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Where Are All The Iowa Polls This Year?

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Poll(s) of the week

The Iowa caucuses are just two days away, and FiveThirtyEight’s forecast shows a pretty wide-open race there: No candidate has more than a 36 percent chance of winning the most votes.

[Our Latest Forecast: Who will win the Iowa caucuses?]

There’s still time for a few more Iowa polls to drop and shake up the race, but it would be somewhat anomalous: There have not been as many Iowa surveys this cycle as in past cycles, especially in what is historically the most frequently polled time period — right before the caucuses. In fact, if we look at the final month of polling in each nomination contest since 1980 in which Iowa was contested, the 2020 Democratic race has had fewer polls than any other cycle this millennium, with the exception of 2000.

This cycle’s had fewer Iowa polls leading up to the caucuses

Number of surveys of Iowa conducted in the final month before contested caucuses, 1980 to 2020

Cycle Party Caucus date Number of Iowa polls in month before caucuses
2020 D Feb. 3* 11
2016 R Feb. 1 25
2016 D Feb. 1 23
2012 R Jan. 3 27
2008 D Jan. 3 23
2008 R Jan. 3 22
2004 D Jan. 19 15
2000 D Jan. 24 6
2000 R Jan. 24 6
1996 R Feb. 12 6
1992 D Feb. 10 2
1988 D Feb. 8 10
1988 R Feb. 8 7
1984 D Feb. 20 1
1980 D Jan. 21 1
1980 R Jan. 21 1

*Data for 2020 through 6 p.m. on Jan. 30. Figures include tracking polls but do not include polls from pollsters banned by FiveThirtyEight.

Source: Polls

Back in the day, there weren’t that many pollsters who surveyed the Iowa caucuses. In the 1980 and 1984 cycles, the Des Moines Register did almost all the public polling there, and there wasn’t very much of it before the caucuses. But over time, other pollsters have started to measure voting preferences among caucusgoers. The number of surveys started to balloon in the late 2000s, when more than 20 polls were conducted of both the Democratic and Republican caucuses in the final month before the 2008 contest. This rate of polling largely remained stable through the last cycle, when between 23 and 25 polls were completed in the 31 days prior to the caucuses. This time around, however, the number of polls has dropped to 11, and will likely end up at or below the number of polls conducted during the last month of the 2004 Democratic race.

Why the sudden drop-off? One possible explanation is that the impeachment of President Trump has competed for valuable polling resources (this certainly seemed to be the case in December). But beyond other stories pulling attention, polling firms are facing a whole lot of challenges these days. Response rates for polls conducted by live phone calls have continued to fall and more people are relying entirely on cell phones, which means pollsters often have to manually call cell numbers rather than use auto-dialing technology to reach landlines. Combined, these challenges make traditional polling more expensive. And while online polls are filling in some of the gaps, they’re still something of a new frontier and are also more likely to herd — a phenomenon in which pollsters produce results that mirror the results from other firms, particularly toward the end of a race — which reduces their value.

Additionally, getting a good sample of likely caucusgoers isn’t easy: Caucus turnout tends to be lower than primary turnout because it’s a more time-consuming process. This means it’s even costlier to poll in Iowa because you have to dial a bunch more numbers to contact enough likely caucusgoers. Perhaps due in part to increased costs, some major pollsters — Fox News, Marist — haven’t polled Iowa once this cycle, while other outlets that used to release their own polls have joined together to sponsor them, such as CNN and the Des Moines Register.

[Our Latest Forecast: Who Will Win The 2020 Democratic Primary?]

In fact, it’s entirely possible that the only surveys we’ll get in the final run-up to Monday’s caucuses are the vaunted Iowa Poll, conducted by Selzer & Co. on behalf of CNN, the Des Moines Register and Mediacom, and a final survey from Emerson College. As it stands, the most recent Iowa polls we have were in the field through Tuesday, so if there have been late shifts in voter preferences in the latter half of this week and into the weekend, it may be tough to detect them in advance. Those sorts of late swings in voter choices have certainly happened before — if there’s one thing we know about Iowa, it’s more of a surprise when there isn’t a surprise or two.

Other polling bites

  • A new study from the Pew Research Center found that Democrats and Republicans have very different views when it comes to which media sources they trust for political news.1 When given a list of 30 news sources, Democrats said they were more likely to trust than distrust 22 of them while Republicans only said they trusted seven of the news sources (Republicans equally trusted and distrusted three other sources). In fact, the only listed news organization that a majority of Republicans trusted was Fox News, whereas a majority of Democrats trusted a number of media outlets, including CNN, NBC News, ABC News, CBS News and PBS.
  • It might not feel like it, but the presidential primary field will indeed winnow in the next few months, so Morning Consult polled Democratic primary voters to see how candidates dropping out might affect the Democratic nomination race. For example, if Warren dropped out, Sanders would gain 5 points in national support while Biden would gain only a couple points. But if Warren were to drop out and endorse Biden, Morning Consult found the former vice president would gain 9 points. (Sanders would also gain 9 points from a Warren endorsement.) The pollster also took a look at the hypothetical effects of Biden, Sanders, Buttigieg and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg withdrawing, concluding that only an early exit and endorsement by Biden could dramatically shake up the race.
  • While climate change is often portrayed as a partisan issue, a new survey by Public Agenda/USA TODAY/Ipsos found aspects of climate change on which majorities of Democrats and Republicans can agree. For instance, 72 percent of Americans support “reducing the effects of global climate change,” a majority that includes 86 percent of Democrats, 78 percent of independents and 55 percent of Republicans. Majorities of Democrats, independents and Republicans also agreed on certain policy ideas, like modernizing the country’s electrical grid, creating stronger efficiency standards for buildings and government investment in technologies to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
  • The latest national poll from Quinnipiac University found that Americans have mixed views on how the impeachment charges against Trump compare to those leveled against former presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. Fifty-one percent said that the charges against Trump are more serious than those made against Clinton, while 29 percent said they were less serious. But relative to the charges against Nixon, only 24 percent said the charges against Trump are more serious while 40 percent said they are less serious.
  • A plurality of Democratic primary voters said they want more candidates on the debate stage, according to a new YouGov survey. In total, 44 percent said that “all announced” Democratic contenders should be able to debate while 40 percent said that the number of participants should be limited. This marked a shift from YouGov’s December poll, in which just 33 percent of respondents wanted all candidates to participate and 47 percent wanted the number of participants limited.
  • New polling from Gallup found that among married or cohabitating heterosexual couples, women are more likely to handle many common household tasks than men. A majority of respondents said that, in their households, women were more likely to make decisions about furniture and decorations, do the laundry, clean the house and prepare meals. Pluralities said that women were also more likely to care for children on a daily basis, go grocery shopping, wash dishes and pay bills. Men, on the other hand, were more likely to take care of cars and the yardwork, respondents said.
  • The race is on for the GOP nomination in Alabama’s U.S. Senate race. A new internal poll from former Attorney General Jeff Sessions found him leading the field with 43 percent, although he’s still 7 points shy of winning the nomination (based on Alabama’s primary election rules, which require a majority to win). That means a runoff could be in the cards, and the battle for second place is close with only 1 point separating Rep. Bradley Byrne (22 percent) and former Auburn University football head coach Tommy Tuberville (21 percent). But whoever wins the Republican nomination will likely have a pretty large advantage against Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, as Trump won Alabama by 28 points in 2016.

Trump approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 42.9 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 52.7 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -9.8 points). At this time last week, 42.0 percent approved and 53.8 percent disapproved (for a net approval rating of -11.8 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 42.6 percent and a disapproval rating of 53.0 percent, for a net approval rating of -10.4 points.

Generic ballot

In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot, Democrats currently lead by 5.7 percentage points (46.9 percent to 41.2 percent). A week ago, Democrats led Republicans by 5.5 points (46.8 percent to 41.3 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Democrats by 6.5 points (47.4 percent to 40.9 percent).



What is the difference between a primary and a caucus?


Footnotes

  1. All data includes independents who lean toward one party.

Geoffrey Skelley is an elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.

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