Category Archives: Polling

Onward Christian Soldiers! (The Latest Iowa Polls)

The Boston Globe headlined yesterday’s paper, “Momentum in Iowa Tilting Toward Romney”.  That’s not what I’m seeing based on the two most recent Iowa polls.

It is of course, a truism that the outcome of tomorrow’s Iowa caucus will depend on which candidate has the most effective get-out-the-vote organization.  But the latest – and likely the last – polls to come out of Iowa give some insight into how different turnout scenarios tomorrow will matter.  The first poll, conducted by Public Policy Polling, surveyed 1,340 likely caucus goers, with 50% surveyed on Sunday and the remaining 50% on Monday (margin of error +/- 2.7).  The second, conducted by Insider Advantage, was released this morning without supporting detail, so buyers beware.  Both polls use automated telephone surveys.

The topline results of both polls are similar, and consistent with recent polling in Iowa. PPP has the race a dead heat between Paul (20%), Romney (19%) and Santorum (18%).  InsiderAdvantage scores it similarly, with Romney at 22.7%, Paul 22.4% and Santorum at 18%.  Gingrich is 4th in both polls. Both polls testify to Santorum’s surge; a week ago PPP had him at 10%, so he’s gained 8% since then. Four days ago InsiderAdvantage listed him 4th, at 13.4% – he’s picked up almost 5% there.  Moreover, Santorum may still be climbing; in the PPP poll those who say they decided who to back in the last week went disproportionally for Santorum, with 29% choosing him versus 17% deciding to back Romney and only 13% turning to Paul.  Santorum continues to have the highest favorable/unfavorable ratio of all the candidates as well, at 60/30.  And he is the second choice of 14% of voters, compared to 11% who would switch to Romney, and 8% to Paul (all from the PPP poll).

But here’s where turnout makes a difference. The InsiderAdvantage surveys includes 51% women – that’s a far higher proportion than the actual proportion in 2008, when women constituted only 44% of caucus goers. Similarly, the PPP sample includes 48% women – again on the high side. In contrast, the Des Moines poll weighted their sample to include only 39% women.  This suggests to me that both the PPP and the InsiderAdvantage poll may be overestimating Romney’s support,  since he does much better among women; his support among female voters tops the field in both polls, with Santorum second.

What about independents? The PPP poll only includes 18% independents, while the InsiderAdvantage survey includes 26% from this group.  The Des Moines Register poll, which does not weight by party, included 22% independents, but J. Ann Selzer, in her analysis of the Des Moines poll, indicated she saw a potential increase in the number of independents who might participate. Ron Paul runs the strongest among these voters in all three polls, and by wide margins; he typically gets more than 30% of their vote, with no other candidate breaking 20%.  So, which proportion is correct?  Is it 18%, 22% or 26%? I have no idea.

Finally, there is the age factor. Romney does best among those 65 and older, and again by wide margins; he gets 27% support in the PPP poll and 39% among this group in InsiderAdvantage. No one else breaks 20% support in this age bracket in either poll.   In 2008 this age group constituted 27% of voters, but the Des Moines poll found only 20% of the likely caucus goers came from the 65-and-over group (they actually oversampled from this group to get their final numbers).  If the actual number of 65-and-above voters is closer to 20%, both the PPP and InsiderAdvantage poll are likely overstating Romney’s support.

Keeping in mind all the usual caveats regarding margin of errors, turnout, etc., I’m not seeing – contrary to the Globe headline – momentum shifting to Romney at all. Instead, he appears to have peaked at a level of support below what he received four years ago.  Similarly, Paul’s support may be softening just a bit if I’m reading the last three polls correctly.   I don’t think either is going to come in much higher than the 18-22% they are getting in these last three polls.

Instead, I think the outcome of this race hinges on Bachmann and Perry.  Neither has seen much movement in the last week and both are fighting to prevent defections from their support to Santorum. Perry, in particular, has been hammering Santorum on earmarks in the last few days, but it may be too late to have an impact. Bachmann has been hurt by the highly publicized defection of a key staff member to Paul.  If enough of their support drifts to Santorum, he is poised to win this race, despite polling in single digits three weeks ago. Both are working hard to prevent this. Bachmann has a new television ad up and Perry has hit most of the major media outlets in recent days to bash the other Rick.

If Santorum pulls this out, he may yet vindicate the “old style” of face-to-face retail campaigning that traditionalists – and many political scientists – insist is the key to winning Iowa.  So far Santorum has spent 108 days campaigning in Iowa – Romney has been there only 18.  If I can, I’ll try to get my colleague Bert Johnson, who is in Iowa today and tomorrow, to provide an update on the candidates’ ground games later today. For now, however, the keys to this race are turnout among independents, women and the 65-and-older group.

Meanwhile, grading willing, I’ll be up with a post later that describes a bit more about how the caucuses work.

The Des Moines Poll: The Two Most Important Things to Know

Here are two most important aspects of the Des Moines Register’s poll to ponder with your morning coffee and aspirin: the composition of the respondent pool and when Santorum’s surge began.

First, note that Santorum’s surge doesn’t begin until midway through the Des Moines Tuesday-Friday polling cycle.  That is, his move from 10%  at the start of the survey on Tuesday to 22% among those surveyed in the last two days coincides with the release of the highly publicized CNN poll, which came out on Wednesday and is the first to show Santorum moving out of single digits.  Did the CNN poll provide a reason for social conservatives to begin coalescing behind Santorum?  It sure looks that way.  If so, it’s an interesting example of how polling can affect perceptions of viability, which in turn can drive results. Nothing breeds success like success.  I don’t remember a candidate going from 10% to 22% in a four-day period.  (Keep in mind that because of the smaller sample size the two-day subsample results have a larger margin of error of 5.6%) Of course, this is a reminder of just how fluid the situation remains in Iowa.  And it raises the question – is there enough time for candidates to retrain their guns and begin targeting Santorum?  Or did he peak too late for anyone to do anything about it? Note that Santorum is the second choice of 15% of those surveyed, tied for the lead with Perry in this category.   Will Perry supporters, reacting to this poll, begin to defect to Santorum?

Second, note the demographics of those who were polled. The composition of the voting pool come Tuesday is critical for determining just how strong Santorum’s surge will be.  Note that the sample was adjusted for gender and age, but not for partisan affiliation. J. Anne Selzer, who oversaw the Des Moines poll, posed several fascinating alternative outcomes based on different turnout scenarios. In yesterday’s poll evangelicals constitute only about 34% of respondents – far lower than the 60% who showed up in 2008, based on entrance polls. Remember, the big issue in Iowa in 2008 was immigration – today it is the economy.  If yesterday’s poll is adjusted to match the turnout of evangelicals from four years ago, however, Santorum wins on Tuesday in a walk, 25% to 20% for Romney, with Paul a distant third at 16%.

Similarly, fewer seniors indicated they would vote Tuesday (20%) than in 2008 (27%).  Let’s assume, however, that they do turn out in proportions closer to the 2008 numbers – that would boost Romney to victory, with 26% to Santorum’s 19%.  Finally, Selzer detected an increase in self-identified independents in the last two days of polling; although the overall  number of independents surveyed is 22%, in the last two days it increased to 26%.  If the number of independents reaches 30% of the voting pool, she calculates that Romney would win, but that Paul would move into second.

So what are the chances these numbers will change between today and Tuesday?  A full 40% of those polled said they could be persuaded to vote for someone else. Eleven percent say there is “a good chance” something could be said at the caucus event to make them switch their vote.  If so, it’s not likely they will switch to Gingrich – he is cited by 23% as the least liked candidate. A month ago, he was only at 9% in this category. So much for trying to stay positive in the face of a barrage of negative advertising.  My guess is he is going to go negative, and in a big way, beginning today.

There will be at least one more poll, by PPP, in the field today and tomorrow.  Meanwhile, Paul – perhaps sensing that his momentum has stalled – went home for New Year’s, but will return tomorrow.  The rest of the candidates are slogging it out.  This is where the much hyped “organizational” advantages of Paul and Romney are supposed to come into play.  If conservatives flock to Santorum, however, it’s possible he could benefit from their built-in organizational base centered in the church-based social network.

Rick Santorum. Who would have thunk it a month ago? Not me!

Latest Iowa Poll: Santorum Rising, But Race Still Fluid

The Des Moines Register just released the results of their highly anticipated Iowa poll and the top line is consistent with what recent polls are showing: although Romney is in the lead, Santorum is surging.  The poll, conducted Tuesday through Friday (margin of error =/- 4%) of likely caucus goers, shows Romney leading with 24%, followed by Paul at 22% and Santorum in third at 15%.  However, if one looks only at the most recent two days of the four-day survey, Santorum is at 22%, and Paul at 18% (margin of error 5.6%), suggesting Santorum may finish with stronger numbers.  If this trend continues, Mitt may experience deja vu all over again, only this time it will be Santorum reprising the Huckabee role from four years ago.  Note that in the two-day sample Romney’s numbers are unchanged, indicating he may have peaked. All this is consistent with what I have described in recent posts.  If the conservatives do consolidate behind Santorum, he may yet win this.

Keep in mind, however, that a whopping 41% of those surveyed said they may still change their mind in the final few days.  The rest of the poll numbers read Newt Gingrich, 12%, Rick Perry, 11% and Michele Bachmann at  7%.   Of perhaps more interest, however, is the breakdown of the poll by party ID and ideology.  Typically, the Des Moines paper does not weight their polls to arrive at the “proper” distribution – they let the numbers speak for themselves.  So it is interesting to see what they are showing in terms of likely turnout come Tuesday.  Alas, the full poll internals won’t be available until tomorrow.   When it is released, I’ll be back on.

Until then, have a Happy New Year, and I’ll see you next year.


The Last Shall Be First? Santorum’s Polling is Biblical

I’m not sure what to make of this just released We Ask America poll, but I pass it along simply because it is the first poll conducted covering the last 24 hours. The most notable finding is that Santorum is now alone in second at 17%, with Paul (14%) now essentially bunched in a group that includes Gingrich (13%) and – surprise! – Bachmann (12%).  Although pundits have declared her candidacy dead, here she is ahead of Perry  (10%) and within striking distance (given the 7% undecided) of a top-three finish.   All of which makes me somewhat skeptical that this poll is very accurate . Note that they don’t release any polling internals, except to say that they have surveyed “Republicans”.  If it is only Republicans, and does not include independents or Democrats, it may be understating Paul’s support.  In any case, without more information,  I have no way to evaluate it.  So, with that cautionary note, here are the topline results.


Bachmann  12%

Gingrich 13%

Huntsman 4%

Paul 14%

Perry 10%

Romney 24%

Santorum 17%

Undecided 7%

At this point, I’m waiting on three last polls: the Des Moines Register, which will come out tomorrow night, and polls from ABC/WashingtonPost  and CBS/NY Times.

It’s interesting how the media has been reporting these latest polling results. There’s been much talk that if Romney wins Iowa, and takes New Hampshire, he could close out this nomination race in a hurry.  Perhaps, but keep this in mind.  If Romney’s current polling numbers hold, he will win Iowa with the lowest winning total in this caucus – Republican or Democrat – since it began back in 1972.  That, to me, doesn’t inspire much confidence in a Romney sweep, particularly as the field is winnowed and support begins to coalesce behind his opponents.

Here are the previous Iowa caucus winners and their vote percentages, as listed in Wikipedia (so I can’t vouch for the accuracy of these figures).



Bob Dole, in 1996, is perhaps the closest parallel to Romney today – and we all know how that turned out!  Although he did win the nomination, he didn’t do so well in the general election.

Addendum (5:28 p.m.): It appears that PPP will run one more survey beginning Sunday into Monday.  Meanwhile, I’m not certain that either WaPo/ABC or CBS/NYTimes are going to field one more Iowa survey.  So at this point I know there’s at least two more polls coming out before Tuesday.

Iowa Leaning to Santorum?

NBC Marist came out with their Iowa poll today, and it contains few surprises.  Note that although the poll was released today, it was conducted from Dec. 27-28, so it is not giving us any newer information than the polls I cited yesterday.  That means it doesn’t do much to help our interpretation of what’s happening in Iowa. In releasing the poll, NBC has been trumpeting Santorum’s rise, but his support as reported by NBC includes the undecideds who are leaning toward him.  For comparison purposes, I’ve posted the candidates’ support among potential caucus voters in the first column, and the totals including the undecided who are leaning in the second column.  The second column is what is getting reported.  (Candidates in order as they were listed in poll summary.)

Newt Gingrich 13 13
Mitt Romney 22 23
Michele Bachmann 5 6
Rick Santorum 11 15
Jon Huntsman 2 2
Ron Paul 19 21
Rick Perry 13 14
Undecided 16 7

As you can see, Santorum gets the biggest boost when we include the leaners.

The three big takeaways from the NBC poll are, first, that there are still a good chunk of undecided voters.  Even among “likely voters” (not shown here) 12% considered themselves undecided.  That’s enough – if they all broke the same way (they won’t) – to provide the winning margin to almost any of the top five candidates.  At the very least it suggests the race is still fluid. Second, there’s no evidence yet that the conservative vote is coalescing around a single candidate although Santorum has picked up some of their support. He’s considered the true conservative by 23% of likely voters, compared to Paul with 21%. Third, as I’ve said before, there’s not a lot of love in Iowa for Romney, who still can’t seem to break out.  Note however, that he’s the second choice of 21% of those polled – that leads the field.  Interestingly, Perry is the second choice of 20%. If current trends hold, Romney is poised to win this by default.

We should see a couple more polls before Tuesday.  Everyone is waiting for the Des Moines Register poll, which should be released Saturday night, because it proved accurate four years ago, and because  it is likely to provide the last bit of evidence regarding trends in support.  For now, I’ve included the NBC survey in the table composed of all the post-Christmas Iowa polls. Note that although NBC has been touting the fact that their survey included about 30% cell phones, the results don’t differ at all from the non-cell robo-call results posted by Rasmussen.

Candidate Public Policy Polling (12. 26-27.11) CNN (12.21-24, 12.26-27.11) Insider Advantage


American Research Group (12.26-28.11) Rasmussen (12.28.11) NBC/Marist (12.27-


Romney 20% 25% 17.2% 22% 23% 23%
Paul 24% 22% 17.3% 16% 22% 21%
Gingrich 13% 14% 16.7% 17% 13% 13%
Santorum 10% 16% 13.4% 11% 16% 15%
Perry 10% 11% 10.5% 9% 13% 14%
Bachmann 11% 9% 11.8% 8% 5% 6%

Meanwhile, there have been a couple of other developments pertaining to recent blog posts that I’ll address separately.