Sanders takes lead heading into Iowa
3 weeks before caucus, field still tightly grouped
DES MOINES, Iowa – Sen. Bernie Sanders leads the Democratic field three weeks ahead of Caucus Day in Iowa – narrowly overtaking his closest competitors, who remain locked in a tight contest just behind him.
A new Des Moines Register/ CNN/ Mediacom Iowa Poll shows 20% of likely Democratic caucusgoers name Sanders as their first choice for president.
After a surge of enthusiasm that pushed Pete Buttigieg to the top of the field in November, the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor has faded, falling 9 percentage points to land behind both Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Warren is at 17%; Buttigieg, 16%; and former Vice President Joe Biden, 15%.
“There’s no denying that this is a good poll for Bernie Sanders. He leads, but it’s not an uncontested lead,” said pollster J. Ann Selzer, president of Selzer & Co., which conducted the poll. “He’s got a firmer grip on his supporters than the rest of his compatriots.”
The poll of 701 likely Democratic caucusgoers was done Jan. 2- 8 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.
Biden, Buttigieg, Sanders and Warren have remained clustered atop the Register’s Iowa Poll throughout the 2020 campaign cycle, though no one has definitively pulled away from the pack. Instead, each of the top four has now led the Iowa Poll at some point this cycle as the field continues to shift.
The percentage of those who say their mind is made up about which candidate to support on caucus night
has risen to 40% – up 10 percentage points from November. Forty- five percent say they have a favorite candidate but could be persuaded to support someone else and an additional 13% have not picked a favorite candidate.
“The caucus process is an invitation to keep an open mind,” Selzer said, noting that the Iowa Poll produced similar numbers of undecided caucusgoers at the same point during 2016’ s crowded Republican primary.
Other Democratic candidates – including those banking on a late burst of momentum – failed to gain much ground in the January poll. Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Cory Booker of New Jersey held steady, Klobuchar at 6% and Booker at 3%. Entrepreneur Andrew Yang grew his support from 3% in November to 5% today.
Could Sanders gain the Iowa caucuses win that eluded him in 2016? Selzer said the data suggest it’s plausible.
“There’s just the Bernie factor,” Selzer said. “Which is ( even) stronger than we saw in the last cycle.”
Although this is the first time in his back- to- back races for president that the Vermont senator has led the Iowa Poll, his support this cycle has remained remarkably firm, a fact his campaign
“There’s just the Bernie factor,” Selzer said. “Which is ( even) stronger than we saw in the last cycle.” J. Ann Selzer Selzer & Co., which conducted the poll
has worked to exploit.
Sanders’ supporters are more likely than those who back the other leading candidates to say their minds are made up ( 59%), and they are “extremely” enthusiastic about him. ( 49%). Just 32% of Warren’s supporters describe themselves as extremely enthusiastic, and 26% each for Biden and Buttigieg.
“There was a thought that his support was a holdover from when he ran before and that that would evaporate,” Selzer said. “It certainly has not evaporated.”
She said Sanders is holding on to many of those who caucused for him in 2016 while also growing support among young and first- time caucusgoers. Those are notoriously difficult groups to turn out on caucus night, she said, but Sanders has done it before and appears to be on track to do so again.
He has retained support from 44% of those who say they caucused for him in 2016. Warren earns 20% of his former supporters. He leads the field with those younger than 35, earning 36% of their support; Warren follows him at 20%.
“He’s someone I followed in the last primary and really liked,” said Matthew Quick, 25, a P. E. teacher from Essex. As a teacher, Quick said Sanders’ focus on education and improving teacher quality and pay stands out.
“When he put his name in the hat in 2020, I knew I was going to be in all the way,” he said.
Buttigieg held a commanding lead in the Register’s last Iowa Poll, in November, at 25% – 9 percentage points ahead of Warren, his closest competitor. But in the weeks since, he has faced more criticism over his record, his moderate policy positions and his inability to win over voters of color.
Buttigieg fares worst among the leading candidates in the share of supporters whose minds are made up: 40%. That’s compared with the 59% of Sanders’ supporters, 48% of Warren’s and 44% of Biden’s.
Buttigieg’s favorability ratings also have gone in the downward direction. The share of those who say they view Buttigieg favorably has fallen 4 percentage points from November to 68% today. The share of those viewing him unfavorably has risen from 16% to 24%.
“That used to be his great claim to fame: He was very likable, and there were very few who didn’t like him,” Selzer said. “Some of that luster is lost in this poll.”