Final Iowa caucus polling and campaign news roundup

I didn’t expect this year’s Republican caucuses to be as much of a nail-biter as the 2008 Democratic competition in Iowa, but here we are on game day, and the top three GOP candidates could plausibly finish in any order.

Three new Iowa polls have come out since the Des Moines Register released its final pre-caucus poll on Saturday night. Public Policy Polling’s survey of 1,340 likely GOP caucus-goers on December 31 and January 1 came out late Sunday night. Full results with cross-tabs are here (pdf). Toplines:

Ron Paul 20 percent

Mitt Romney 19 percent

Rick Santorum 18 percent

Newt Gingrich 14 percent

Rick Perry 10 percent

Michele Bachmann 8 percent

Jon Huntsman 4 percent

Buddy Roemer 2 percent

PPP’s Tom Jensen described the coming result as “a photo finish”:

The momentum in the race is completely on Santorum’s side. He’s moved up 8 points since a PPP poll earlier in the week, while no one else has seen more than a one point gain in their support. Among voters who say they decided who to vote for in the last seven days he leads Romney 29-17 with Paul and Gingrich both at 13.

Santorum’s net favorability of 60/30 makes him easily the most popular candidate in the field. No one else’s favorability exceeds 52%.  He may also have more room to grow in the final 48 hours of the campaign than the other front runners: 14% of voters say he’s their second choice to 11% for Romney and only 8% for Paul. Santorum’s taken the lead with two key groups of Republican voters: with Tea Partiers he’s at 23% to 18% for Gingrich, 16% for Paul, 15% for Bachmann, and only 12% for Romney.  And with Evangelicals he’s at 24% to 16% for Gingrich, and 15% for Paul and Romney.

Other than Santorum’s rise the other big story of this week is Paul’s fall.  He was at 24% earlier in the week but has dropped to 20%. That decline in support coincides with a precipitous drop in his favorability numbers. On our last poll he was at +13 (53/40), but that’s gone down 21 points on the margin to -8 (43/51).

Insider Advantage/Majority Opinion Research released its final Iowa caucus poll on January 2. Toplines from the survey of 729 likely caucus-goers:

Romney 23 percent

Paul 22 percent

Santorum 18 percent

Gingrich 16 percent

Perry 10 percent

Bachmann 6 percent

Huntsman 2 percent

That poll’s cross-tabs (pdf) show Paul dominating among caucus-goers under 45 and leading among men. Romney crushes the competition among seniors and has a small lead among women. Santorum has more support than anyone else among caucus-goers between the ages of 45 and 64, and does better among women than men in this sample.

Finally, American Research Group released its last Iowa caucus poll yesterday.

Romney 22 percent

Paul 17 percent

Santorum 16 percent

Gingrich 15 percent

Perry 9 percent

Bachmann 8 percent

undecided 7 percent

Huntsman 4 percent

Roemer 1 percent

other 1 percent

From the ARG polling memo:

Among registered Republicans, Romney leads with 24%, followed by Santorum at 17%, Gingrich at 16%, and Paul at 14%. In a similar poll conducted December 26-28, Romney was at 23% among Republicans, Gingrich was at 19%, Paul was at 12%, and Santorum was at 12% among Republicans.

Among no party voters (independents), Paul leads with 32%, followed by Romney, Gingrich and Rick Perry at 13% each, and Santorum and Jon Huntsman at 10% each.

Among likely Republican caucus goers saying they will definitely participate in the caucus, Romney leads with 21%, followed by Gingrich, Paul, and Santorum at 16% each.

Among men, Paul leads with 21%, followed by Romney at 20%, and Gingrich and Perry at 15% each. Among women, Romney leads with 24%, followed by Santorum at 17%, Gingrich at 16%, and Paul and Perry at 13% each.

Basically, Romney wins if seniors make up a typical share of Iowa Republican caucus-goers, while Paul wins if there’s a huge surge in young and no-party voters. Santorum needs to siphon off more support from Perry and Bachmann to overtake the competition.

I still haven’t posted my final caucus prediction, but I am leaning toward the Santorum victory scenario. My hunch is that as people chat with their neighbors in those crowded caucus rooms, Santorum will pick up a lot of Perry and Bachmann leaners at the last minute. Santorum’s campaign claims to have lined up speakers on his behalf in 1,000 Iowa precincts, which would help him a lot if true. All year, conservatives have been looking for a “not Romney,” and the roulette wheel landed on Santorum at the right time. Every campaign event has an overflow crowd, and he got even more free media from some campaign stops with the enormous Duggar family.

It’s too late for him to get the kind of scrutiny that could really hurt him. No one has run television commercials highlighting his 2004 endorsement of pro-choice moderate U.S. Senator Arlen Specter against conservative GOP challenger Pat Toomey, for example. I doubt many Iowa Republican caucus-goers were watching Santorum on Meet the Press as he defended his endorsement of Romney during the 2008 primaries.

Perry and Paul have been describing Santorum as a big government spender, but without people knowing the details, it’s easy for Santorum to dismiss the accusations:

Santorum, forced to defend himself, waved off the criticism in Polk City, Iowa.

“I am actually proud of my record. It is not unblemished. But if you look at my record on spending you are seeing someone who is a big supporter of a balanced budget amendment,” he said.

According to Ed Tibbetts of the Quad-City Times, Paul’s campaign has paid for robocalls accusing Santorum of working with “pro-abortion lawmakers and opposing so-called “right to work” legislation. That strikes me as too little, too late.

Side note: as I read State Representative Dawn Pettengill’s gushing endorsement of Santorum, I felt annoyed all over again that Iowa House Democrats recruited Pettengill and spent money getting her elected in 2004. (She switched parties in 2007.) I hope none of this year’s batch of statehouse candidates turns out to be hostile to everything the Democratic Party is supposed to stand for.

Back to the Iowa caucus news roundup: Ron Paul drew substantial crowds in his five-stop tour yesterday, also featuring his son U.S. Senator Rand Paul. I completely agree with Iowa State University Professor Dianne Bystrom that Paul’s television commercials have been the best overall. I don’t think Paul will be able to pull it off tonight, because I think the seniors will show up to caucus. On the other hand, Paul has presented a clear and consistent message that appeals to a lot of conservatives.

If I’m wrong and Paul wins tonight, a lot of credit should go to his field organizers and volunteers. In contrast to Barack Obama’s 2008 Iowa caucus campaign, Paul’s operation has been fairly secretive about their turnout strategy. John Deeth got kicked out of a Paul caucus training session in Johnson County. Gavin Aronsen filed this interesting report on Paul’s retreat for young, out of state volunteers at a YMCA camp lodge outside Boone.

On Wednesday, the New York Times reported that once they arrive at the camp, the volunteers are “under strict orders” to “look, dress, shave, sound and behave in a way that will not jeopardize Mr. Paul’s chances.” That means no boozing, no visible tattoos, and no scraggy beards (although I did spot a guy with earrings). Or as one volunteer from Ithaca, New York, told the Times, “What would Ron Paul do?”

The volunteers have also been told “not to speak to journalists or make postings on social media sites about their activities in Iowa,” the Times explained. That became immediately clear on Saturday, when I walked into a meeting room where about 20 volunteers prepared campaign flyers. “Are you with the media?” a young woman asked as someone turned off the music. I was ordered to leave the room, and after I was told that I could “absolutely not” take a flyer with me a woman shut the door to the lobby behind me. A young man watched me intently from behind a glass window as he called someone on his phone.

This paranoid atmosphere reflects the strict message discpline employed by the Paul campaign. That may be more important than ever now, since Paul has dropped to second place behind Romney in Iowa polls after facing a barrage of criticism over the racist newsletters published under his name in the ’80s and ’90s.

When the Times asked Jesse Benton, Ron Paul’s national campaign chairman, about the camp, he said, “We’re keeping our cards close to our vests.” But in an email, campaign spokesman Gary Howard gave me a seemingly less cryptic explanation: “We’re just making sure we keep things focused and limit distractions.”

Romney attracted overflow crowds at his Iowa events yesterday. He looks confident, and he’s running lots of positive television commercials. The super-PAC supporting him continues to pound the hell out of Gingrich and to a lesser extent Perry. I see Romney doing very well in eastern Iowa and maybe taking the whole state if senior citizen turnout is strong. He would be dead in the water if a consensus candidate had emerged for Iowa social conservatives, as it did four years ago. But he got lucky there and played his cards wisely by not wasting much money or time on Iowa this cycle until the home stretch. Even a close second or third-place finish wouldn’t wound Romney heading into the New Hampshire primary. The only danger sign for him is social conservatives uniting behind someone else before South Carolina and Florida.

Gingrich and Perry seem destined to fight it out for fourth place. My money is on Gingrich. He has made a ton of mistakes during the last month of the caucus campaign. Jonathan Martin did a good job of laying those out in this piece. Newt should have made big ideas central to his closing argument to Iowans. Instead, he has spent too much time talking about process, such as whether he’ll win or complaints about Romney wanting to “buy the election.” If Gingrich wanted Iowans to know that Romney is a liar, he should have started saying that on television before the morning of January 3. The key sound bite from his speech in Muscatine on caucus day was also process-oriented:

“All of you have been drowning in negative attack ads. None of them have come from me,” he said to applause.

“Iowans have an opportunity tonight to send a message to Washington and to the political system that the age of negative consultants and negative attack ads is over.”

Nevertheless, I think Gingrich will outperform his polling tonight, particularly if there’s a strong senior turnout. On Monday I saw former member of Congress Fred Grandy (a Sioux City native) make the case for Gingrich on CNN. Grandy represented most of northwest Iowa in the U.S. House from 1987 to 1995. He described Gingrich as the candidate who best understands how to protect U.S. interests domestically and in foreign affairs.

Conservative radio personality Steve Deace devoted most of his talk show Monday to talking about why Iowans should caucus for Gingrich. In his endorsement on Fox News over the weekend, Deace portrayed Gingrich as the only candidate who understands and has a plan for combating the so-called activist judges.

I think the image of an intellectual who gets the big picture and isn’t afraid to offend people is appealing for a lot of Republicans. When Iowans hear Gingrich talking about issues, such as his stump speech riff about alleged EPA plans to regulate farm dust, the audiences love it.

Rick Perry has to be frustrated. He’s spent so much money on television commercials bashing Gingrich and/or Romney, only to see Santorum reap the benefits. He should have put some paid media into bringing down Santorum’s favorability, but it’s too late now. He has to hope for a close fourth-place finish. Beating Gingrich would give him something to build on as he takes his campaign straight from here to South Carolina. He probably has the funds to soldier on for a while, even with a fifth-place finish in Iowa.

I feel sorry for Bachmann. She’s been working hard these last couple of weeks but drawing very few people to her campaign events, according to accounts by various journalists. I would be shocked if she finishes higher than sixth place tonight, and I expect her to underperform her polling. She has no money; her first Iowa television commercial since the summer went up on January 2, and that wasn’t even a large statewide buy. Hard to see her going forward to South Carolina.

Final note: Representative Steve King chickened out of endorsing anyone before the caucuses. I expected him to jump on the Santorum bandwagon, but it looks like King wanted to hedge his bets in case Romney wins. No guts, no glory.

Any comments about the presidential campaign are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: On the morning of January 3, I received a robocall from Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. He didn’t name any of the presidential candidates but urged Iowans to support a “true conservative.” Mainly the robocall was pushing the voter guide at Family Research Council Action’s site GoVoteIowa.com. That voter guide (pdf) shows Paul and Romney to be less consistently in line with the FRC position than are most of the other candidates competing in Iowa.

SECOND UPDATE: Santorum claimed yesterday that robocalls are accusing him of not supporting gun rights. He did not make any allegation about who paid for the calls, and I haven’t seen any confirmation of this story.

  • Calls

    Enjoying all the wasted calls at my house. My late wife once voted for Grandy in a GOP primary…and our phone number stuck in their database.  My favorite move is when the Romney “Telephone Town Hall” calls come, I put the phone in front of the tv playing MSNBC.

    On the other hand…

    In my county (Warren), there will be NO PRECINCT-LEVEL Democratic caucuses per se…probably like that most other places in Iowa. I don’t believe this was such a good strategy, as it will suppress turnout. We’ll be breaking up into ‘precinct’ areas to caucus after a nationally-broadcasted web address by the President.  All this taking place at one location for the entire county!

    Agreed: there is no real Presidential(nor US Senate) race to be considered, and for us, not even a state senate race. Of course, Boswell will be the only real candidate for US House.  Our representative in the Iowa Senate, not up for re-election, is none other than Sorenson – he who vacillates between Bachmann and Paul.  That leaves local races and the Iowa House. But it’s as if that race were being tagged as unimportant.  That, to me, is not the way to approach this coming election.  ALL races are important….

    • I agree

      that the Democrats may be suppressing turnout by having so many counties set just one location for caucusing. That’s one reason I am having so much trouble coming up with a realistic guess for Democratic caucus attendance.

    • also

      I have talked to quite a few Democrats in Windsor Heights who didn’t realize we are caucusing at Valley High School instead of the typical locations. I wonder how many Iowa Democrats will go to the wrong place tonight.

  • no shame to guessing

    Seltzer and Jensen won’t predict, so this is a freebie. I decided to go with my preferred scenario.

    I continue to be suspicious by the socon orgs like FRC etc not pointing their followers in a unified direction. “Everybody in Iowa sells out.”

    Agree with hvlundberg on how this Dem thing is getting organized. Obama is only out for himself. Democrats will land up regretting this after assessing the state of the party in 2014.

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