Weekend open thread: Last Des Moines Register caucus poll and a shady Ted Cruz mailer

Photo of a Ted Cruz supporter’s car spotted in Davenport on January 30; shared with the photographer’s permission.

The final Iowa caucus poll by Selzer & Co. for the Des Moines Register and Bloomberg Politics shows a tight race on the Democratic side and Donald Trump retaking the lead from Ted Cruz among likely Republican caucus-goers. Key findings and excerpts from the Register’s write-ups on the poll are after the jump.

Ann Selzer is “the best pollster in politics,” Clare Malone wrote in a must-read profile for FiveThirtyEight.com this week, which explained Selzer’s methods and “old-school rigor.” One key part of her “A+” methodology is starting from a list of registered voters, rather than using random digit dialing to reach Iowans by phone. Nate Cohn pointed out that Iowa polls drawing respondents from a registered voter list have tended to produce better results for Hillary Clinton, while surveys using random digit dialing have produced the best numbers for Bernie Sanders. Selzer also uses a simpler likely voter/likely caucus-goer screen than many other pollsters.

Bleeding Heartland guest author fladem showed yesterday that the Iowa caucus results have sometimes been noticeably different from the last polls released. Front-runners have often seen their lead shrink, while fast-rising contenders have “come from nowhere.” I am standing by my prediction that the structure of the Iowa Democratic caucuses, where only delegate counts matter, favors Hillary Clinton and will allow her to outperform her poll numbers on Monday night. Speaking of which, there’s still time to enter Bleeding Heartland’s Iowa caucus prediction contest; post a comment with your guesses before 6 pm central time on February 1.

Last spring I was sure Cruz would peak in Iowa too soon and crash before the caucuses. Campaign news from October through December convinced me that I was wrong, and I still believe more in Cruz’s ground game than in Trump’s. However, the Cruz campaign is starting to look desperate, shifting its advertising to attack Marco Rubio instead of Trump, and sending out a deceptive mailer, which implied that Republicans guilty of a “voting violation” could improve their “score” by showing up at the caucuses. I enclose below several links on the controversy and a statement from Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate denouncing the mail piece, which “misrepresents the role of my office, and worse, misrepresents Iowa election law.”

Pate’s predecessor, Matt Schultz, is chairing Cruz’s Iowa campaign and defended the mailing as “common practice to increase voter turnout.” As Gavin Aronsen discussed at the new website Iowa Informer, it’s rich for onetime “voter fraud” crusader Schultz to be “actively defending a purposefully misleading mailer.” The hypocrisy confirms my view that Schultz and Cruz are a political match made in heaven.

Governor Terry Branstad will introduce Chris Christie at a campaign stop today but won’t officially endorse the New Jersey governor. Several people with close ties to Branstad are active supporters of Christie, who has been stuck at 3 percent in the Register’s polling for months.

Final note: I’m so happy for all the volunteers who are able to knock doors in near-perfect (for January) weather during these last few days of the campaign. Weather conditions leading up to the 2008 caucuses were terrible.

From Jennifer Jacobs’ article for the Sunday Des Moines Register, “Donald Trump reclaims lead in latest Iowa Poll.”

Trump stands at 28 percent, while rival Ted Cruz has slid to 23 percent. But there’s still a strong case for Cruz in this race — he’s more popular and respected than Trump, the final Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics Iowa Poll shows.

“The drill-down shows, if anything, stronger alignment with Cruz than Trump, except for the horse race,” said J. Ann Selzer, the pollster for the Iowa Poll. […]

Trump excels with voters who have never participated in the caucuses. But the poll, conducted Tuesday through Friday, detects no flood of fresh voters. […]

After months of under-performing in a state where he is perceived as palatable to both establishment and anti-establishment voters, Rubio is up 3 percentage points since early January. But there’s no indication of a surge: His support declined during the four days of polling.

The new Iowa Poll of 602 likely Republican caucusgoers was conducted Jan. 26-29 by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

It’s worth clicking through to read the whole Jacobs story, including ten “highlights” near the end.

From a separate article by Jacobs providing a “closer look” at the Republican poll findings:

Thirty-eight percent of likely GOP caucusgoers identify themselves as primarily mainstream, rather than tea party or evangelical conservative, and Trump does better than any other candidate with 34 percent of their support. Rubio is next at 21 percent. Cruz gets only 10 percent of these voters.

Trump also wins with voters who think the system is rigged against all but the very rich and powerful, with 39 percent of their support, followed by Cruz at 19 percent.

Men, Catholics, and first-time caucusgoers prefer Trump over others.

A field-leading 71 percent of Trump’s voters say their minds are made up. […]

Caucusgoers who describe themselves as evangelical conservatives, rather than tea party or mainstream Republicans, like Cruz best. He gets 33 percent of their vote, followed by Trump at 19 percent. […]

Rubio’s support is softer than for the two at the top of the polls; just 47 percent say their minds are made up.

More respondents select him as second choice than any other candidate, and his image rating is the second-highest in this poll. Seventy percent feel favorably about Rubio, behind Carson at 72 percent.

From a report for the Sunday Des Moines Register by Donnelle Eller and Jennifer Jacobs, “Clinton keeps slim edge over Sanders in latest Iowa Poll.”

Clinton is the top pick for 45 percent of likely Democratic caucusgoers, with Sanders at 42 percent, The Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll shows.

Clinton’s support is up 3 percentage points from earlier this month, and Sanders’ is 2 percentage points higher. […]

The results are within the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. […]

Clinton, a former first lady and former secretary of state, wins a majority among caucusgoers who are 65 and older, Catholics and moderates. Sanders, a U.S. senator representing Vermont, wins a majority of those under 35, first-time caucusgoers and political independents. […]

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley snags 3 percent of likely caucusgoers’ support. He had 4 percent support in early January. […]

The poll shows 83 percent of Clinton’s caucus supporters have made up their minds going into Monday’s vote, up from 69 percent earlier this month. […]

Sixty-nine percent of Sanders’ supporters are firmly behind him coming into the caucuses, about the same as earlier this month.

From a separate article by Jennifer Jacobs taking a closer look at the Democratic findings.

Her favorability rating is 81 percent, right behind Sanders at 82 percent. Eighty-six percent have positive feelings about former President Bill Clinton, and 90 percent about President Barack Obama.

Asked if they’d be enthusiastic if she becomes the nominee, 73 percent said yes –— and 53 percent are “very” enthusiastic. […]

The candidate who would be the oldest president in history upon election fares very well with the youngest Democratic voters in Iowa. Among those under 35, 63 percent give the Vermont U.S. senator their support, and just 27 percent back Clinton.

First-time caucusgoers prefer Sanders (53 percent) over Clinton (34 percent). But this group makes up a relatively small portion of the caucus electorate.

Among voters who think the system is rigged against all but the very rich and powerful, Sanders wins with 50 percent, compared with Clinton’s 39 percent.

Fifty-one percent say Sanders is the candidate who cares most about people like them.

He also has an advantage with men: He leads by 5 points. But Clinton overrides that with a 10-point lead with women — and a majority of the Democratic caucus electorate is female.

Sarah Rumpf was first to report on the controversial Cruz mailer for the Independent Journal Review website. Click through for pictures.

Tom Hinkeldey, a resident of Alta, Iowa, tweeted a photo (which was later deleted because it included his personal address) on Friday evening of a mailer Sen. Ted Cruz’s campaign sent addressed to his wife, Steffany. The mailer was a large card printed to look like a manila envelope on one side and was labeled in all capital letters, “ELECTION ALERT,” “VOTER VIOLATION,” “PUBLIC RECORD,” and “FURTHER ACTION NEEDED.”

On the other side, the mailer said in red letters at the top, “VOTING VIOLATION.” The text then reads:

You are receiving this election notice because of low expected voter turnout in your area. Your individual voting history as well as your neighbors’ are public record. Their scores are published below, and many of them will see your score as well. CAUCUS ON MONDAY TO IMPROVE YOUR SCORE and please encourage your neighbors to caucus as well. A follow-up notice may be issued following Monday’s caucuses.

The mailer then listed his and Steffany’s name, along with five of their neighbors. […]

Cruz spokesman Rick Tyler confirmed to IJ Review that the mailer was theirs in a phone call Friday evening, saying that the targeting had been “very narrow, but the caucuses are important and we want people who haven’t voted before to vote.”

I was amused to read in Rosie Gray’s report for Buzzfeed that Cruz endorser Steve Deace claimed Rumpf’s story was “fake,” even though the campaign had confirmed producing the mailer. Deace later corrected his mistake.

January 30 Facebook post by Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate:

Statement from Secretary of State Paul Pate Regarding Misleading Mailer from Cruz for President Campaign
DES MOINES – “Today I was shown a piece of literature from the Cruz for President campaign that misrepresents the role of my office, and worse, misrepresents Iowa election law. Accusing citizens of Iowa of a “voting violation” based on Iowa Caucus participation, or lack thereof, is false representation of an official act. There is no such thing as an election violation related to frequency of voting. Any insinuation or statement to the contrary is wrong and I believe it is not in keeping in the spirit of the Iowa Caucuses.

Additionally, the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office never “grades” voters. Nor does the Secretary of State maintain records related to Iowa Caucus participation. Caucuses are organized and directed by the state political parties, not the Secretary of State, nor local elections officials. Also, the Iowa Secretary of State does not “distribute” voter records. They are available for purchase for political purposes only, under Iowa Code.”

David Weigel of the Washington Post sought comment from Christopher Larimer, a political scientist at the University of Northern Iowa who has been involved in research on “voter shaming” turnout techniques.

“As a researcher who has done randomized field experiments with get out the vote mailings,” Larimer wrote in an email, “what I can say is that mailings that call attention to an individual’s vote history as well as that of their neighbors’ have been shown to be effective in terms of significantly increasing voter turnout. We draw on norm compliance theory which suggests that publicizing behavior regarding a social norm increases the likelihood of norm compliance.”

That was if the ad was crafted in a smart way. “The Cruz mailing is more negative than anything we have done and has the potential to elicit a negative response or what psychologists call ‘reactance’ or ‘boomerang effect,'” warned Larimer. “The mailing also states that a ‘follow up notice’ will be sent following the caucuses on Monday. This is not possible as caucus turnout is private and maintained by the parties.”

Matt Flegenheimer reported for the New York Times,

“These mailers are common practice to increase voter turnout,” said Matt Schultz, the campaign’s Iowa state chairman and a former Iowa secretary of state. “Our mailer was modeled after the very successful 2014 mailers that the Republican Party of Iowa distributed to motivate Republican voters to vote, and which helped elect numerous Republican candidates during that cycle.”

Speaking to reporters on Saturday evening in Sioux City, Mr. Cruz said he would “apologize to nobody for using every tool we can to encourage Iowa voters to come out and vote.”

UPDATE: Rubio’s campaign has sent out its own version of “voter shaming” direct mail, but unlike the Cruz piece, it doesn’t masquerade as an official document. Rather, it is a “caucus report card” showing whether the voter has participated in GOP caucuses since 2000. David Redlawsk commented that either Rubio’s campaign is “lying” about people’s caucus attendance or the Republican Party of Iowa provides that information to campaigns in lists they sell, because official voter files in the Secretary of State’s office don’t maintain data on whether Iowans have caucused.

Ryan Lizza reported for the New Yorker that the Cruz campaign may have made up the scores on the mailers.

Dave Peterson, who happens to be a political scientist at Iowa State University and is well-acquainted with the research on “social pressure” turnout techniques, received a mailer last week. The Cruz campaign pegged his voting percentage at fifty-five per cent, which seems to be the most common score that the campaign gives out. (All of the neighbors listed on Peterson’s mailer also received a score of fifty-five per cent.)

Peterson, who is actually a Hillary Clinton supporter, moved to Iowa in 2009. He told me that he has voted in three out of the last three general elections and in two out of the last three primaries.

“There are other people listed on my mailer who live in my neighborhood that are all different ages, but everyone on this sheet has the same score of fifty-five per cent,” he said. “Some are significantly younger and would have not been eligible to vote in these elections, and others are older and have voted consistently going back years. There is no way to get to us all having the same score.” (Peterson also spoke with Mother Jones.)

If the Cruz campaign based its score on local elections, Peterson said, the number also wouldn’t make sense, based on his participation in those elections as well. A source with access to the Iowa voter file told me that he checked several other names on Cruz mailers and that the voting histories of those individuals did not match the scores that the Cruz campaign assigned them in the mailer.

I e-mailed Catherine Frazier, a spokeswoman for the Cruz campaign, and asked her what the campaign’s methodology was for arriving at its voting scores and whether the scores were fraudulent or not. “This was a mailer designed from public information and modeled on past successful mailers used by the Iowa GOP to turn out voters, so that we can have as high of a turnout as possible on caucus day,” she said. “I’ll leave it at that.” She did not explain the methodology used nor did she answer my question about whether the numbers were made up.

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