The Des Moines Register’s longtime pollster Ann Selzer identified the surge of first-time Democratic caucus-goers who would carry Barack Obama to victory in 2008. Her final poll before the 2012 Republican caucuses caught the strong upward momentum for Rick Santorum. Her last snapshot before this year’s caucuses for the Des Moines Register and Bloomberg Politics correctly saw a close race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, with fewer first-time participants than eight years ago.
But Selzer’s view of the GOP campaign was unfortunately off the mark in several respects: putting Donald Trump ahead of Ted Cruz, underestimating turnout overall and particularly among evangelicals, and missing the late swing toward Marco Rubio that some political observers sensed by watching the campaign on the ground.
Yesterday Selzer commented to David Weigel of the Washington Post,
“In all the press I did in the last two days—and it was a LOT — I talked about the fluidity,” she wrote in an email. “Up to the last moment — including inside the caucus room — campaigns and supporters are working for change! Surprise! Big evangelical turnout — no doubt the biggest.” […]
“Trump was disliked by vast majority of caucus-goers who didn’t support him,” Selzer said. “Bernie’s extraordinary strength was with first-timers, who showed up in above-projected numbers. […]
“If I’m demoted to ‘silver standard,’ I’m fine with that,” she said. “I was never all that comfortable with the hype.”
Selzer can take some comfort in knowing that the last ten Iowa polls released before the caucuses all put Trump ahead of Cruz. The most recent poll to show Cruz leading was the Iowa State University/WHO-TV survey, which uses an unconventional screen for likely caucus-goers. But Iowa State/WHO understated support for Trump and Rubio. Given the tremendous difficulties involved in polling the Iowa caucuses, especially on the Democratic side, we should expect some misses, even from the top professionals in the field. As the presidential campaign progresses, here’s hoping political journalists will focus less on poll-driven horse race coverage.
UPDATE: Selzer did some "Tuesday morning quarterbacking" of her final poll in today’s Des Moines Register. I enclose excerpts below.Continue Reading...