Democratic Race Tightens In New Iowa And New Hampshire Polling

The Democratic race in Iowa and New Hampshire is tightening, according to new polling, but this still seems to be Clinton's race.

Hillary Clinton Bernie Sanders

Two new polls from NBC News and The Wall Street Journal appear to show the Democratic races in Iowa and New Hampshire tightening in the month before voting begins:

Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are deadlocked in both Iowa and New Hampshire three weeks before voting begins in the 2016 presidential race, while the Republican primary contest remains tight in Iowa, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Marist poll finds.

Mrs. Clinton holds a slim, 48%-to-45% lead over the Vermont senator among likely Democratic caucusgoers in Iowa, the survey finds. Mr. Sanders edges the former secretary of state among likely primary voters in New Hampshire, 50% to 46%. Both leads are within the poll’s margins of error.

The survey results underscore the challenge facing Mrs. Clinton in the first two nominating states, despite her commanding lead in most national polls.

On the Democratic side, Mr. Sanders has opened up big leads in Iowa and New Hampshire among independents who say they’ll participate in the Democratic contests, while Mrs. Clinton notches big edges among Democrats. In both states, Mrs. Clinton posts big leads among likely participants age 45 and older, while Mr. Sanders posts even bigger leads among younger voters.

Though the Democratic races look like they will go down to the wire, 71% of likely caucusgoers in Iowa say they are strongly committed to their candidate of choice. In New Hampshire, that share is even higher, at 76%.

“The Democratic contests in Iowa and New Hampshire could still go either way,” Mr. Miringoff said. “If your New Year’s resolution was to have clarity in 2016, you better also have resolved to be patient.”

The fact that the race in Iowa between in Clinton and Sanders is somewhat of a surprise given the fact that, as 2015 drew to a close, the former Secretary of State appeared to be pulling away from Sanders in the Hawkeye State.To a large degree this was a result of the fact that Clinton had put most of the problems her campaign had faced over the summer behind her and had a largely successful September and October, and seemed to do fairly well during the rest of the year as well. During that time, for example, Clinton clearly won the first Democratic debate, benefited greatly when Vice-President Biden decided not to run for the Democratic nomination, and largely seemed to put the issue of the Benghazi attack behind her thanks to an appearance before the House Select Committee investigating that attack that ended up clearly backfiring on Republicans. Ever since then, things seemed to be moving in clearly in Clinton’s direction both nationally and at the state level, and the debates in November and December didn’t really seem to imuch of anything. These first polls after Christmas seem to indicate otherwise, or at least to indicate that the race is tightening just a bit in the final month.

Nationally, Clinton’s lead over Sanders is still quite substantial. The new Fox News poll, for example, gives her a 15 point lead and she has a nearly twenty point lead over Sanders in the RealClearPolitics average, with similar results in the Pollster average. Similarly, Clinton’s average in Iowa is still in double digits according to both RealClearPolitics and Pollster, but that’s largely thanks to the polling prior to Christmas that gave Clinton a double digit lead in the Hawkeye State. If this new poll is accurate in showing the race there tightening, then those averages will slip as we get new polling numbers in the coming weeks. In New Hampshire, the news from the new polling is somewhat more mixed for Clinton, and in some cases actually good news. A post-holiday Public Policy Polling survey, for example, actually showed Clinton leading in the Granite State, although its worth nothing that other recent PPP polls in the state have shown that notwithstanding the fact that other polls have shown Sanders with a narrow lead. The new Fox News poll, meanwhile, gives Sanders a thirteen point lead, one of the largest he’s held in the Granite State in months and, if true, a sign that Clinton could be in trouble there. This new NBC News poll, meanwhile, is more in line with the polling we saw out of New Hampshire in November and December that showed Sanders still leading there, but much more narrowly than in the past. All of this leaves Sanders with narrow leads in the poll averages at both RealClearPolitics and Pollster in the Granite State, which for Clinton at least is better news than she was facing just a few months ago when the Senator from neighboring Vermont appeared to be pulling away.

In the end, it seems unlikely that Clinton would really lose both Iowa and New Hampshire, in no small part because her ground operation clearly seems to be much better than Sanders in both states. If she does lose both states, of course, there will be obvious speculation about Democrats being in disarray, especially since the idea of Sanders as the Democratic standard-bearer seems like something that only makes sense if its 1972 and Bernie Sanders changed his name to George McGovern. In the end, though, Clinton remains the overwhelming favorite beyond these first two states, especially in the remaining February contest states of South Carolina and Nevada, where she has double digits leads over Sanders and Sanders shows no signs of having a real organization that could exploit any victory he pulled off in either of the first two states. In the end, then, this remains Clinton’s race to lose, and while it appears that she’ll be facing some bumps in the road ahead there’s no reason to believe that’s going to change any time soon.

FILED UNDER: 2016 Election, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Tony W says:

    I find it highly doubtful the Stonecutters would allow Sanders the nomination, particularly if Trump is still doing well on the GOP side.

    That is a dichotomy that the oligarchs in charge simply would not tolerate.

  2. there will be obvious speculation about Democrats being in disarray

    I see what you did there.

  3. edmondo says:

    So the person who has been in the public eye for a quarter of a century, has a quarter billion dollar warchest and married to an ex-president is running dead even with some unknown who can’t even get on the national news? Yeah, she’s a mortal lock in November – not!

  4. MartinKil says:

    Not sure if you’re up to date with Nevada – Sanders has been pouring money into the early states.

    “Sanders is playing catchup — and fast.
    He has now hired almost twice the number of staffers on the ground in Nevada — 40 to Clinton’s 22, as of July. The campaign would not provide an updated number of paid staffers on the ground. And he has opened nine field offices across the state compared to Clinton’s six (the campaign said it is opening its seventh office, in Elko, on Thursday).
    Sanders also has invested heavily in ad buys on English- and Spanish-language television and radio, spending $767,539 to date compared with Clinton’s recent $162,490 ad buy.

    Read more:

  5. An Interested Party says:

    …there will be obvious speculation about Democrats being in disarray…

    Compared to Republicans? Not really…there may be speculation by the usual suspects but nothing more…

  6. CSK says:

    I understand Sanders’s popularity; he has a what-you-see-is-what-you-get quality that’s not characteristic of politicians. That’s a very appealing trait in anyone, not just people running for office. And he’s blunt without the oafishness of Trump.

  7. Tyrell says:

    @CSK: Sanders is getting large numbers at his assemblies. He has good ideas to help the middle class and veterans. He needs to quit giving Hillary free passes; and apologizing was a mistake. Sanders needs express a clear and tougher stand against terrorism.

  8. elizajane says:

    @Tyrell: I disagree. His refusal to be nasty and a bully, his insistence on discussing actual issues instead of trivial scandals, is exactly what makes Sanders so attractive. The minute he starts attacking Bill Clinton or raising the e-mail non-scandal, he loses.

  9. Tillman says:

    @elizajane: “giving Hillary free passes” doesn’t automatically equate to “bringing up trivial scandals.” There are clear instances Sanders could hit Clinton on, substantive policy issue differences, that he has failed to use. The biggest reason, really, to think Sanders doesn’t want to be president.

  10. Tyrell says:

    @elizajane: Last fall the BLM , in a shameless move, disrupted a Sanders speech, pushing Sanders around and taking away the microphone. Sanders just stood around, looking confused and weak. Not a good impression. He should have had them removed immediately. Thousands of people were denied their right to hear Sanders.

  11. gVOR08 says:

    Most of the ink spent on this comes down to nothing but horse race touts gotta have a horse race.

  12. Jen says:

    Meanwhile, Kasich is now tied with Cruz in NH, according to a Monmouth University poll. Trump still leading, of course, but this is an interesting development on the R side.

  13. HarvardLaw92 says:

    I look at this a different way – Sanders is deadlocked with Clinton in New Hampshire, where he should arguably be expected to easily win in a landslide on home turf?

    Iowa is meaningless beyond the fluff value of “we’re first”. Iowa is actually one of the last states to select its delegates.

    Sanders’ problems come after NH, and should be pretty difficult (even for the BernieBots) to not see by March 2nd.

  14. Tyrell says:

    Hillary has started banging away at Sanders. It will be interesting to see if he drops the kid gloves and mounts an aggressive counter attack. Sanders can’t keep laying back and trying to hide. He needs to be more “Trump-esqe”.

  15. HarvardLaw92 says:


    Sanders knows he is highly unlikely to win, and he still has to go back to the Senate once all this performance art has ended.

    He comes out swinging and damages the party’s eventual nominee, and he’ll be public enemy number one for Senate Democrats (which is why he won’t go after her). The guy is passionate, but he isn’t stupid. I’d also argue that he isn’t interested in being president – he’s just interested in his ideas being heard.

  16. Tyrell says:

    Very good points.