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The FiveThirtyEight Team Goes To Iowa
10:44 AM | Jan 10, 2016

What’s it like to be in Iowa with a presidential campaign in full swing? FiveThirtyEight’s politics team is on the ground and will be sharing updates all week, with a data-driven twist, of course.

3:18 PM | Jan 15, 2016
Lessons from visiting the GOP candidates' field offices

DELTA FLIGHT 2541 — I’m on a plane right now, flying from Des Moines to Philadelphia (via Atlanta for some reason), and that means it’s time to shut down our week-long Iowa travelog. What did we learn? Well, we’ll be writing about that more in the coming days. But here’s one conclusion that reinforces an observation we first made in New Hampshire in 2012 : You can tell a lot about a campaign by dropping by its field offices unannounced.

How organized does the office seem? Are you greeted when you arrive, or can you wander around for a while unnoticed? Is the office active, bustling with people making phone calls and stuffing envelopes? Is there not only activity, but — as Nate put it when we were making these visits — direction? Do you get the sense that the campaign has a game plan?

Here’s what we found visiting the Republican candidates’ offices here this week (John Kasich and Carly Fiorina don’t seem to have any Iowa offices). When you’re stopping by a field office, there’s no guarantee you’ll get a fair or representative picture of a campaign, but the scenes we found jibed with other reporting on the campaigns’ ground operations. We’ve sorted the campaigns into tiers below.

Thanks for following along all week, and so long, Iowa!

Tier 1: Nobody

Democratic presidential candidates have always invested more resources in the ground game than Republicans have, and that’s definitely the case this year. No operation truly impressed us.

Tier 2: Ted Cruz


Ted Cruz’s campaign field office in Urbandale, Iowa.

Micah Cohen

Cruz’s office in Urbandale had at least as many people as any other Republican office we visited, and they appeared to be busy making calls.

Tier 3: Jeb Bush, Rand Paul


Jeb Bush’s campaign office in West Des Moines, Iowa.

Micah Cohen

(Paul’s campaign asked that I not take any pictures.)

Bush’s and Paul’s offices (in West Des Moines and Des Moines, respectively) had somewhat fewer people than Cruz’s, but they were still pretty full. Moreover, the people there seemed to be checking things off their lists. The phones were ringing.

Tier 4: Marco Rubio, Ben Carson


Marco Rubio’s campaign field office in Akeny, Iowa.

Micah Cohen


Ben Carson’s campaign field office in Urbandale, Iowa.

Micah Cohen

Fewer people still. But Rubio’s headquarters in Ankeny and Carson’s in Urbandale both showed clear indications of professionalism: lists of goals on the wall, pin-dotted maps, etc.

Tier 4: Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee


Chris Christie’s campaign field office in Johnston, Iowa.

Micah Cohen


Mike Huckabee’s campaign field office in Urbandale, Iowa.

Micah Cohen

We didn’t see any volunteers in these offices (Christie’s is in Johnston and Huckabee’s is in Urbandale), just a handful of campaign staff.

Tier 5: Rick Santorum


Rick Stantorum’s campaign field office in Urbandale, Iowa.

Micah Cohen

Santorum is clearly working hard in Iowa; his schedule is packed with events. But if his Urbandale headquarters is any indication — it was big and empty (and used to belong to the Scott Walker campaign) — Santorum may not have much infrastructure supporting him.

Tier Donald Trump


Nate Silver outside Donald Trump’s campaign field office in West Des Moines, Iowa.

Micah Cohen

Two Trump volunteers wouldn’t even let us into their West Des Moines office, so we can’t really say what’s going on with The Donald. That said, campaigns typically don’t hide flattering information.

1:33 PM | Jan 15, 2016
They cited a poll: Donald Trump again
2016-01-15 10.29.15

Allison McCann

URBANDALE — After being turned away at the door of an over-capacity Trump event in Cedar Falls Tuesday night, I made sure to show up an hour early for the candidate’s town hall here at Living History Farms. An eager crowd of no more than a hundred people crammed inside the small museum, where a poster extolling the Six Pillars of Character hung overhead.

The event was supposed to begin at 9:30, but at 10:30 there was still no sign of Trump. Tana Goertz, his Iowa state co-chair and a season three runner-up on “The Apprentice,” came out to coax the increasingly annoyed crowd. She asked for a show of hands of those who would vote for Trump on caucus night. It looked like about 50 percent of hands went up. “We know the media says you won’t caucus,” she said, before reminding attendees to look up their caucus locations and to show up on time on Feb. 1.

Just when I thought I might have to choose between missing seeing Trump speak or missing my flight home, a slow-clap started. That didn’t work, so it was followed by chants of “We want Trump! We want Trump!” A few minutes later he finally appeared on stage. “I haven’t slept yet,” he said, before launching into his usual hyperbole: “We’re winning in every single poll. In fact, I have a feeling we’re actually going to do better than the polls are saying.”

Trump cited a CNN/ORC poll from early December that showed him with 33 percent support among Iowa Republicans — but that survey is old and primary races can change quickly (our forecast models give the CNN poll a weight of 0.02, compared to this week’s Selzer & Co. poll, which has a weight of 1.54 and shows Trump with 22 percent support in Iowa). He touched on last night’s debate, saying that “a few people” did very well and “a few people” did very poorly, but he didn’t name names.

Questions from the crowd ranged from how he’d control the heroin epidemic (Trump replied that he’d “build a wall”), how he’d work with Democrats in Congress (“I’m a businessman, I work with everyone”) and why he avoids political correctness (“It takes too long”). He closed out his speech by telling the crowd that if he becomes president, “We’re going to start saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again.” (They’re still saying it in Iowa, at least.)

8:30 AM | Jan 15, 2016
Can you explain how Iowa caucus voting works in 30 seconds?
8:27 AM | Jan 15, 2016
What Trump sees
Supporters wait for the start of Donald Trump's rally on the University of Northern Iowa campus on Jan. 12, 2016.

Supporters wait for the start of Donald Trump’s rally on the University of Northern Iowa campus on Jan. 12, 2016.

Danny Wilcox Frazier / VII for FiveThirtyEight

Supporters wait for the start of Donald Trump's rally on the University of Northern Iowa campus on Jan. 12, 2016.

Supporters wait for the start of Donald Trump’s rally on the University of Northern Iowa campus on Jan. 12, 2016.

Danny Wilcox Frazier / VII for FiveThirtyEight

Supporters wait for the start of Donald Trump's rally on the University of Northern Iowa campus on Jan. 12, 2016.

Supporters wait for the start of Donald Trump’s rally on the University of Northern Iowa campus on Jan. 12, 2016.

Danny Wilcox Frazier / VII for FiveThirtyEight

6:03 PM | Jan 14, 2016
We're covering tonight's GOP debates!

We’re getting set up to cover the GOP debates airing tonight on Fox Business Network — starting with the undercard event. Yes, the debates are taking place in South Carolina and most of our politics team is in Iowa, but we’ll be interested to see how the candidates’ performances tonight play among voters here. Follow along with our live blog or on Twitter.

4:52 PM | Jan 14, 2016
The history of political data runs deep
William Jennings Bryan

William Jennings Bryan

Photo illustration by FiveThirtyEight

DES MOINES — Earlier this week, I wrote about the Ted Cruz campaign’s semi-fancy phone system, which lets volunteers log voter information directly into a database when they reach possible caucus-goers at home. Last night, Nate, Harry and I visited Hillary Clinton’s field office in Davenport, where we saw how her campaign is building on the lessons of the Obama efforts in 2008. Her volunteers are focusing on reaching key voters multiple times; they log each interaction on paper to make sure possible Clinton supporters become a little more informed and a little more committed each time — all culminating on caucus night. In their own ways, both operations impressed.

But it’s worth remembering that data-driven political targeting isn’t a recent development. In fact, as early as the 1890s candidates were compiling pretty detailed information on their constituents and using that information to send targeted mailings.

On this week’s episode of our podcast What’s The Point, I got a primer on the history of political data from Daniel Kriess of the University of North Carolina. Take a listen below, where you’ll finally get to hear that outro I recorded on Monday at the airport. You can also read more on the site or find the podcast in iTunes or your favorite podcast app.

On next week’s show, I’ll continue the conversation with Kreiss and incorporate some of what I learned here in Iowa.

3:38 PM | Jan 14, 2016
The push for 10,000 Latino voters on caucus night

AMES — Iowa State University is back in session, just in time for the caucus madness to begin. I sat down at Cafe Beaudelaire with María Alcívar, a 27-year-old graduate student in the university’s human development and family studies program who is trying to promote turnout among Latinos.

Alcívar works with the Iowa branch of the the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, a national Latino anti-discrimination organization (she founded the Ames chapter). LULAC Iowa is campaigning to mobilize at least 10,000 Latinos to participate in the caucuses on Feb. 1. and Alcívar has been organizing trainings to educate Latino voters about the caucuses and why it’s important for them to show up.

She said some of the rhetoric on immigration coming from Donald Trump has motivated Latinos in Iowa to become more politically active. “Trump has encouraged people to get out and do something, which is good,” Alcívar said. “It’s made the Latino community more aware about the importance of getting involved.”

A little under 174,000 Iowa residents are Hispanic, according to the Census Bureau, or about 5.6 percent of the population. Alcívar thinks LULAC Iowa will meet its caucus-night goal, but the question of whether or not Latinos will continue to be active long-term, even without Trump’s back-handed motivation, is up in the air.

“It’d be really cool if [this level of Latino political engagement] would stick around, but I don’t know,” she said. “You just never know.”

1:42 PM | Jan 14, 2016

12:47 PM | Jan 14, 2016
Marco Rubio is like Europe in Risk

DES MOINES — If tonight’s Republican debate resembles the last one, then Marco Rubio will receive more incoming fire than any other candidate — despite not exactly being in the driver’s seat in the Republican race.

Rubio’s position reminds me a bit of playing the board game Risk. (I’m sure my colleagues will chastise me for not citing a hipper board game.) Specifically, it reminds me of trying to control the continent of Europe when playing Risk.

Europe is a sucker’s bet in Risk because it can be attacked from all the other large continents — Asia, North America and Africa — and yet, under the game’s rules, you don’t get all that much of a bonus from controlling it.

Marines play a game of Risk during some downtime at the base at Kandahar International Airport in Afghanistan in 2002.

Marines play a game of Risk during some downtime at the base at Kandahar International Airport in Afghanistan in 2002.

Rob Curtis, Pool / AP

Rubio, indeed, seems to stand in the way of every other Republican’s quest for world domination:

  • This is most obvious in the case of the other remaining “establishment lane” candidates: Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and John Kasich. These candidates are tightly bunched in New Hampshire polls, while Rubio is probably the only one with a chance of a decent finish in Iowa.
  • Knowing that a strong finish in Iowa might allow Rubio to break away from the pack in New Hampshire, these candidates (and their Super PACs) are doing whatever they can to undermine Rubio’s standing in Iowa, including running ads like these, even though they have no hope of a strong finish in Iowa themselves.
  • Ted Cruz has somewhat transparently sought to turn the Republican nomination race into a two-way battle between himself and Donald Trump, presumably out of the (perhaps naive) notion that the party elites would have no choice but to back him if Trump were the only alternative. That strategy entails keeping Rubio off balance.
  • Trump is constantly at war with pretty much everyone. Whether he picks his battles well is another question, but in the case of his attacks on Rubio he’s on firm tactical ground. Trump, who has relatively little support as voters’ second choice, tends to benefit from keeping the field divided. A weaker Rubio facilitates that division by keeping New Hampshire and the “establishment lane” open.

Some of this comes with the territory, so to speak. If, like Rubio, you’re trying to be the candidate with crossover appeal to every major Republican constituency, you’re also left open to attack from every flank. Historically, being the consensus-building candidate has nevertheless been a great position — most party nominees fit that description — but it’s been tough so far this cycle, as candidates like Scott Walker and Bobby Jindal have discovered.

The Republican's five-ring circus

So suppose you do get stuck trying to defend Europe (or Asia, which has some similar properties) in Risk. What’s the best strategy?

In my experience, it requires a lot of patience. It’s tempting to start border skirmishes to prevent opponents from consolidating their own positions, but this is probably ill advised. Instead, keeping a lower profile makes you (slightly) less of a target. Your position also becomes a little easier to defend as the game goes along and other opponents are eliminated. Having to fight a three-front war isn’t quite as bad if all three fronts are contested against the same opponent.

But sometimes you do need to attack — and when you do, you need to do it forcefully, dominating your opponents in one or two turns instead of leaving yourself overextended while the battle is half-finished.

I’ve belabored this analogy enough. But what we’ll want to watch tonight, and in the upcoming weeks, is whether there’s a “show of force” from Rubio. Such a show could take the form of an advertising blitz like the one that’s underway in Iowa. It could be the rollout of a bunch of endorsements. It could be a pointed attack on other candidates — perhaps Trump? — when Rubio has mostly declined to attack before.

It may be too soon for that– or maybe it’s already too late. Rubio will need to time all of this all correctly; he may only get one chance.

12:12 PM | Jan 14, 2016

12:05 PM | Jan 14, 2016
The Des Moines Register's latest Democratic poll also matches the conventional wisdom

DES MOINES — The new Des Moines Register poll conducted by Ann Selzer is now out on the Democratic side, and like the results for the Republicans released yesterday, it really doesn’t change our perception of the race. In the poll, Hillary Clinton is slightly ahead of Bernie Sanders, 42 percent to 40 percent, while Martin O’Malley brings up the rear at 4 percent.

The FiveThirtyEight’s polls-only forecast continues to suggest that Iowa leans Clinton’s way. She’s still at a 66 percent chance to win, as she was last night, while Sanders retains a 34 percent chance. Clinton continues to lead in the model not only because the Selzer poll has her ahead, but also because Selzer’s polls have had a fairly significant house effect. That is, they have tended to produce better results for Sanders and worse results for Clinton than the average poll. The model takes that into account —  if a pro-bernie poll is showing Clinton ahead, the model thinks she must really be ahead.

In the FiveThirtyEight polls-plus forecast, Clinton maintains a larger advantage. She’s at an 82 percent chance to win, while Sanders is at 18 percent. Clinton is in a better position in this forecast because of the many endorsements she’s earned. Moreover, Sanders didn’t really rise from the 39 percent he earned in the last Selzer poll, rather, Clinton dropped from 48 percent. Support from within her party’s infrastructure may help push newly undecided voters back into her column.

For now, the race for Iowa remains close on the Democratic side with two well-liked candidates earning favorable ratings above 85 percent from Democratic caucus-goers. Don’t be surprised if a number of voters change their mind in the final weeks of the campaign.

6:51 PM | Jan 13, 2016
6:03 PM | Jan 13, 2016
Trump loves Gravis Marketing, and Gravis loves Trump

I-35 EAST (near Urbandale) — We all know that Donald Trump likes to cite polls that have him ahead, but he seems to be particularly fond of Gravis Marketing. At his rally in Cedar Falls yesterday, Trump started his poll summary by mentioning a Gravis national poll showing him at 41 percent. And today, he tweeted out a Gravis poll showing him leading in Iowa with 34 percent.

The problem?

Gravis has a heavy pro-Trump house effect. According to a FiveThirtyEight analysis, Gravis polls, on average, put Trump 6 percentage points higher than the average pollster.

Isn’t it possible Gravis is right? I’d consider it more likely if Gravis had a better track record. FiveThirtyEight’s pollster ratings give Gravis only a C rating. The Des Moines Register poll released Wednesday morning, conducted by Selzer & Company, found Trump at 22 percent in Iowa, trailing Ted Cruz’s 25 percent. Selzer has an A+ rating.

5:26 PM | Jan 13, 2016
A day in the life of the Iowa voter: the Marco Rubio TV invasion

DES MOINES — The Des Moines Register reported earlier this week that Marco Rubio is planning on running 7,000 television ads during the month of January. That’s a staggering number, estimated to be about one-third of all the political ads that will run during the period.

The inundation is certainly bearing out in the experience of Meredith Leigh, the Iowa caucus voter I spoke with Tuesday. When we spoke at 7 a.m., she had already seen ads for Hillary Clinton and Rubio. And Leigh reported back at the end of the day that the only other time she watched TV that day was to tune in to “Jeopardy,” a half-hour program with a couple of commercial breaks max. Throughout the course of Alex Trebek’s quiz show, she saw ads for Clinton, Rubio, Donald Trump, Jeb Bush and Bernie Sanders; prime-time TV, Leigh told me, is pretty crazy this time of year. In her opinion, the ads vary from network to network; her viewing of “New Girl” on Fox, for instance, had fewer political ads than say, NBC. Leigh theorized that was because the Fox prime-time network skewed younger (caucus voters tend to be older).

But voters seem to be getting hammered even harder on Facebook. Leigh logs on to find mostly Sanders and Clinton ads; she thinks it’s targeted and she’s almost certainly correct. (Facebook thinks that I’m interested in voice recorders and jumpsuits, which is … pretty much on the nose.)

But there was at least one bit of old-fashioned electioneering that she ran into when she got home from work: A Jeb Bush flyer shoved underneath her door. It seems print ain’t dead just yet.

5:11 PM | Jan 13, 2016
A semi-trailer sits on the side of the road west of Des Moines on Tuesday, days after bad weather struck central Iowa.

A semi-trailer sits on the side of the road west of Des Moines on Tuesday, days after bad weather struck central Iowa.

Danny Wilcox Frazier/VII

4:32 PM | Jan 13, 2016
Visiting the Democratic front-runners' side-by-side field offices

DES MOINES — The hallway doors are closed, providing some level of separation, but otherwise the field offices for Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton at 3839 Merle Hay Road, about 15 minutes outside of downtown, are mere feet apart. The competing Democratic candidates share the same hallway on the same floor of the same building, situated above a Jimmy John’s sandwich shop and Milroy’s Tuxedos.

Aside from that, the two offices don’t have much in common.

Inside the Clinton office, I was greeted by organizers but immediately directed to the sign-in table, where it became clear that I wasn’t the first reporter to drop in. Despite her leading opponent’s recent surge in Iowa — two recent polls show Sanders narrowly ahead of Clinton — the atmosphere inside the Clinton offices did not feel frantic; it mostly seemed like business as usual. Staffers were seated at individual desks and appeared organized and focused, hardly taking notice of my entrance.

The regional organizing director, Kane Miller, gave me a quick tour and told me that this had been a field office for Obama in 2012. They’d painted over the sunrise logo on one wall, replacing it with Clinton’s logo inside an outline of the state of Iowa, but they’d left a few relics of the past, including this one:


Allison McCann

I asked Miller if data-gathering still happens in this room. “Data happens in every room now,” he replied.

Next door at the Bernie camp, things were a bit more ad hoc. The three organizing staff on hand shared one round table just inside the front door, while a few others roamed the adjoining rooms — one of which included a handwritten spreadsheet of sorts that spanned an entire wall, tracking precinct captains by name and location across Des Moines. There weren’t many precincts left blank, and I joked that I hoped they had this data saved on a computer somewhere, too.

In a back storage room overflowing with boxes of Bernie T-shirts, four volunteers from nearby Hoover High School sat on the floor holding clipboards with call-sheet logs. “We write down if they picked up or not, if they are caucusing or not and who they’re caucusing for,” Isabel Sullivan, 14, explained.


From left to right: Isabel Sullivan (14 years old), Joseph Huff (15), Olivia Proctor (14) and Hannah Talcott (14).

Allison McCann

I asked the students why they were volunteering for Sanders when they couldn’t vote for him. “Since we can’t vote we feel like we should be helping the campaign instead,” said Hannah Talcott, 14. They also said they get out of gym class if they choose to volunteer for a political campaign.

All four friends said they’d learned a lot about Sanders “from the Internet” and liked him because of his consistency throughout his career. “He’s been in support of the issues he’s in support of now since before he wanted to run for president, since before they were valid issues in society,” Sullivan said.

If Sanders doesn’t win this election, he might consider trying to hold onto these kids’ votes in 2020!

2:58 PM | Jan 13, 2016
DREAMers push the candidates on immigration reform
Monica Reyes, 25, and Hector Salamanca Arroyo, 22, at the Ritual Cafe in Des Moines.

Monica Reyes, 25, and Hector Salamanca Arroyo, 22, at the Ritual Cafe in Des Moines.

Hayley Munguia

DES MOINES — Iowa isn’t exactly known for its diversity, and the fact that the Hawkeye State gets the first say in each presidential election despite its nationally unrepresentative demographics can be a sore spot. But Iowans do take the political power they hold seriously, whether or not they’re eligible to vote.

Monica Reyes, 25, and Hector Salamanca Arroyo, 22, are two undocumented Iowans who’ve dedicated themselves to pushing politicians to take comprehensive immigration reform seriously and to pushing Latino Iowans to seriously engage with politics.

Reyes founded DREAM Iowa with her sister in 2012 to help share information with other undocumented immigrants about their rights. The group became more active in electoral politics in 2014 after meeting with the leaders of DREAM Action Coalition, a national organization that advocates for immigration reform. “They were like, ‘Come on, you’re in Iowa. Do something about it,’ and so we did,” Reyes said. “We started confronting politicians. We started confronting presidential candidates.”

Arroyo has high hopes for both the group and himself. DREAM Iowa is currently run completely by volunteers and is in the process of becoming a 501(c) organization. “We’ll be able to push more individuals to run [for office] and recognize what the Latino vote can do, as well as get more Latinos to actually hold elected office,” Arroyo said. “Who knows, maybe in the next couple years, maybe immigration reform happens and we’ll be able to run. I feel as if that’s my dream — to be able to run and be elected would be a full circle for me.”

2:28 PM | Jan 13, 2016
Iowans can change their minds in a heartbeat

DES MOINES —  The Iowa caucuses seem so close that I can almost taste them. Yet our FiveThirtyEight Iowa forecasts suggest that a lot of movement can happen between the polls taken now (19 days out) and the results on caucus night.

We don’t need to look far back to see how much the numbers can move. The 2012 Republican race changed tremendously in the final 30 days of the Iowa campaign. In an average of polls completed 22 to 31 days before the caucuses (equivalent to surveys taken from Jan. 1 to Jan. 10 of 2016), the average candidate saw his or her support change by 6 percentage points.

Much of that had to do with religious conservatives getting behind Rick Santorum, who climbed to 24.5 percent from 5.3 percent in that final month — in part because he gained a pivotal endorsement from social conservative leader Bob Vander Plaats. Many of those Santorum voters left Newt Gingrich, who fell to 13.3 percent from 28.9 percent over that period.

It wasn’t just the socially conservative Iowa voters who were changing their tune in 2012. Mitt Romney went to 24.5 percent from 17.2 percent in the final month and ended up basically tied with Santorum for victory in the caucuses. Ron Paul came in a fairly close third place after rising to 21.4 percent from 15.8 percent.

The point is that we still have time for a major shift in the campaign. The Des Moines Register poll conducted by Ann Selzer that came out today was completed 22 days before the vote, and it will not be the final word.

1:45 PM | Jan 13, 2016
Elections podcast: Room 437 edition


Jody Avirgan, Clare Malone, Harry Enten and Nate Silver podcasting.

We’re still piloting our elections podcast (official launch very soon!) and figured we’d keep it up while in Iowa this week. There’s a strange phenomenon in the early voting states where the political news is being made on the ground, but of course being filtered through media and polling taking place elsewhere. Nate, Clare, Harry and I chatted about the latest polling, how it’s being cited or ignored by the candidates we’ve seen, and our other observations about the pre-caucus politicking. Nate also gives a pretty solid breakdown of the new primary forecast we launched this week. Take a listen below or in the feed for our podcast What’s The Point.

12:22 PM | Jan 13, 2016
The glass-half-empty case against Ted Cruz

Like so much else at this point in the campaign, Wednesday morning’s Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics Iowa poll could be looked at in either of two ways for the leading candidates. For Ted Cruz, the glass-half-full interpretation is that the best poll in the state still shows him ahead — by 3 points over Donald Trump — when several other recent polls in Iowa had shown a narrow advantage for Trump instead. The glass-half-empty interpretation is that Cruz’s lead is diminished: The previous DMR/Bloomberg poll, taken a month ago, had Cruz ahead by 10 points instead.

I’m not sure which case I find more persuasive, but here’s a fuller breakdown of the arguments.

11:43 AM | Jan 13, 2016
Important Des Moines Register poll looks like the other polls

DES MOINES — The new Des Moines Register poll for the Republican Iowa caucuses conducted by Ann Selzer is out, and this race is what we thought it was. The survey, conducted from Jan. 7 through Jan. 10, finds Ted Cruz leading Donald Trump 25 percent to 22 percent with Marco Rubio in third with 12 percent.

The poll barely moved the FiveThirtyEight forecasts. In our polls-only forecast, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump are about even; we give Cruz a 42 percent chance of winning and Trump a 40 percent chance. Each had a 42 percent chance before the new poll. Rubio is well back at only a 10 percent chance, while no other candidate has a better than 5 percent chance.

Our polls-plus forecast is also holding fairly steady. Cruz is up to 50 percent from 49 percent yesterday. Trump is down to 26 percent from 28 percent, and Rubio is down to 17 percent from 18 percent. Again, no other GOP candidate has a better than 5 percent chance of winning the caucuses in this forecast.

Compared to the polls-only forecast, the gains for Cruz and Rubio in the polls-plus forecast jibe with the results from Selzer’s poll. Both have net favorability ratings of +50 percentage points or better, suggesting they have more room to grow, while Trump’s net favorability rating is +9 percentage points, suggesting he may be close to maxing out his support.

Indeed, it’s the voters who look a lot more likely to back Rubio than to back Trump who say they haven’t fully made up their minds. Voters who say they haven’t decided or could change their vote tend not to be tea partiers, are college-educated or better and are earning $70,000 a year or more in household income.

The bottom line: Iowa Republicans have a lot of room to change their minds with a little less than three weeks to go before the caucuses.

7:21 AM | Jan 13, 2016
Can Donald Trump close the sale?
Supporters push and shove to get closer to Donald Trump after his rally at the University of Northern Iowa on Tuesday night.

Supporters push and shove to get closer to Donald Trump after his rally at the University of Northern Iowa on Tuesday night.

Danny Wilcox Frazier / VII for FiveThirtyEight

CEDAR FALLS — It’s tempting, having just attended my first Donald Trump rally last night, to come to one of two hot-takey conclusions: Either Trumpmania is sweeping the Iowa cornfields, sure to produce overwhelming support for him in the Feb. 1 caucuses, or Trump’s whole campaign is a sideshow, attracting curiosity-seekers who have little interest in braving the cold to vote for him.

The truth is probably somewhere in between. Let’s consider some benchmarks from tonight:

  • Trump mostly packed the West Gymnasium at the University of Northern Iowa. I say “mostly” because there was some empty space toward the back of the room; on the other hand, the fire marshals were turning away late-arrivers. I’d estimate the crowd at somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 people. While not a particularly large rally by Trump standards, it was nevertheless impressive.
  • When a Trump staffer asked our section of the bleachers how many people were “definitively” planning to caucus for Trump, only about three of 60 hands (5 percent) went up. This is a low estimate of Trump’s potential support, however. (The staffer’s question was delivered somewhat uninvitingly, seemingly with the intention of identifying potential precinct captains and deterring those who might not be safe bets to turn out for Trump.) By contrast, when Trump co-chair Tana Goertz asked more warmly from the stage how many people were planning to caucus for Trump, perhaps 35 percent of the hands in the room went up.
  • There weren’t a lot of people between the ages of 25 and 50 in the crowd. Instead, there was a clear delineation between UNI students (perhaps a third of the crowd), some of whom were attending the event for shits-and-giggles or class credit, and older local residents.
  • Trump’s staff was making some concerted efforts at organizing: There were instructions from the stage on when and how to caucus; voter registration tables in the front of the gymnasium; and, as I mentioned, staffers looking for precinct captains. It’s not clear how high the uptake was on these efforts, however. Just two prospective voters were in line at the registration table when I left the event, for instance.

As for the substance of Trump’s remarks, they were not quite as exciting as the abridged version you see on TV. Trump came out to “Eye of the Tiger” and began by mentioning the American sailors detained by Iran. Then he went into a long soliloquy about his latest polls. Then (as Harry pointed out earlier) he engaged in some terrifically deadpan concern-trolling about Ted Cruz’s status as a “natural-born citizen.” Then more about the polls; Trump was annoyed that his polls in Iowa weren’t as good as his polls elsewhere. Then a bizarre, spoken-word recitation of the lyrics to Al Wilson’s “The Snake,” repurposed as a metaphor about Germany’s mistake in taking in Syrian refugees. Throw in a few jokes about Hillary Clinton’s legal problems and shoutouts to the UNI wrestling team.

It had the feeling of attending a show by a band you’ve heard on the radio a few times. They play their big hits, which live up to their promise, but the new material is pretty rough and the showmanship is covering up for a lot of filler. You go away feeling sated and basically having had fun, but it’s not a concert you’re thinking much about a few days later.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that Donald Trump is getting far more people through the door than the other Republican candidates — that’s obvious. But it’s not quite as obvious how well he’s closing the sale and how many of them he’ll convert into actual Iowa caucus voters. That’s the message you get from the polls and it’s the impression I had on the ground last night, too.

10:35 PM | Jan 12, 2016
Christie Saunes waits in the crowd for the start of Donald Trump's rally at the University of Northern Iowa.

Christie Sannes waits in the crowd for the start of Donald Trump’s rally at the University of Northern Iowa.

Danny Wilcox Frazier / VII for FiveThirtyEight

9:38 PM | Jan 12, 2016

9:16 PM | Jan 12, 2016

7:59 PM | Jan 12, 2016
They cited a poll: Donald Trump

CEDAR FALLS — Donald Trump talks about polls a lot, explaining that he likes to do so because he’s winning them all. In the speech he’s giving tonight at the University of Northern Iowa, he has already cited a recent Gravis Marketing Research national poll, a Fox News national poll, an NBC/SurveyMonkey poll, a CNN survey of Iowa from December, a Quinnipiac poll of Iowa released this week and a Monmouth University poll of New Hampshire this week — among others.

As far as an approach to polls goes, Trump’s isn’t half bad: Citing a breadth of surveys is definitely better than picking out one poll.

But then he went off course. After spending several minutes concern-trolling Ted Cruz about his eligibility to be president, Trump mentioned a bunch of unscientific online polls to show that he won the most recent Republican debate. You can cite as many of those as you want, but it won’t make them representative, or meaningful.

7:54 PM | Jan 12, 2016
An interview with Julian Raven, Trump Truck painter

Clare Malone

CEDAR FALLS — Our car pulled into the parking lot of the University of Northern Iowa’s West Gym before Donald Trump’s rally here, and pretty much the first thing we saw was this truck with a massive painting of Donald Trump sporting some snazzy purple-ish hair and a bald eagle grasping the American flag in its talons. It was an arresting visual, so we knew we needed to talk to the man at the wheel of the truck, Julian Raven, an artist and preacher from Elmira, New York, who also turned out to be the painting’s creator.

Where’s Elmira?

It’s on the border with Pennsylvania. I’m an artist by trade and an Evangelical minister by vocation.

Do you preach in Elmira?

I preach wherever God has me go. Right now it’s here. That’s why I’m in Iowa, trying to win the evangelical vote for Mr. Trump.

What inspired you to paint the mural directly on the truck?

It’s not a mural, the original painting is inside the truck. I photographed it.

The inspiration for it is actually the question [that’s painted on the truck]: “Could God be voting for Trump?” It’s a remarkable story. The manner in which I was inspired, I’m going to try to summarize it for you. On Jul. 19, 2015, I got a picture in my head, unafraid and unashamed, of an eagle swooping down and grabbing a flag. And that image I meditated on for a month.

This is in your head, the eagle?

Yes, I’m an artist, I have thousands of images in my head. And as a Christian, you also have visions. As a Christian, as a minister, you want to know, is this just inspiration?

A month later, on Aug. 17, I had this great pressure inside me to make this painting. I’m busy with other projects and I’m trying to find the right expression of an eagle landing on the water and then grabbing a fish and flying out — that would be great. My daughter walks up, 13 years old, and she says, “Dad, what are you doing? Are you going to make a sculpture of an eagle?” And I say no, and she walks out of the room and turns around walks back and says, “Dad, maybe you should make a painting of Donald Trump before he becomes president.”

My children have spoken prophetically before. It’s not a surprise. It doesn’t happen all the time, but when it happens it’s so far out of left field. My 13-year-old comes up, has no idea what I’m painting. And the next morning and I turn on the news and see Mr. Trump.  [Raven is referring to a photo shoot Trump did with an eagle for Time magazine.]

Are you going into the rally?

I’m not going inside. I need to protect the truck.


Clare Malone

This interview has been edited and condensed.

6:32 PM | Jan 12, 2016

Someone underpacked. (📷 @jodyavirgan, ft. @hemunguia)

A photo posted by FiveThirtyEight (@fivethirtyeight) on

6:15 PM | Jan 12, 2016

5:45 PM | Jan 12, 2016
Outside the spotlight, life goes on as usual in Booneville
Booneville, Iowa on Jan. 12, 2016.

Booneville, Iowa.

Danny Wilcox Frazier / VII for FiveThirtyEight

Rae Ann Whited is a waitress at Waveland Cafe in Booneville, Iowa. Whited's Tuesday morning was slow thanks the 5-degree temperatures outside.

Rae Ann Whited is a waitress at Waveland Cafe. Whited’s Tuesday morning was slow thanks the 5-degree temperatures outside.

Danny Wilcox Frazier/VII for FiveThirtyEight

The Heartland Co-op, in Booneville.

The Heartland Co-op in Booneville.

Danny Wilcox Frazier / VII for FiveThirtyEight

5:27 PM | Jan 12, 2016
Keeping an eye on Martin O'Malley

TOLEDO —  The Democratic race has mostly been a two-way affair between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, but the tightening of the polls in Iowa means that the third wheel in this race, Martin O’Malley, is becoming more important. Why?

O’Malley is currently at 5.1 percent in our polling average, which is far greater than Clinton’s 1.8 percentage point advantage over Sanders in that same polling average. Iowa Democratic caucus rules dictate that a candidate needs a minimum of 15 percent support at a caucus site to remain viable (some sites have a higher threshold). When a candidate does not reach that percentage, his or her supporters must give their votes to their second choice. Even in FiveThirtyEight’s polls-plus forecast, which gives Clinton a 7.6 percentage point advantage over Sanders because of her overwhelming lead in the endorsement race, O’Malley’s 6.8 percent is nearly equal to Clinton’s lead.

Most recent polls have not asked O’Malley supporters whom their second choice would be, but there are some indications that they favor Sanders. That’s why we need to keep an eye on O’Malley, even if he can’t win. His supporters could end up paving the way to a much closer finish than expected.

5:10 PM | Jan 12, 2016
The exclamation point candidate takes a sedate approach to the campaign trail

GRINNELL — Greetings from the Frontier Cafe! We’ve just come from a Jeb Bush town hall at the firearm accessories manufacturer Brownells and have hunkered down over late afternoon steak, eggs and something Micah calls a “breakfast salad” that I’m not going to get into here.

As you might guess, the Bush event’s location was not chosen without some thought — the four-star admiral who introduced the former Florida governor made sure to mention duck hunting with his Navy Seal son-in-laws. But the tone of the town hall was anything but an in-your-face gun rights bonanza. All of us were struck by how Jeb was almost professorial in his manner when answering questions. And he is certainly not apologizing for that: “I am a serious candidate,” he said, “I don’t believe in bombast.”

This might not be the right year for seriousness given that Donald Trump is the leading Republican candidate. (Trump, I will note, is the only other candidate whom Bush mentioned by name during the hour-long event — it was a little bit like watching Captain Ahab chase his white whale.) But the audience was picking up what Jeb was putting down. They skewed older and were more sedate than, say, my most recent book club meeting, and we saw several scribbling notes, taking seriously their birthright vetting of presidential candidates.

It was, all in all, a well-attended event with engaged attendees asking about how Bush would advance disability rights (two questions on that), what his “market-based solution for climate change” might be, and whether or not he would work to overturn Roe v. Wade if elected president.

There weren’t many moments when the crowd was observably roused, but one did come, unexpectedly, when Bush mentioned that tonight’s State of the Union address would be President Obama’s last.

“That wasn’t meant to be an applause line,” he said. “But I understand the sentiment.”


Clare Malone

4:52 PM | Jan 12, 2016
A precinct chair prepares for the caucuses
Jeffrey Goetz has run or co-chaired his Westbury precinct caucus every election since 2001.

Jeffrey Goetz has run or co-chaired his Westbury precinct caucus every year since 2001.

Hayley Munguia

DES MOINES — The Iowa caucuses are just under three weeks away, but some Iowans are already feeling the pressure of preparing for the big night. I sat down for lunch at the Des Moines Embassy Club with Jeffrey Goetz, a 59-year-old attorney who has run or co-chaired his Westbury precinct caucus every year since he first moved to Iowa from California in 2001, to discuss his plans.

Goetz said he hadn’t previously been too involved in the political scene beyond yelling at his TV, but upon moving to Iowa he discovered that one of his partners was the chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party. Goetz went along to a fundraiser, where he was introduced to then-Gov. Tom Vilsack and Lt. Gov. Sally Pederson, his Waterbury neighbor. “I’m thinking, having just come from California, I’d have to be what, a $10,000-a-plate contributor to meet the governor, and here the lieutenant governor lives in my neighborhood?” Goetz said. He’s been involved in local politics ever since.

In past years, he has handwritten letters to every registered Democrat and independent (differently worded letters, mind you) in his precinct to invite them to the caucus. But this year, he’s just now starting to prepare, and is planning to use a printing shop. “I’m probably a little bit behind,” he said. After making arrangements for the parking permits and barricades that’ll be needed at the caucus, he’ll fine-tune this year’s letter. “This time, I’m gonna outsource it.”

4:35 PM | Jan 12, 2016
Trump has a decent shot at taking Iowa

CEDAR FALLS — As we make our way to Donald Trump’s event here, I’m reflecting on the conventional wisdom that Iowa is Ted Cruz’s to lose. The FiveThirtyEight forecasts, however, reveal that Trump may have a better chance of winning Iowa than he’s getting credit for.

Using only Iowa polls, our forecast gives both Cruz and Trump a 42 percent chance of winning. Marco Rubio has a 9 percent chance, followed by Ben Carson at 4 percent and Jeb Bush at 1 percent. This shouldn’t be too surprising given that Cruz and Trump are each polling at 27.3 percent in Iowa, on average, while no candidate other than Rubio (at 13.2 percent) is polling above 10 percent.

Trump’s chance of winning does drop to 28 percent when looking at our “polls-plus” forecast, which takes into account state polls, national polls and endorsements. The reason is that Trump has no endorsements from any governors or members of Congress, and he is doing worse in Iowa polls than in national surveys.

Whether or not endorsements actually matter this year isn’t clear. Either way, Trump isn’t so far behind Cruz, who has a 49 percent chance of winning in the polls-plus forecast.

If endorsements do matter, that could be good news for Rubio, who is at 18 percent in the polls-plus forecast. No other candidate has more than a 2 percent chance of winning in that forecast.

However you slice it, Iowa is either a two-way race or a three-way race with less than three weeks to go.

2:51 PM | Jan 12, 2016
We interrupt this blog to bring you our forecast for Iowa!

Our forecasts for the Iowa Republican caucuses and Iowa Democratic caucuses are now live. (We also have primary forecasts for New Hampshire.)

Pick your poison: We’re running one version of our primary forecasts based on state polls alone and another that also accounts for national polls and endorsements.

Read more about how it all works.

1:19 PM | Jan 12, 2016
They (sort of) cited a poll: Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton waits to be introduced at a campaign event on the campus of Des Moines Area Community College in Ankeny, Iowa, in August.

Hillary Clinton waits to be introduced at a campaign event on the campus of Des Moines Area Community College in Ankeny, Iowa, in August.

Scott Olson / Getty Images

AMES — All this week we’re keeping an eye on how candidates, the media and voters are using polls. This morning’s subject: Hillary Clinton.

I’ll cut the suspense — she did not cite a poll. But the latest numbers on Clinton vs. Bernie Sanders (which Nate broke down earlier) certainly set the tone for her speech to a mix of students and local supporters at Iowa State University. And reporters who’ve been covering Clinton throughout this election said today marked a shift in her approach to the Vermont senator.

This morning, Clinton rolled out an endorsement from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, whose president introduced her in Ames. She then offered her broadest critique yet of Sanders, repeatedly mentioning his voting record on gun control.

I still hold out hope that we’ll catch a candidate going deep into the cross-tabs at some point this week. But it’s clear that the Clinton camp is watching the polls — and, more importantly, watching how the media is watching the polls — if not citing them explicitly.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post referred incorrectly to the venue for Clinton’s speech. It was Iowa State University, not the University of Iowa.

1:14 PM | Jan 12, 2016

1:08 PM | Jan 12, 2016
Why I’m (mostly) buying the Bernie surge in Iowa

MILE MARKER 166, I-80 E — We’ll be debuting our Iowa and New Hampshire forecasts soon, and they’re coming at a good time for Bernie Sanders, who has had a strong run of polls so far this week.

In Iowa, in fact, two recent polls show Sanders narrowly ahead of Clinton. Several others show Clinton with a small lead. The shift is noteworthy, however, given that Clinton hadn’t trailed in an Iowa poll since September and had roughly a 15-point lead in the Iowa polling average at the end of December.

It’s probably worth being at least a little bit skeptical of a polling swing like this one without any major news events to precipitate it. But here’s the thing: You can make the case that Sanders was underachieving in Iowa before. As we’ve been saying since July, it’s entirely plausible that Sanders could win the state.

From a 30,000-foot level, the demographics of the Democratic caucuses here should look pretty similar to those of the New Hampshire primary. Meaning there will be lots of white liberals. And while Sanders doesn’t have the advantage in Iowa of hailing from a neighboring state, as he does in New Hampshire, he has some other things working for him here: lots of college students and caucuses that rely heavily on voter enthusiasm, which could make his ground game more important. Plus, Iowa was a tough state for Clinton in 2008 (while New Hampshire was a good one for her).

Young people listen to Bernie Sanders at a campaign stop at a community center in Perry on Monday.

Young people listen to Bernie Sanders at a campaign stop at a community center in Perry on Monday.

Danny Wilcox Frazier / VII

11:55 AM | Jan 12, 2016
Even if Ted Cruz wins Iowa, there's New Hampshire

DES MOINES — The consensus is that Ted Cruz is more likely to win the Republican Iowa caucus than Donald Trump. The problem for Cruz, of course, is that winning here does not mean that he’s going to win New Hampshire or the nomination (see: Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum). Indeed, a close look at the polls indicates that Cruz’s coalition is good in Iowa and not good at all in New Hampshire.

Cruz has basically no support from moderate Republicans. He earned just 9 percent from Iowa moderates in a Marist poll conducted last week and 7 percent from Iowa moderates/liberals in a Quinnipiac poll out this week. Cruz is doing well in the Hawkeye State because he took 36 percent and 37 percent from conservatives in those surveys, respectively. That could be enough for him to win the caucus given that about 84 percent of caucus-goers in 2012 identified as conservative compared to just 17 percent who were moderate or liberal.

But if Cruz’s weakness with moderates and liberals continues in New Hampshire, it will likely doom him there. Why? Moderates and liberals made up 47 percent of New Hampshire primary voters in 2012. That means Cruz would do about 10 percentage points worse in New Hampshire even if he got the same support from each ideological group there that he currently gets in Iowa.

Donald Trump’s Iowa coalition, on the other hand, is far better suited for New Hampshire. Trump was at 28 percent among moderates in the Marist survey and 37 percent among moderates and liberals in the Quinnipiac poll. Trump isn’t doing too badly among conservatives either, with 21 percent and 28 percent in those polls, respectively.

This ideological split helps to explain why Trump is currently close to 30 percent and leading in the New Hampshire polls while Cruz is well back with closer to 10 percent.

11:36 AM | Jan 12, 2016

10:54 AM | Jan 12, 2016
A day in the campaign-saturated life of an Iowa voter

“Après moi, le deluge.”

That’s what Baby New Year says to Iowa every campaign year. When January rolls around, the campaigns ramp up their inundation of the state — TV ads multiply, door-knockers proliferate and phone calls increase (Bugaboo style, if you know what I mean).

But how many drops are in a deluge? We like to quantify things around here, so we got Meredith Leigh, one of those famous Iowa voters, to keep track of her interactions with the campaigns for a day.

Leigh, 33, is a contract negotiator at Wells Fargo and a registered Democrat, at least for this election — she caucused for Ron Paul in 2012. “It was funny, I took the ‘What side are you on?’ [quiz] because I was trying to figure out who I was going to caucus for” this year, she told me. “I came up 79 percent Jeb Bush and 76 percent Bernie Sanders.”

Meredith Leigh at her home in Des Moines.

Meredith Leigh at her home in Des Moines.

Clare Malone

I popped over to Leigh’s house in a quiet residential neighborhood of Des Moines this morning to chat with her at the start of her day chronicling the media blitz. I got there when it was still dark out and was greeted by Cici, a 10-year-old basset hound who warmed my lap a little (and yes, my heart) while I grilled her owner about what it’s like to be a registered Iowa voter right about now.

Leigh had seen two campaign ads on TV before my 7 a.m. arrival, one from Marco Rubio and one from Hillary Clinton. She said that members of both the Clinton and Sanders teams had come knocking on her door in the last month. She’s still undecided, so they’re hitting the right kind of house, but Leigh said that she has a polite technique to help her quickly disengage from the campaigners (this is a pattern with people I’ve been talking to, by the way — polite denials).

“I’m always like, ‘Oh, OK, I’ll think about that,’” she said. “I don’t want to be like, ‘No,’ because then they’ll be like, ‘Well I think this person is great, blah, blah, blah,’ and I don’t really want to engage.”

We’ll check back in with Leigh at the end of the day to see how much interaction she’s had with campaign ads on TV, radio and online. Who knows, she might even run into a candidate! Des Moines is lousy with them this time of year.

9:36 AM | Jan 12, 2016
Field staffer Eric Baker hangs a campaign sign in the Iowa state headquarters for Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush in West Des Moines.

Field staffer Eric Baker hangs a campaign sign in the Iowa state headquarters for Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush in West Des Moines.

Patrick Semansky / AP

There may be no sign of a Jeb Bush comeback but there are, well, “Jeb!” signs.

9:32 AM | Jan 12, 2016

9:06 PM | Jan 11, 2016
They cited a poll: Fusion forum
The media overflow room at the Fusion Brown and Black Forum.

The media overflow room at the Fusion Brown and Black Forum.

Jody Avirgan

Throughout the week in Iowa (and beyond!) we’re keeping our eye on when and how polling gets cited by candidates, media and voters. At Fusion’s Brown and Black Forum at Drake University, two Fusion anchors opened their intro analysis by citing today’s NBC/Marist polls showing Clinton and Sanders surprisingly close in Iowa and New Hampshire. Neat. They cited a poll! But I cringed a tad when they quickly used that poll as a hook to ask whether tonight’s debate would end up being a “game-changer” in the race — one of our peccadillos of election-speak. They did do a decent job of couching the poll and the margin for error, but is it too much to ask that a poll be analyzed on its own terms? Probably, yeah. That’s why we don’t work in television.

8:00 PM | Jan 11, 2016
7:55 PM | Jan 11, 2016
Sen. Bernie Sanders talks with his wife, Jane Sanders, before taking the stage at a campaign event in Perry, Iowa.

Sen. Bernie Sanders talks with his wife, Jane Sanders, before taking the stage at a campaign event in Perry, Iowa.

Danny Wilcox Frazier/VII

7:53 PM | Jan 11, 2016
O’Malley supporters show up for the Brown and Black Forum at Drake University
2016-01-11 16.57.27

DES MOINES – Given that he’s hovering at just around 5 percent support in Iowa, many here have counted out Martin O’Malley, even going so far as to say he could win zero delegates. And yet there wasn’t a Clinton or Sanders sign in sight outside the entrance to tonight’s Brown and Black Forum at Drake University, where candidates will address issues that affect minority voters. There were dozens of O’Malley supporters who braved the cold temperatures to pledge their support to the Democratic candidate.

They had traveled from as close as Des Moines and as far as Minneapolis, holding signs in both English and Spanish that touted O’Malley’s record on immigration issues and his plans to expand social security.

From left to right: Marco Alvarez, 21, Dustin McCoy-Simmonds, 24, Abeena Abraham, 19, Tania Malagon, 25.

From left to right: Marco Alvarez, 21, Dustin McCoy-Simmonds, 24, Abeena Abraham, 19, Tania Malagon, 25.

Abeena Abraham, 19, said she was here tonight supporting O’Malley because “he’s the only candidate who’s had a consistent record supporting DREAMers [Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors], making sure that we had in-state tuition in Maryland.” A student of Rochester Community and Technical College, Marco Alvarez, 21, said he was here in support of O’Malley because of the former Baltimore mayor’s strong stance on immigration reform. “I’m a huge advocate for immigration reform and so that’s why I support him,” he said.

7:12 PM | Jan 11, 2016
Hold the phone: Voters who won't pick up pre-caucuses
David and Carol John listen to Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speak at a campaign event in Perry, Iowa. Both retired, David was a elementary school councilor and Carol was a school librarian. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders campaigned at a community center in Perry Iowa on Monday.

David and Carol John listen to Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speak at a campaign event in Perry, Iowa, on Monday. Both retired, David was a elementary school counselor and Carol was a school librarian.

Danny Wilcox Frazier/VII

DES MOINES — Well, evening has fallen here in Iowa and some of us have been up since the pre-5 a.m. hours that only elementary school teachers and “Today Show” hosts should have to see. But as I’m looking over my notes for the day there’s one voter comment that struck me as an individual working for a, shall we say, poll-attentive website?

David John, 75, of Jefferson, Iowa, who I met at Bernie Sanders’s town hall in Perry was pretty emphatic about how he doesn’t answer the phone these days, unless it’s a number he knows, for fear of encountering a pollster. And sure enough, when I asked his wife, Carol, for their number, she wanted to be sure she knew the area code on my cell phone so she could look out for it. The people of Iowa are ruthless call screeners!

When I asked John if he felt the polls he was hearing about were accurate and reflective of the sentiments he was seeing on the ground, he said this:

I don’t think they’re totally accurate because a lot of people like us don’t answer the phone, and we get a lot of calls and unless we know someone, we don’t answer. And there aren’t as many landlines anymore. I don’t know how people do polls anymore, but if they’re doing them over cellphones that’s probably a little more precarious than if they’re doing them over landlines.

The big polling problem illustrated here is one that has come with the rise of cellphone use and the decline of the good ol’ landline — thanks to regulations stemming from the 1991 Telephone Consumer Protection Act, you can’t call cellphones via automatic dial.

In other words, David and Carol John are outsmarting pollsters.

6:15 PM | Jan 11, 2016

As a Des Moines native and longtime patron of its finest establishments, it’s my solemn duty to perform a public service for the carpetbagging East Coast media (including my colleagues). Here’s my guide to Des Moines’s good bars.

6:13 PM | Jan 11, 2016
The many struggles of Rick Santorum

BOONE — We’re waiting for a Rick Santorum meet-and-greet to start at Kings Christian Bookstore. Santorum, who won the Republican Iowa caucus in 2012, has criss-crossed the state more than any other candidate this cycle, but it hasn’t paid off — at all. He’s polling at just 0.7 percent in the RealClearPolitics average.

You might think that’s because Santorum’s “lane” — religious conservatives — is crowded with other candidates this year, such as Ted Cruz and Ben Carson. But a fractured religious vote isn’t the only thing hurting Santorum; Iowa Republicans simply don’t like him. His net favorability in last month’s Des Moines Register poll was -1 percentage points. Ted Cruz and Ben Carson, on the other hand, had net favorability ratings of +54 points and +50 points, respectively.

So what’s plaguing Santorum? It could be that he’s suffering from the same problem facing the much more establishment-friendly Jeb Bush: Voters of all ideological stripes appear to want something new. This would also help to explain why Mike Huckabee, who won the GOP caucus in 2008, is at only 2.3 percent in the RealClearPolitics Iowa polling average and had a net favorability of only +15 percentage points in that Des Moines Register poll.

5:37 PM | Jan 11, 2016
CNN And Facebook Host The Republican Presidential Primary Debate In Las Vegas

Patrick T. Fallon / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Ben Carson is holding a Pastor’s Roundtable tonight with John Maxwell in Sioux City. The GOP candidate and retired neurosurgeon is shown here in the spin room after the debate at The Venetian in Las Vegas in December.

4:55 PM | Jan 11, 2016
Phone-banking for Ted Cruz

URBANDALE — At Ted Cruz’s headquarters outside Des Moines (one of only two Cruz field offices in the whole state, the campaign tells me) volunteers are making phone calls that sound a lot like you’d expect: “Hi, my name is so-and-so, I’m calling from the Ted Cruz campaign. Is this-and-that home?” (Those names have been changed, fyi.)


Jody Avirgan

These phone interactions feed the campaign’s data set in pretty interesting ways. As phone-bankers go through the script, an on-screen display prompts them with what questions to ask next and how to log the answers.

“Was the person at home?” A volunteer presses: Yes/LeaveVoicemail/WrongNumber.

“Have you made up your mind who you’re going to vote for?” Press: Yes/No.

“Would you like to learn more about Ted Cruz?” Yes/No.


Jody Avirgan

That campaigns use data to target voters is no new story. I’m more interested in the way that campaigns update their data sets, to get better and better information as they get closer and closer to Election Day. This kind of data hygiene is something I’ll keep my eye on all week.

The Cruz campaign isn’t the only one trying to learn the data lessons of 2012, of course. I’ll have more on that later this week and on my What’s The Point podcast over the next few weeks.

4:17 PM | Jan 11, 2016

4:05 PM | Jan 11, 2016
Bernie in the gym

PLEASANTVILLE — I’m sitting in the gym at Pleasantville High School, watching Sen. Bernie Sanders speak. There isn’t much press here, but there are about 400 people in the crowd (I multiplied the number of seats in a row by the number of rows, then added a couple dozen for the people standing around the edges). A lot are students who were just let out of school, but there are also a good number of Sanders supporters.

While Sanders is known for his support among younger voters, most of the non-students in the room are older. That may have something to do with the fact that it’s a Monday afternoon; most people can’t get to these events because they are working. Indeed, even when turnout is high, most registered Democrats don’t caucus.

And the students? Many won’t be old enough to vote in the caucuses, so their support may not end up helping Sanders that much. But he’s still laying down a lesson in democracy, asking questions about politics and U.S. history (for example, Who didn’t have the right to vote when America was founded?).

As an obvious fan of politics, I wish my high school had been located in Iowa or New Hampshire. This kind of event would have been fun.

3:27 PM | Jan 11, 2016
Tuning into the radio

DES MOINES — You don’t get more anecdotal than this, but in an hour of driving around and continuously scanning the radio, I’ve heard two ads for Ted Cruz, two for Bernie Sanders and the end of what sounded like an ad for Hillary Clinton.

Democracy In Action, by the way, has a nice resource of early-state TV and radio spots. If you want to feel like you’re with us this week, just stand by your freezer and play these on a loop.

3:21 PM | Jan 11, 2016

PERRY — Bernie Sanders spoke this afternoon at the McCreary Community Center about health care, income inequality, terrorism and campaign finance reform, among other things. “Nothing I’m talking about this afternoon is particularly radical,” he said. “Virtually everything I’m talking about is supported by the vast majority of the American people.”

feelin' the bern

A photo posted by Hayley E. Munguia (@hemunguia) on

3:17 PM | Jan 11, 2016

3:13 PM | Jan 11, 2016
Looking to New Hampshire's polls

We’ve landed in Iowa, but New Hampshire is calling our name — the car we’re driving even has New Hampshire plates! And of the polls out today, the more interesting ones are in New Hampshire.

Not only is Donald Trump maintaining his lead in the Granite State, his percentage of the vote is rising. Monmouth University gives him 32 percent (up from 26 percent in November), while the American Research Group puts Trump at 25 percent (up from 21 percent last month). This month he’s averaged 29.8 percent in all polls compared to 25.7 percent in December.

Trump’s uptick may seem minor (and it may be fleeting), but it makes it that much more difficult for an “establishment” candidate to catch him. Right now, the next two candidates combined are averaging just 26 percent in New Hampshire.

Part of the reason is that the establishment is divided. While I continue to think that an opposition vote to Trump will coalesce, it’s impossible to say around whom. John Kasich is coming in second place in New Hampshire in today’s polls at 14 percent, but in an average of polls this month the second spot goes to Marco Rubio with 14 percent, followed by Ted Cruz at nearly 12 percent and Kasich at 11 percent. Chris Christie, who supposedly had momentum in New Hampshire, is averaging just 9 percent this month.

The question is whether we’ll see the polls move away from Trump in the next few weeks. There’s still time for that to happen based upon the predictive ability of polling at this point in past campaigns.

2:50 PM | Jan 11, 2016
In transit
Detroit airport awaiting Iowa week

DETROIT METRO AIRPORT — Here I am recording the outro to this week’s What’s The Point podcast while waiting to board the final leg of our flight to Des Moines (And that’s Allison McCann giving me a C’mon Dude look). I’m doing a two-part show the next two weeks on the history of political data, which has surprisingly deep roots. As early as the 1890s, William Jennings Bryan kept a massive card catalog of his supporters’ names, addresses and voting history. I’ll look at the rise of television and computing and geotargeting, all the way through to the Obama campaign’s individual-level information in 2008 and 2012. I’ll be interested to learn how this cycle’s candidates are gathering data and putting it to work on the ground in Iowa. Stay tuned.

2:45 PM | Jan 11, 2016
Bernie Sanders

Danny Wilcox Frazier

A supporter waits to shake hands with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders at a town hall meeting in Muscatine, Iowa, on Dec. 29.

2:27 PM | Jan 11, 2016
Greetings from Iowa

DES MOINES — As a data journalism site, FiveThirtyEight sometimes gets pegged as anti-reporting — we’re supposedly uninterested in looking away from our spreadsheets long enough to talk to real people. That’s never been true, but it’s even less applicable now: Shoe-leather reporting has become an increasingly integral part of what we do.

We do think some questions are best answered with data — who’s going to win a presidential election, for example. Or whether a candidate has improved his or her image with voters. But other questions are best answered by seeing for yourself: Is a campaign well run? Is a candidate connecting with voters? The trouble comes when you use data to answer the latter or “vibrations” to answer the former.

In 2012, when FiveThirtyEight was still publishing at The New York Times, Nate Silver and I went to New Hampshire. The state’s Republican primary was a few days away, and we saw the candidates speak, and watched how they interacted with voters. And then we visited each candidate’s New Hampshire headquarters. What we found summed up the campaigns perfectly: Mitt Romney’s office was bustling and organized. Ron Paul’s was smaller but run with military precision. Newt Gingrich’s was lightly attended and lightly managed. And Rick Perry’s was sprawling and empty.

Throughout this presidential campaign, our reporters have been making calls and interviewing sources (in addition to fiddling with spreadsheets), but this week we’re again turning up the dial: A team of FiveThirtyEight-ers – Nate Silver, Clare Malone, Harry Enten, Allison McCann, Jody Avirgan, Hayley Munguia and myself — has descended on Iowa, which will hold the first contest of the presidential primaries on Feb. 1. We’ll be here all week, checking out the candidates in person, visiting campaign field offices and talking to potential voters.

We’ll be posting videos, photos, thoughts and impressions to this blog. Think of it as our travelogue: We’ll show you what’s happening on the ground in the Hawkeye State with a data-driven twist.

We’ll be posting regularly, so check back when you can. And let us know what you think, or ask us a question @FiveThirtyEight.