Now that the Des Moines Register, the “paper of record” in Iowa, has decided to withhold the results of the paper’s final Iowa caucus poll due to an issue reported by a poll respondent, the media world is having a collective freakout moment over the possible outcomes of the first caucus of 2020. The Register says the error was isolated, and possibly limited to a single respondent, but it decided to nix the release of the poll due to complaints from the campaign of Pete Buttigieg and an abundance of caution.
Buttigieg was the name which a poll respondent says was omitted from the list of potential Democratic candidates being read by a call center operator conducting the phone interview.
The paper issued an explanation on Saturday elaborating on the decision:
Nothing is more important to the Register and its polling partners than the integrity of the Iowa Poll. Today, a respondent raised an issue with the way the survey was administered, which could have compromised the results of the poll. It appears a candidate’s name was omitted in at least one interview in which the respondent was asked to name their preferred candidate.
While this appears to be isolated to one surveyor, that could not be confirmed with certainty. Therefore, out of an abundance of caution, the partners made the difficult decision not to move forward with releasing the poll. The poll was the last one scheduled by the polling partners before the first-in-the-nation Iowa presidential caucuses, which are Monday.
J. Ann Selzer, whose company conducts the Iowa Poll, said, “There were concerns about what could be an isolated incident. Because of the stellar reputation of the poll, and the wish to always be thought of that way, the heart-wrenching decision was made not to release the poll. The decision was made with the highest integrity in mind.”
With the number of other polls we actually do have at our disposal it seems trivial to quibble over a lack of one more. However, as we noted previously, there have been fewer polls conducted during this cycle than previous cycles, mostly as a result of the impeachment trial happening in DC which has taken time and resources away from polling units normally fixated on the presidential primary.
To illustrate the weight that some voters and party leaders put on the Des Moines Register poll, one county-level party official called it “absolutely shocking” to miss the final poll:
The stunning, last-minute cancellation of the Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom poll and its accompanying, hour-long CNN special deprived the political class of the 11th hour marker it was relying on to frame the final days of a campaign that is running unusually close.
“Absolutely shocking,” said Sean Bagniewski, chairman of the Polk County Democrats.
And it wasn’t just the vanished poll he was talking about. The entire run-up to the caucuses has been almost dumbfoundingly strange.
The caucuses do have a strange “backseat” feel at the moment with the cliffhangers happening at the impeachment trial in DC. In typical years, Iowa would be the political epicenter until the caucuses and anything happening inside the beltway would be more of an afterthought. At the moment, however, with some Democratic candidates chained to their desks in the U.S. Senate to act as impeachment jurors, there’s a split in attention and the caucuses have seemed to creep up quickly.
The irony here is that campaigns love polls that help them and ignore polls that hurt them. Most voters get more and more tired of constant poll results, and it seems that with the variety of outlets releasing polls, just look for the one that fits your narrative as a campaign or voter and cling to it.
Looking at the current RealClearPolitics polling average, likely the widest snapshot of where the race might end, Bernie Sanders is clinging to a lead while Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, and Elizabeth Warren all seem to sit within striking distance:
The wildcard here is the way the caucuses are conducted. In each precinct, a candidate must at least carry 15 percent of the vote to be considered viable in the first round. If they can’t, then supporters of that candidate can either decide not to vote or switch to another candidate. The polling data shows that there are at least four candidates which may have trouble and wind up watching supporters forced to pick a second choice option.
As we reported earlier this week, Elizabeth Warren has done well in the “second choice” answer from voters, but it’s usually as a second choice behind Bernie Sanders.
In the end, it’s up to the voters, and one more poll isn’t going to change very much unless the poll is used to shape opinion rather than reflect it. Consider the fact that every campaign does its own internal polling, which they rarely ever release publicly, so why do they care if one more public poll comes out unless they’re hoping to use it as evidence that voters should jump on their bandwagon?