to a Neighborhood Research and Media Iowa poll that looked like an outlier. When I clicked through for the crosstabs, and saw Breitbart News had uploaded it for distribution, my suspicions increased. The commentary accompanying the data wasn’t in the tone one hears from most pollsters. And the conclusions didn’t quite match the data they were giving.

Joe Biden was in “freefall” and “highly unlikely” to win the caucus, based on his numbers plummeting in the three days of surveying post-debate, compared to the one day pre/during. This ignores the micro sample size on day one, and that he still led the field in the post-debate portion. The overall standings were as follows:

Biden 23%

Buttigieg 17%

Warren 15%

Klobuchar 11%

Sanders 10%

Trump 5%

Steyer 2%

Yang 2%

You’re probably wondering about the Trump part. Neighborhood Research does free association polling. Instead of running through a long list of candidates, they just ask respondents who they’re voting for. Apparently, 5% of said respondents thought they were being queried about the Republican caucus, the general election, or aren’t too sharp.

So that’s how Trump at 5% happens. Guess he’s really in the Dems’ heads. If you’ve followed recent polling, the numbers for Biden, Buttigieg, and Warren shouldn’t be shocking. All are within the range of where they show up in other surveys. But this is the highest ever mark for Klobuchar, and only her second double-digit result in Iowa. It’s the lowest for Sanders since October. A candidate who was ever so narrowly leading the Iowa poll averages a minute ago is fifth here.

The other thing you notice is Sanders + Warren only = 25%. They’ve reached that number individually in some previous polls, and in the averages sit in the mid-30s combined. Could Bernie have lost votes to Klobuchar after the debate, while the others mostly stayed in place? It didn’t make sense. They don’t have much overlap at all. Her voters are older and more affluent, his are the reverse. While she could trade with Warren (for someone seeking a female candidate), Biden (an experienced moderate who is not almost 80), or Buttigieg (an alternative to the Big Three with a bit more than South Bend on their resume), I can’t see the Sanders-Klobuchar swap.

So I shook it off and went about my day. Started in writing another piece that you’ll hopefully see tomorrow. And then I saw another survey. This one from David Binder Research for Focus on Rural America. They’re a 501(c) interest group that is trying to help Democrats win in rural areas. Not a completely impartial pollster. But also not Republican affiliated. By itself, I’d probably dismiss this one too, but look what the cat dragged in:

Biden 24%

Warren 18%

Buttigieg 18%

Sanders 14%

Klobuchar 11%

Steyer 4%

Yang 3%

Bennet 1%

Bloomberg 1%

Gabbard 1%

Delaney 0%

Patrick 0%

Sure looks a lot like the other poll I tried to ignore. And other than Sanders and Klobuchar being closer than expected, the rest of it conforms perfectly to other surveys. Yang didn’t suddenly leap to 12%. Bennet isn’t magically drawing an audience. One key difference is Warren + Sanders = 32% instead of 25%. This is to the lower part of the regular range for them.

Big Advisory. David Binder Research has polled Iowa several times over the past year. Sanders never does well. This is the second best result he’s had in the six surveys they’ve taken since September 2018. He’s up 5 points from September 2019. They also are consistently the high poll on Klobuchar. She was already at 8% with them in September, when she was in low single digits with most other pollsters. In November 2018, she was at 10%.

Where does this leave us?

Neighborhood Research hasn’t polled Iowa before. So we have no way to use that survey to measure changes in preference. On the David Binder side, the change matches what we’re seeing in the poll averages. Both Sanders and Klobuchar are up nationally and in Iowa from where they were in September, by kinda the same amount they are here. It’s just their positioning is different than the averages.

Neither pollster is among the most respected. But these are the two post-debate Iowa polls we have. Binder and post-debate polls taken nationwide and in other states are in agreement that the debate didn’t cause any major shifts. That doesn’t mean it didn’t matter, a point here, a couple points there in a contest this close can mean a lot. It’s just all within the margin of error, so we won’t know until they caucus.

But just because these pollsters aren’t at the top of the heap doesn’t mean they’re wrong about the shape of the Iowa electorate. Gravis Marketing is a similarly lower-mid tier pollster who was more correct about the 2016 Iowa Democratic caucus than most. In that instance, being correctly more pro-Bernie. Maybe the Sanders skeptics are right this time.

Is it that hard to imagine an Iowa electorate that skews older, and toward more moderate choices? Last time, anyone who didn’t like Hillary Clinton had a reason to turn out to make a point. Lots of young voters like both Sanders and Warren. If you’re unsure about which to pick and know you’re voting against Trump no matter what, will you show up?

As for the older pragmatists who want a more moderate choice, Iowa is a true swing state. It’s the swingingest (sorry) state in the country. People think of Ohio or Florida as a swing state, and while they’re often both up for grabs, they’re both lightly red. Democrats win them when they’re having a good year (or Republicans a bad one). But their margin compared to the national popular vote is mostly (if not completely consistent.) But Iowa is sometimes several points more Republican (like 2016) and sometimes several points more Democratic (like 1988.) And it’s not part of some overall trend.

Iowans, particularly older Iowans, know this. It’s a different mindset than being in a very red or very blue place. And while starting in Iowa and New Hampshire is correctly questioned for lack of ethnic diversity that matches the country as a whole, one thing in their favor is status as true toss-up states. This gives their caucus/primary voters an extra degree of pragmatism (for those of us who think that’s good.)

I’ve buried the lede a bit. Yes, these surveys are bad news for Bernie, and very good news for Klobuchar, as if this is what the electorate looks like, she’ll reach 15% viability in at least some precincts and with a good close could pass 15% overall. It’s great news for Biden. He’s ahead by six points in both and the current FiveThirtyEight favorite to win the state. And if he wins Iowa, this could be over really quick.

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