Iowa Democratic caucus links and latest polls

It’s been a while since Bleeding Heartland had a discussion thread about the Democratic caucus campaign. After the jump I’ve posted highlights from the latest opinion polls of Iowa Democrats and other links on campaign infrastructure and strategies. Whether Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders is building a stronger Iowa organization so far is an open question.

Any comments about the caucuses are welcome in this thread.

The last two surveys of Iowa Democrats paint a vastly different picture of likely caucus-goers’ preferences. On Tuesday, Public Policy Polling found Hillary Clinton in “pretty good shape” among “usual Democratic primary voters” in Iowa. Some 43 percent said she was their first choice, followed by Bernie Sanders (22 percent), Joe Biden (17 percent), Martin O’Malley and Jim Webb (3 percent), and Lincoln Chafee (2 percent). If Biden does not run for president, second choices named by his supporters indicate that Clinton would be ahead of Sanders by 50 percent to 25 percent.

Sanders does lead Clinton 49/33 among voters describing themselves as ‘very liberal.’ But Clinton has substantial advantages over Sanders with ‘somewhat liberal’ voters (56/16) and moderates (38/16), both of which are larger ideological groups than the ‘very liberal.’ Biden actually finishes ahead of Sanders with both of those groups as well. Clinton has a large lead over Sanders with women (48/19), while it is narrower with men (36/28). And while younger voters are almost evenly split (33% Clinton, 32% Sanders) she has a large lead with seniors (49/15).

Full results from the PPP poll are here.

Last week, CBS News and YouGov released a survey showing Sanders leading Clinton among “Democratic likely caucus voters” by 43 percent to 33 percent, followed by Biden (10 percent), O’Malley (5 percent), and Webb and Chafee (1 percent each).

At least one and perhaps both of those polls are off by more than the statistical margin of error (plus or minus 6.6 percent for CBS/YouGov, plus or minus 4.4 percent for PPP), which assumes the pollster surveyed a group of respondents that perfectly represents the desired population. Trouble is, identifying likely caucus-goers is challenging, especially more than five months before the Iowa caucuses. The previous four polls of Iowa Democrats, released in August and early September, showed wildly disparate results too. Who did the best job sampling likely caucus-goers? I don’t know, but Selzer & Co had the most accurate poll of Iowa Democrats before the 2008 caucuses. Their latest poll for the Des Moines Register showed Clinton only 7 points ahead of Sanders.

I heard last week that a long message-testing poll of Iowa Democrats was in the field. Pat Rynard got the call and wrote it up at Iowa Starting Line. It has the hallmarks of a survey commissioned by the Clinton campaign to search for possible contrasts with Sanders. My hunch is that it will be difficult for Clinton to win over Iowa Democrats by comparing herself with Sanders on the issues. Few committed Democrats will find much to disagree with in either candidate’s stump speech, but Sanders stakes out more uncompromising positions that appeal to liberals, such as single-payer health care reform. If I were a Clinton volunteer trying to persuade undecided caucus-goers, I would argue that Clinton is more electable than Sanders.

For months, Sanders has been drawing larger crowds in Iowa than Clinton. His campaign has more yard signs up, and my impression from conversations with many active Democrats is that Sanders has more motivated and enthusiastic supporters.

In terms of measurable organization, Clinton has a slight edge: seventeen field offices at this writing, with 78 paid organizers in the state, according to the campaign last week. The Sanders campaign has “more than 50” staffers working out of fourteen Iowa field offices. Both Clinton and Sanders have offices in Des Moines, Ames, Burlington, Cedar Rapids, Council Bluffs, Davenport, Dubuque, Fort Dodge, Iowa City, Mason City, Sioux City, and Waterloo. The Sanders campaign also has field offices in Ottumwa and West Branch. The Clinton campaign also has offices in Carroll, Clinton, Grinnell, Muscatine, and Waukee. O’Malley’s campaign has three offices so far (Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, and Sioux City). Webb and Chafee don’t have any organization to speak of here.

Nate Willems, who worked on Howard Dean’s campaign before the 2004 caucuses, argued here that Sanders may be “missing an opportunity” in Iowa, because his campaign “is behind in putting organizers on the ground and letting them get to work.” Willems sees few signs of active Sanders volunteers in the Mount Vernon/Lisbon area of Linn County. I would be interested in hearing from Bleeding Heartland readers across the state. From my vantage point in Polk County, Sanders seems to have a ton of engaged supporters.

Pat Rynard (who was a field organizer for Clinton’s campaign before the 2008 caucuses) asked this week, “Is It Happening Against to Hillary Clinton?” He noted that while Clinton’s campaign is building a network of precinct captains, phone bankers, and other volunteers, the Sanders campaign is recruiting more “new people” to the caucus process. After commenting on the “enthusiasm gap” favoring Sanders, Rynard pointed to a tactical problem with the Clinton campaign in Iowa.

The biggest concern is with the overly-scripted events. Early on, when Clinton used small house parties and policy roundtables to learn more real-life stories from Iowans, the strategy worked great. It was a marked improvement over 2008 and armed Clinton with many personable stories she could relate to larger audiences. But then they kept doing them, even after they repeatedly signaled the campaign would switch to larger events and rallies that more people could attend (which again, it sometimes seems like their strategy changes every month). 50-person invite-only house parties in key counties hits the top-level activists, but it restricts your ability to bring new people into the process.

They do a healthy mix of event types now, but attending a Hillary Clinton event requires a significant chunk of your day. And even when you get there, you may not be able to get in to see her, as many events have directed overflow crowds out of the needlessly small event spaces. The campaign argues this is a way for voters to have better conversations with Clinton. This is dumb. It seems more like a strategy to keep the candidate happy than to win over the caucus-goers you need. Holding “organizing” events where half the people who want to see the candidate can’t get in isn’t a way to organize in the Iowa Caucus. More intimate events may be better to persuade and motivate caucus-goers, but you miss out on half the potential if 50% of the crowd is stuck in an overflow room. Sanders had this problem for one week in Iowa right as his campaign really took off. The next visit he booked significantly larger venues.

No other candidate, Democrat or Republican, operates in this type of scripted, restricted way. Yes, part of this is because of the Secret Service. But I don’t believe for a moment that if Clinton can’t change this – if she herself wanted to ease her security detail, and open things up a bit more, she could.

I have talked to Iowans who waited in line for more than an hour (in some cases with children), only to be stuck outside a Clinton event. The experience makes a terrible impression on those who were interested in seeing and hearing a candidate in person.

Although several Republican presidential campaigns and super-PACs have been running television commercials in Iowa this summer, only Clinton has been paying to run tv spots on the Democratic side. The first week in September, the Clinton campaign announced plans to keep television commercials running in Iowa for the next two months. Bleeding Heartland posted videos and transcripts for Clinton’s first three tv ads in Iowa here and here.

Clinton’s campaign may feel pressure to keep the positive ads on the air because the “earned media” environment has been brutal for the front-runner lately. According to an analysis Eric Boehlert posted at Media Matters, the three major television network news programs “have dedicated almost the exact same amount of airtime to [Clinton’s] campaign (82 minutes) as they have to covering the Republican-fed controversy surrounding Clinton’s old secretary of state emails this year (83 minutes).”

Nate Silver of concluded last week that Clinton is “Stuck In A Poll-Deflating Feedback Loop”: “For roughly the past two months, voters have heard almost nothing about Clinton” except for three types of stories, which all “have negative implications for her”:

First are stories about the scandal surrounding the private email server she used as secretary of state. Next are stories about her declining poll numbers. And third are stories about how Vice President Joe Biden might enter the Democratic presidential race.

Silver’s analysis shows more balance in coverage of Clinton during the early summer. He identified a clear shift toward overwhelmingly negative news stories about Clinton around July 24. That was the day the New York Times published an explosive front-page story about Clinton’s e-mails, which turned out to be almost totally wrong. Scholars interested in media agenda-setting effects should have a field day studying the seemingly endless coverage of Clinton’s e-mails this year.

P.S.- I’ve been waiting for months for Clinton to come out against the Keystone XL pipeline. At a town-hall meeting in Des Moines on Tuesday, Clinton finally said she opposed building the pipeline, but I wasn’t happy with her explanation: Keystone was a “distraction” from work we need to do on climate change.

Building infrastructure that supports drilling for tar sands oil is not a “distraction.” It is a huge investment in the wrong direction if our national goal is to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

Clinton later released a fuller statement on the issue. Excerpts:

As the secretary who initiated the review, I refrained from commenting on the pipeline after I left the federal government. I didn’t want to get ahead of President Obama while the process was still underway - because the decision was and is his to make. […]

I have come to feel I can’t stay silent on an issue that matters so much to so many. Though I wanted to give the president space to make a decision, the process has taken far longer than I expected. I want the American people to know where I stand. That’s why I am making it clear:

I am opposed to the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

We shouldn’t be building a pipeline dedicated to moving North America’s dirtiest fuel through our communities - we should be focused on what it will take to make America the clean energy superpower of the 21st century. For too long, the Keystone XL pipeline has been a distraction from the real challenges facing our energy sector - and the job-creating investments that we should be making to meet them. Building a clean, secure, and affordable North American energy future is bigger than Keystone XL or any other single project. That’s what I will focus on as president.

That’s why today I am announcing a comprehensive strategy to modernize American energy infrastructure and forge a new partnership with Canada and Mexico to combat climate change across the continent, unleashing billions in investment, delivering reliable and affordable energy, protecting the health of our families and communities, and creating good-paying jobs and careers.

P.P.S.- I didn’t watch Clinton’s long Tuesday meeting with the Des Moines Register’s editorial board. If you saw it, please share your impressions here. From what I heard, she handled herself well.

About the Author(s)


  • from a Ringgold County HRC volunteer

    I’m phone banking or canvassing at minimum a cpl times per week in what was strong Edwards Country. It’s early and a busy time for our local folk, who are either tuned out, working in the fields, or too often disgusted by politics altogether bc of the circus-like atmosphere this year.  

    But, as regards the ground game, I haven’t ever seen a more organized campaign than HRCs is this cycle. And I started volunteering  (w/ a cpl of paid jobs) on campaigns, always caucus States, in 76.  

    From what I am told, in our region, at least, goals are mostly being met or exceeded daily/weekly.

    I watched the DMR ed board interview in its entirety. Even though I have followed HRC pretty closely since the 80s, bc of family and my own stints living in an AR media market, I’ve never seen her, let alone ANY candidate more in command of such a wide array of topics. She was also relaxed and, yes, quite personable.

    • her command of the issues

      cannot be disputed by anyone. I will be shocked if the Register doesn’t endorse her, especially since they endorsed her before the 2008 caucus. Then again, that was under a different publisher.

      I know the Clinton field organizers have been working hard in Polk County, but I have no insight on whether they are meeting/exceeding their goals. My experience as an Edwards precinct captain was that the goals themselves were based on flawed assumptions about turnout. The big question mark will be whether Sanders can turn out those first-time caucus-goers (like Obama did) or not (like Howard Dean’s campaign didn’t).

      • Sanders won't be well-organized

        It’s a given he doesn’t have the money or staff Obama did, not even close.

        And he admits to refusing to hire a pollster!

        That latter point by itself points to an immature operation.

        So I remain convinced Hillary will sweep, win all states’ caucuses and primaries.  Yes, New Hampshire included.

      • meeting goals

        agree abt the flawed assumption abt turnout in 08. No real inside info on what the ‘goals’ are that are being set. I believe most of the lists, though cobbled together from misc campaigns, are basically being rebuilt from scratch. Like almost always has to be done.