In a tight race, Bernie Sanders edged out ahead of the other top Democratic presidential candidates, narrowly leading them for the highest support among likely Iowa caucusgoers, according to the latest Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa Poll released Friday evening.
Since the 2016 Iowa caucus cycle, Sanders has maintained steady support in Iowa. Poll results show 20% of likely caucusgoers naming Sanders as their first pick. Close behind are Elizabeth Warren at 17%, Pete Buttigieg at 16% and Joe Biden at 15% support. Participants were polled between Jan. 2-8, according to the Des Moines Register.
Though Sanders is leading, it’s still anyone’s race, said Sam Roecker, a Democratic consultant who led John Hickenlooper’s Iowa campaign. Iowa Poll results show that 45% of committed caucusgoers could be swayed to another candidate and 13% still don’t have a top pick.
“A lot could definitely change,” Roecker said. “Who has the organization to take the results and get people out to caucus?”
Carry-over enthusiasm for Bernie Sanders
Out of all of the candidates, poll results show that Sanders has garnered the most enthusiasm and commitment with 59% of supporters saying they’ve made up their minds, according to the Des Moines Register.
To carry over the momentum from 2016 to the next caucus cycle is impressive, as support can dwindle over time, Roecker said. Sanders was known for his deeply committed supporters during the last caucus cycle in Iowa and that base may continue to grow now that he’s receiving attention as the frontrunner.
“It could have been easy for them early on to take that support for granted,” Roecker said. “Obviously they didn’t make that mistake and built a real campaign in Iowa and spent a lot of time in the state.”
Maintaining the lead will be the next step for Sanders, said Eric Woolson, an Iowa Republican operative who has managed Iowa caucus campaigns. Sanders’ current supporters are people who appear unsatisfied with the current economy and its trajectory and believe strongly in his messaging, leading them to feel more enthusiastic, Woolson said.
Highly committed caucusgoers are the ones who will go out and find more supporters.
“These next three weeks, they’re going to be the ones working really hard,” Woolson said. “Those folks truly appear to be with him.”
Slide for Buttigieg
One of the bigger surprises to come out of the Iowa Poll was the sharp drop in support for Buttigieg, Woolson said. During the last Iowa Poll in November, Buttigieg was the frontrunner with 25% support. Now, he’s dropped 9% to sit in third behind Warren and Sanders.
Woolson questions if Buttigieg peaked too soon, which leaves room for other candidates to attack him and for support to drop.
He pointed to former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who was poised to win in Iowa until support for him dropped by the time it came to caucus in 2004.
Still, with a high number of people picking Buttigieg as their second choice, he is still around the same support level as Sanders and Warren, Woolson said. Because of the process of the Democratic caucuses, being someone’s second choice is still valuable.
“There’s been so much talk that he had really solidified his spot as a frontrunner. Certainly in Iowa, that’s not the case,” Woolson said.
What happens now?
Warren has maintained her spot in second after leading the September Iowa Poll. Biden continues to stay in the top four, though he’s faded since he led the Iowa Poll in June.
Meanwhile, Amy Klobuchar’s support has remained steady around 6% despite some speculation that she would gain, Woolson said. Andrew Yang rose from 3% to 5%. Despite Cory Booker’s continued visits to Iowa, he hasn’t risen higher than 3%.
Other candidates, like John Delaney and Michael Bennett garnered 0% support.
Despite some recent dropouts, like Julian Castro and Marianne Williamson, the field of candidates is still uniquely big for the Iowa Caucuses, Woolson said.
For Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg and Biden, the race will come down to the best ground game organization, Roecker said. The key will be having the proper infrastructure in place across the state to make sure people get out to caucus, which takes several hours of commitment in the middle of winter.
“It does take some enthusiasm,” Roecker said. “Iowa’s always had caucusgoers decide so late.”
Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa Poll results
Here are Iowa caucusgoers’ first choice for president, according to the Des Moines Register/CNN Iowa Poll of 701 likely 2020 Democratic caucusgoers, as reported by the Register:
Bernie Sanders, 20 percent
Elizabeth Warren, 17 percent
Pete Buttigieg, 16 percent
Joe Biden, 15 percent
Amy Klobuchar, 6 percent
Andrew Yang, 5 percent
Cory Booker, 3 percent
Tulsi Gabbard, 2 percent
Tom Steyer, 2 percent
Michael Bloomberg, 1 percent
All other candidates, less than 1 percent
None of these, 1 percent
Not sure, 11 percent
The Register/CNN poll was taken Jan. 2-8 by Selzer & Co. Margin of error: plus or minus 3.7 percentage points. Totals may not add to 100% due to rounding.