Two More Polls: Where Things Stand in Iowa

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At this rate I’ll never get my grading done.

Two more polls just in and (fortunately!) they are consistent with my earlier analysis posted today.  The first poll is a Rasmussen automated survey conducted Dec. 28, and the second is a telephone survey by American Research Group (ARG) from Dec. 26-28 (both polls have a margin of error +/-4%).  For ease of interpretation I’ve put the five most recent Iowa polls in the following table. (Note, however, that the CNN poll took place with a day off for the Christmas holidays.)

Candidate Public Policy Polling (12. 26-27.11) CNN (12.21-24, 12.26-27.11) Insider Advantage(12.28.11) American Research Group (12.26-28.11) Rasmussen (12.28.11)
Romney 20% 25% 17.2% 22% 23%
Paul 24% 22% 17.3% 16% 22%
Gingrich 13% 14% 16.7% 17% 13%
Santorum 10% 16% 13.4% 11% 16%
Perry 10% 11% 10.5% 9% 13%
Bachmann 11% 9% 11.8% 8% 5%


Once you account for differences in sampling and the dates of these polls, they tell somewhat similar stories. Keeping in mind all the usual caveats about polling a caucus state, what do these more recent surveys suggest is happening in Iowa today, five days before voting?  I offer the following observations.

  1. Romney is going to get about 23% of the vote, give or take a few percentage points.  That is, he’ll finish close to what he did four years ago.  Whether that is enough to win depends on several other factors.  See below.
  2. Paul’s support, I think, may be softening just a bit, probably because of doubts, fueled by negative campaign ads, regarding his foreign policy views.  Note that his unfavorable ratings have risen in the last week and are now in negative numbers.  Of course, with him it all depends on the relevant turnout of independents and younger voters.   Will the college crowd be home for the winter break?  Will they turn out? We know that he has a core group of supporters who will show up no matter what.  But I don’t think that constitutes much more than 20% of likely voters.
  3. Gingrich seems to have weathered the avalanche of negative ads directed at him and is stabilized at about 16%.  In my view, he has a greater potential upside than either Romney or Gingrich, primarily because his support cuts across demographic and party lines.  His biggest problem is extremely high unfavorable ratings.  Much depends on whether his last-minute advertising pitch can swing voters his way.  He is now, finally, on the air with new television ads.  Unlike Romney and Paul, however, he lacks a campaign infrastructure for getting out the vote.
  4. Santorum seems to be benefitting from the “last Christian standing” dynamic; the evangelicals have danced with everyone else not named Mitt or Ron at least once (please, no touching on the dance floor), so it now appears to be Santorum’s turn.  He’s peaking at the right moment, has high favorable ratings (because no one has bothered to attack him) and could challenge for third place.
  5. Perry is a wildcard – he’s blanketed the state with advertising and has made a strong pitch for the conservative vote but it’s not clear that he’s attracting more than 12% support.
  6. Bachmann is in danger of getting winnowed.  The key question, for me, is whether her supporters peel off in the caucus room and switch to Santorum.  Note that unlike in Democratic caucusing in Iowa, where there’s plenty of jockeying for position, there’s not a lot persuasion that goes on in the Republican meetings, and the vote is by secret ballot.  So it’s a lot easier to dump the one you brought to the dance.

The results five days from now, it seems to me, hinge on two factors.  What is the relative percentage of independents (and even Democrats) that turn out?  And do the evangelicals coalesce behind a single candidate, or two, or three?  I think Romney’s and Paul’s support is what it is in the polls.   I’m less confident about the other four.

More as polling comes in.

2 Responses to Two More Polls: Where Things Stand in Iowa

  1. Jeff Winchell says:

    Have you looked at Nate Silver’s poll rankings that he uses to determine the quality of predictability of various pollsters? If not, ARG and Insider Advantage are ranked at the very bottom (only Zogby Interactive was worse) out of roughly 40 pollsters. I prefer to look at the pollsters ranked above average in his list, and then look at internals (like CNN’s leaving out probably 15+% of the voters because they didn’t register as Republicans until after GOP gave CNN their list).

    I also like to look at things like who is the 2nd choice candidate given that your first choice is X (PPP shows this, though the layout of that data has mislead more than one commentator) or what percentage of self-identified Evangelicals prefers whom. These details contradict the simple narratives many people have, but the real world is messy.

  2. Matthew Dickinson says:


    Good points all. Alas, I’ve stopped reading Nate since the Times went to the online pay wall, but you are right that all pollsters are not alike when it comes to reliability. Still, you need to keep in mind that this doesn’t mean those at the bottom of Silver’s rankings are completely unreliable – people tend to overstate the significance of the distinctions on his list, particularly since there’s legitimate differences re: the criteria by which to rank pollsters. As for looking at internals – that’s about all we do here, as you know if you read regularly. And that includes data on second choice options, which I’ve discussed repeatedly during this polling cycle. As you note, the real world is messy – but this is particularly true when trying to poll caucuses.

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