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The FiveThirtyEight Team Goes To Iowa

Filed under 2016 Election

landonsimone 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.

Micah Cohen 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.

Allison McCann 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.)

Jody Avirgan, Hayley Munguia 8:30 AM | Jan 15, 2016 Can you explain how Iowa caucus voting works in 30 seconds?
Micah Cohen 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

Micah Cohen 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.

Jody Avirgan 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.

Hayley Munguia 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.”

Paul Schreiber 1:42 PM | Jan 14, 2016

Nate Silver 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.

Paul Schreiber 12:12 PM | Jan 14, 2016

Harry Enten 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.

micahscohen 6:51 PM | Jan 13, 2016
Harry Enten 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.

Clare Malone 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.

micahscohen 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

Allison McCann 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!

Hayley Munguia 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.”

Harry Enten 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.

Jody Avirgan 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.

Nate Silver 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.

Harry Enten 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.

Nate Silver 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.

micahscohen 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

Paul Schreiber 9:38 PM | Jan 12, 2016

Paul Schreiber 9:16 PM | Jan 12, 2016

Harry Enten 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.


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