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The Iowa Caucuses Are In 17 Days. What’s Going On In The Early States?

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Poll(s) of the week

Throughout the primary, we’ve been tracking polls in the four early states to better understand how the race differs in each of them, as each state tells its own story about how the 2020 Democratic primary could shake out.

For instance, Iowa is a very tight race between former Vice President Joe Biden, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. And New Hampshire is really competitive, too, with less than 10 percentage points separating Sanders and Biden in our forecast. (Warren and Buttigieg aren’t too far off either.) Nevada, on the other hand, appears to be more of a two-way race between Sanders and Biden, while South Carolina remains — at least at this point — in Biden’s column, as our forecast gives him a 3 in 5 shot at winning the most votes there.

Of course, things could once again shift before the voting starts in Iowa, but here’s a deep dive on where things stand as of Friday morning in each of these states.

Biden, Sanders neck and neck In Iowa

Iowa and New Hampshire are really competitive

Remarkably, Biden, Sanders, Warren and Buttigieg are all in the hunt in both Iowa and New Hampshire: No one has more than a 35 percent chance of winning either state, according to our forecast.

And our state polling averages illustrate just how close things are. Sanders and Biden are essentially tied in Iowa, with Buttigieg and Warren trailing, but within about 5 points of the lead. And Sanders holds a slim lead over Biden in New Hampshire, although one might expect the Vermont senator to have an advantage there — New Hampshire tends to favor politicians from neighboring states. In New Hampshire, too, Warren and Buttigieg aren’t too far behind the leaders.

Iowa and New Hampshire are wide-open contests

Democratic presidential candidates’ polling averages in Iowa and New Hampshire, as of Jan. 17 at 9 a.m.

Iowa New Hampshire
Candidate Average Candidate Average
Bernie Sanders 20.1% Bernie Sanders 19.6%
Joe Biden 19.5 Joe Biden 18.5
Pete Buttigieg 16.8 Elizabeth Warren 15.1
Elizabeth Warren 15.2 Pete Buttigieg 13.9
Amy Klobuchar 6.7 Amy Klobuchar 6.7
Andrew Yang 3.5 Tom Steyer 3.8
Tom Steyer 3.1 Tulsi Gabbard 3.7
Michael Bloomberg 2.2 Andrew Yang 3.7
Tulsi Gabbard 1.7 Michael Bloomberg* 2.9
Michael Bennet 0.1 Michael Bennet 0.4
John Delaney 0.1 Deval Patrick 0.3
Deval Patrick 0.0 John Delaney 0.2

*Michael Bloomberg didn’t file to run in New Hampshire, but some pollsters have included him when surveying the state.

Source: Polls

But the dearth of state-level polls in December means that some of the polls feeding our averages may no longer reflect the current state of the race, so let’s take a closer look at some of the bigger polls released in the last 10 days. Monmouth University’s latest Iowa poll underscored how important voters’ ideological leanings could be in that state, as many caucus-goers will end up backing their second-choice candidate — not their first — in the realignment process. (If a candidate does not have enough support, usually at least 15 percent of voters at a caucus site, their supporters are asked to align themselves with another candidate.) Overall, Biden was first in that poll with 24 percent support, but he also had the most support (35 percent) among voters who said they were moderate or conservative — and that group made up a majority of the poll’s respondents. Buttigieg came in second among these voters at 15 percent, followed by Sanders at 13 percent. By contrast, among very liberal voters, Sanders led with 29 percent support with Warren in second at 25 percent, while Buttigieg had 14 percent and Biden had just 11 percent. But among the “somewhat” liberal voters in between, Buttigieg actually led with 22 percent, followed by Sanders at 20 percent. In other words, a different candidate led in each ideological “lane,” with a ton of overlap — in particular, Sanders and Warren — which could play to either Sanders’s or Warren’s detriment.

Similarly, a new poll from RKM Research and Communications on behalf of Franklin Pierce University, the Boston Herald and NBC 10 Boston showed New Hampshire has some of the same ideological divides. Overall, the survey found Biden in first with 26 percent, but once again Biden did best among more moderate (and conservative) voters with 27 percent, compared to 16 percent for both Sanders and Warren. Meanwhile, Sanders led among liberal voters with 29 percent, followed by Biden at 26 percent and Warren at 20 percent. (The pollster didn’t separate “somewhat liberal” and “very liberal” like Monmouth did.)

So as some progressives have feared, it’s possible that Sanders and Warren are hindering each other because of the ideological overlap among their supporters. After all, a new Quinnipiac University national poll found that more than 50 percent of Sanders’s and Warren’s supporters picked the other progressive as their second choice. And in New Hampshire, there’s another way they might be holding one another back: Since they both represent neighboring states, they could be limiting each other’s home-field edge.

Nevada’s close, Biden dominates South Carolina

Nevada and South Carolina look a bit different from the first two states in that their polls are less top-heavy, with fewer contenders in the mix. However, Nevada is still very much up for grabs — Biden and Sanders are separated by about 3 points in our polling average, and our forecast gives them both about a 1 in 3 chance of winning. But Biden still has a notable advantage in South Carolina, where he leads the polls by more than 20 points and has nearly a 60 percent chance of winning, per our forecast.

Nevada is competitive, but South Carolina is Biden’s to lose

Democratic presidential candidates’ polling averages in Nevada and South Carolina, as of Jan. 17 at 9 a.m.

Nevada South Carolina
Candidate Average Candidate Average
Joe Biden 22.7% Joe Biden 35.2%
Bernie Sanders 19.6 Bernie Sanders 14.5
Elizabeth Warren 14.4 Elizabeth Warren 11.0
Tom Steyer 8.2 Tom Steyer 9.8
Pete Buttigieg 6.4 Pete Buttigieg 4.2
Andrew Yang 3.9 Michael Bloomberg* 3.8
Amy Klobuchar 2.8 Andrew Yang 2.3
Michael Bloomberg* 2.2 Amy Klobuchar 1.7
Tulsi Gabbard 1.4 Tulsi Gabbard 1.4
John Delaney 0.4 John Delaney 0.3
Deval Patrick 0.2 Deval Patrick 0.2
Michael Bennet 0.1 Michael Bennet 0.1

*Michael Bloomberg didn’t file to run in Nevada or South Carolina, but some pollsters have included him when surveying those states.

Source: Polls

Part of the reason the dynamics of these two states are so different is that Iowa and New Hampshire still haven’t voted, which could dramatically shift the race, and that Nevada and South Carolina’s electorates are just much more diverse than those of the first two states to vote — and Biden has made the most significant inroads with voters of color, followed by Sanders and Warren.

Nevada is a particularly interesting case because even though Biden tends to lead among nonwhite voters nationally because of his strong support from black voters, nonwhite voters in Nevada are more likely to be Hispanic, and two recent Nevada surveys found Sanders narrowly ahead of or tied with Biden among Hispanics.

First, a Nevada survey from Fox News found Biden in first overall with 23 percent and Sanders in second at 17 percent, but both attracted the same share of Hispanic voters (24 percent); Biden’s edge among white voters (22 percent) might have been what tipped him over the edge, as Sanders attracted only 13 percent of that group. Meanwhile, another Nevada poll by Suffolk University, conducted for USA Today and the Reno Gazette-Journal, found Biden and Sanders essentially tied for first with around 20 percent support and neck and neck at about 20 percent among nonwhite voters. Biden had an ever-so-slight edge over Sanders among white voters (19 percent to 16 percent).

As for South Carolina, Biden has consistently led there due to his strong support among black voters, who made up about 60 percent of the Democratic primary electorate in 2016. A Fox News poll released late last week found Biden’s edge in South Carolina mostly holding as he led the field with 36 percent overall, including 43 percent of black voters. Billionaire Tom Steyer did make noise by coming in second with 15 percent overall, though that may partly be the result of him flooding the airwaves in South Carolina. Still, Steyer got support from 16 percent of African American voters, which could be evidence that some black voters are open to alternatives other than Biden. For now, the Biden firewall in the Palmetto State is holding up, though that could, of course, change if he performs poorly in earlier contests.

With just over two weeks to go before the Iowa caucuses, there’s definitely a traffic jam at the top of the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire that makes those states fairly unpredictable at this point. And whatever happens in those initial contests will likely affect Nevada and South Carolina, too, so stay tuned as we keep a close watch on how the polls move once the voting starts.

Other polling bites

  • Speaking of Biden’s base, a new national poll from The Washington Post and Ipsos found 48 percent of black Democratic registered voters supported Biden. Sanders was second with 20 percent support, and no other candidate reached double-digit support. There was a noticeable age difference in Biden and Sanders’s supporters: Among registered voters 50 years and older, Biden captured more than 50 percent support. He also led Sanders, 41 percent to 16 percent, among voters 35 to 49 years old. Yet among those under the age of 35, Sanders attracted 42 percent support versus Biden’s 30 percent.
  • An LX/Morning Consult poll asked Americans about Iowa and New Hampshire’s role in the nominating process and found that only 41 percent felt that these states represented their views in the presidential primary “very well” or “somewhat well” while 59 percent said “not very well” or “not at all.” Still, 59 percent said they were “very” or “somewhat” satisfied with the tradition of Iowa and New Hampshire kicking things off, compared to 41 percent who were dissatisfied.
  • In the wake of reports that Sanders told Warren in 2018 that he believed a woman couldn’t beat President Trump, YouGov asked Americans about their views on this issue. Fifty-three percent of respondents said that either a man or woman could defeat Trump, while 11 percent said that a man could beat Trump but not a woman. Another 20 percent said that neither a man nor a woman could defeat Trump, including 60 percent of Republicans.
  • In a new poll from Pew Research Center, 48 percent of Americans said that the airstrike that killed Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani was the right decision while 43 percent said it wasn’t. However, 54 percent felt that the Trump administration’s approach to Iran has increased the chances of a military conflict between the U.S. and Iran and a plurality — 44 percent — said it has made the country less safe.
  • A HuffPost/YouGov survey asked Americans their views on trade and the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, finding that many Americans are relatively unaware of the trade deal, which the Senate passed on Thursday. Forty-four percent said they favored the free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, another 44 percent said they weren’t sure what they thought of it and 11 percent opposed it. Two explanations for why so many Americans weren’t sure? Four out of five respondents said they had heard little or nothing at all about the trade deal. And Americans are also generally somewhat uncertain about trade agreements between the U.S. and other countries — 43 percent said such deals are a good thing, while 20 percent said they were a bad thing and 37 percent said they weren’t sure.
  • In a survey of American attitudes toward vaccines, Gallup found that there is still uncertainty about the debunked claim that vaccines can cause autism. Although only 10 percent said that certain vaccinations can cause autism and 45 percent said they do not, a plurality — 46 percent — said they weren’t sure. However, 86 percent said that the diseases vaccines prevent are more dangerous than the vaccines themselves.
  • In a new poll from YouGov measuring attitudes toward the Confederate flag among Americans, a plurality of respondents in two former Confederate states — Arkansas and Louisiana — said that the flag represented heritage more than racism. Of the other nine states that were part of the Confederacy, pluralities in seven said that the flag represented racism more than heritage, while respondents in Alabama and Florida were split evenly.

Trump approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 42.4 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 52.9 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -10.5 points). At this time last week, 41.9 percent approved and 53.3 percent disapproved (for a net approval rating of -11.4 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 43.2 percent and a disapproval rating of 52.5 percent, for a net approval rating of -9.3 points.

Generic ballot

In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot, Democrats currently lead by 5.9 percentage points (47.0 percent to 41.1 percent). A week ago, Democrats led Republicans by 6.6 points (47.5 percent to 40.9 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Democrats by 6.6 points (47.2 percent to 40.6 percent).

Geoffrey Skelley is a senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.