Final Iowa Polling Shows It All Depends On Turnout, Plus A Projection

The final polls of the Iowa Caucus show that the outcome of tonight's caucuses depend almost entirely on turnout at this point. Plus, a projection of who will win and the order of finish.

Iowa Road Sign

While the Des Moines Register Polreleased on Saturday is considered the “gold standard” poll for the Hawkeye State, it wasn’t the last poll released prior to tonight’s caucuses. Two more polls dropped this morning, and they show that, in the end, tonight’s outcome is going to depend heavily on turnout. In both parties, higher turnout is likely to be good news for the insurgent candidates in both races, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, while more traditional turnout would likely be good news for Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz. In either case, though, it seems apparent that it could be a long night tonight before we get final results.

On the Republican side, a new Quinnipiac poll shows Donald Trump taking a seven point lead over Ted Cruz:

Donald Trump leads his nearest rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, by 7 percentage points — 31 percent to 24 percent — heading into today’s caucuses, the final Quinnipiac University poll of Iowa finds.

Trump’s edge, powered as it is by a big lead among what Quinnipiac has identified as likely first-time caucus-goers, could be more tenuous than it looks. The race is still fluid: Although 3 percent said they were undecided, 28 percent of those who did name a candidate said they were open to changing their minds.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio trails both men with 17 percent, with retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson in fourth place at 8 percent. The other GOP candidates are all at or below 4 percent.

The poll shows Trump pulling away from Cruz and Rubio catching up — Quinnipiac’s Jan. 26 survey had Trump at 31 percent, Cruz at 29 percent and Rubio at 13 percent.

Trump leads among male likely caucus-goers 38 percent to Cruz’s 24 percent, but the two are neck and neck ammg women — 24 percent are for Cruz and 23 percent for Trump.

Trump is also leading in another area that is less positive. Among likely Republican caucus-goers in the state who would “definitely not support” a candidate, the businessman gets 35 percent compared to Cruz’s 15 percent.

Just under 1 in 3 likely GOP caucus participants are most concerned about the economy and jobs (27 percent) while 15 percent are most concerned with terrorism and 11 percent are focused on immigration.

This number, of course, is largely consistent with the DMR poll, which showed Trump leading by five percentage points and, like the DMR poll, includes the caveat that a significant portion of Trump’s support comes from people who have never caucused before, suggesting that these numbers could end up proving to be soft if those supporters don’t end up showing up tonight after all. In that regard it is worth nothing that there are two polls that show the race as being far closer than any of the other recent polling. One, from something called the Emerson College Polling Society, has Trump with a one point lead over Ted Cruz 27% to 26% with Marco Rubio at 22%, which is the highest that the Florida Senator has polled in the Hawkeye State since the election cycle began. After Rubio, the next highest candidate is Mike Huckabee at 5%, Jeb Bush and John Kasich at 4%, Ben Carson, Rand Paul, and Chris Christie at 3%, and then no other candidate above 2%. It appears this is only the second time this election cycle that this group has polled Iowa, with the previous poll having been released just last week. Another new poll, from a group calling itself Opinion Savvy that doesn’t appear to have ever polled Iowa before, also has a one point gap between Trump and Cruz at 20 to 19% with Cruz actually tied with Marco Rubio at 19%, followed by Ben Carson an Rand Paul at 9%, Jeb Bush at 5%, Mike Huckabee, John Kasich, and Carly Fiorina at 4%, and no other candidate higher than 3%. Based on the numbers alone, these two polls appear for all the world to be outliers, but they are included in the RealClearPolitics average and they could end up catching trends that other polling has missed so they’re at least worth taking note of.

All of this leaves the poll averages and the trends looking like this, according to RealClearPolitics: (click to enlarge)

Final Iowa GOP

The dips for Trump and Cruz have been somewhat enhanced by the results from Emerson and Opinion Savvy, a has the upward trend for Cruz, but this more or less shows up where the race is according the the last set of polling. Donald Trump remains with a narrow lead, 4.2 points according the the RealClearPolitics average, slightly more according to the Pollster average. Marco Rubio remains firmly in third place with many wondering whether he might be able to pick up more support before the night is over, and the rest of the field remains essentially full of also-rans, but not necessarily unimportant to the race. In the end, it’s possible that some portion of the people supporting the candidates below Marco Rubio could decide to back one of the top three candidates if only because of the natural human desire to get behind a candidate who actually has a chance of winning. If that happens, then it could have a big impact on the relative positions of the top three candidates. Additionally, Rand Paul continues to argue that his support among younger voters has been ignored by the polls, and that he will surprise people tonight. While there’s no evidence in the polling to support that contention, it’s worth keeping in mind as the night goes on because support from college students is also an important part of Bernie Sanders’ support on the Democratic side of the aisle.

Speaking of the Democratic race, the Quinnipiac poll shows that race as being as close as ever:

First-time Democratic caucusgoers also boosted Bernie Sanders in Iowa, pollsters found, with the Vermont senator holding a 3-point lead over Hillary Clinton, 49 to 46 percent.

Among first-time voters, Sanders holds a major lead over Clinton, 62 to 35 percent, while Clinton holds a 9-point lead among those who have caucused before.

Martin O’Malley has 3 percent support in the Hawkeye State.

As with the Republican race, there is also a poll from Emerson College of the Democratic race and, in this case, it shows Clinton leading Sanders by eight points 51% to 43%, but again it’s unclear if this poll is an outlier or evidence of a late-breaking trend that other polls are missing. All of this leaves the Democratic race looking like this according to RealClearPolitics: (again, click to enlarge)

Iowa Dem Final

In other words, the Democratic race in Iowa remains close, with Clinton holding an average 4.6 point lead over Senator Sanders and Martin O’Malley basically a non-entity. As  I mentioned this morning, though, the format of the Democratic Caucus and the manner in which it’s conducted means that O’Malley’s supporters could end up being decisive in some areas since they will have to decide whether to throw their support to Sanders or Clinton, or to simply go home. Combined with the turnout issue, this will probably be the story of the night and, outside of those caucus meetings that may choose to allow network cameras to record their proceedings, this will largely occur behind closed doors with the results not being known until they are officially announced. In any case, given the narrow gap between Clinton and Sanders the biggest factor is likely to be which campaign has the better turnout operation and, as with the Republican race, it could be well into the late evening before we have an idea who may have won the night.

In any case, now that we know where the race stands, and as I did four years ago, here are my predictions for the outcome tonight. Given the fact that I completely missed Santorum’s last minute momentum last time, you can take these predictions for what they’re worth:


  1. Donald Trump — 28%
  2. Ted Cruz — 25%
  3. Marco Rubio — 18%
  4. Ben Carson — 6.5%
  5. Rand Paul — 5%
  6. Jeb Bush — 4.5%
  7. Mike Huckbee — 4%
  8. John Kasich — 3%
  9. Carly Fiorina — 2%
  10. Chris Christie — 2%
  11. Rick Santorum — 1.5%
  12. Jim Glimore — < .5%


  1. Hillary Clinton — 50.5%
  2. Bernie Sanders — 49.5%
  3. Martin O’Malley —- N/A, Eliminated due to failure to meet 15% threshold

In both races, I’m somewhat more confident about the order of finish than I am the percentages, and that the turnout among Republicans will be sufficient to largely justify Trump’s presence at the top of the polls. On the Democratic side, turnout may well be high, but I tend to doubt it will be as high as 2008 when Barack Obama shocked Hillary Clinton and John Edwards. Nonethless, the gap between Clinton and Sanders is likely to be much closer than the final polls are showing. We’ll see if I’m right in the end.

FILED UNDER: 2016 Election, Public Opinion Polls, Terrorism, 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. Dave D says:

    I just want the 20k extra people out of Des Moines and out of our favorite dive bars. Also the tv ads ending will be a plus. need to go back to being ignored.

  2. Dave D says:

    Also absent from the turnout story is the blizzard that is going to hit the state tonight.

  3. Based on the forecasts, the storm isn’t likely to start hitting until most people will either be on their way home from caucusing, or already home. It’s bigger impact is likely to be on candidates and reporters trying to get out of time.

  4. Dave D says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Then the coverage will be as nonstop as when DC or New York gets snow.

  5. MonkeyTiming says:

    @Dave D: The blizzard isn’t supposed to hit until closer to morning, so it really shouldn’t affect turnout much.

  6. Daniel N. Adams says:

    What’s your prediction of who’s definitely out after tonight?

  7. Definitely Huckabee and probably Santorum too.

  8. DrDaveT says:

    Oh, there’s nothing halfway
    About the Iowa way to treat you,
    When we treat you
    Which we may not do at all.
    There’s an Iowa kind of special
    Chip-on-the-shoulder attitude.
    We’ve never been without.
    That we recall.
    We can be cold
    As our falling thermometers in December
    If you ask about our weather in July.
    And we’re so by God stubborn
    We could stand touchin’ noses
    For a week at a time
    And never see eye-to-eye.
    But what the heck, you’re welcome,
    Join us at the picnic.
    You can eat your fill
    Of all the food you bring yourself.
    You really ought to give Iowa a try —
    Provided you are contrary.

  9. C. Clavin says:

    Trump is encouraging his supporters to “beat the crap” out of people.
    Cruz is sending out fraudulent voter-violation notices, trying to scare folks into attending the caucuses.
    Bush allegedly paid folks to come to his rally today.
    Steve King (noted cantaloupe calf expert) says that Trump paid Palin for her endorsement.
    Iowa is getting zany!!!

  10. Kylopod says:

    538 projects that Trump has a 46% chance of winning the caucus. This is being reported in several articles as saying that “Trump is the favorite to win,” because it’s a higher percentage than 538 projects for any other individual candidate (the next closest, Cruz, is at 39%). But read literally, 538 is saying there’s a slightly better than even chance Trump will not win the caucus. It just goes to show how weird and easy to misunderstand probability estimates are.

  11. Guarneri says:

    @C. Clavin:

    And Hillary is a crook. The effect on voting! Nada.

  12. ernieyeball says:

    Iowa Public Radio and WHO AM Des Moines are reporting long lines at caucus sites. One report states a Republican site has run out of ballots. This is less than 15 minutes after the doors opened.

  13. PJ says:


    One report states a Republican site has run out of ballots. This is less than 15 minutes after the doors opened.

    The GOP is trying to steal Iowa from Trump!
    The GOP is only giving ballots to non Trump caucus-goers!
    If Trump loses Iowa and the nomination he needs to run as an independent!
    The GOP should not be allowed to silence the people!

    (Let’s start a rumor.)

  14. CSK says:


    This is exactly what Trump supporters will be saying if he loses. Only the Trumpkins spell “GOP”as “GOPe.”

    And they will also mention The Evil Karl Rove, The Bush Crime Family, Ted Cruz, and The Koch Brothers as the masterminds behind the conspiracy.

  15. PJ says:

    Well, it’s because it’s true.
    And it is happening in front of everyone.
    And the media will not report about it.

    (Let’s build on that rumor.)

  16. CSK says:


    Let’s do. And let’s not forget the part played by the lamestream media, which hates all true patriotic Americans.

  17. CSK says:

    Martin O’Malley has thus far garnered exactly…three votes. But that puts him one up on Jim Gilmore.

  18. Tyrell says:

    This so called “caucus” system is a farce and for the birds. I am not about to walk into a high school gym and let some college student, who doesn’t look old enough to drive, talk me into voting for someone ( Like I saw on tv tonight ). Strange that this sort of bizarre arrangement is not allowed in the other states. When I go in to the polling place, no one is not allowed to be doing that kind of car salesman arm twisting and badgering of voters.

  19. PJ says:

    Clearly Trump has been stabbed in the back with a dagger!

  20. CSK says:


    Trump got Cruzified.

    Cruz: 28%
    Trump: 24%
    Rubio: 23%

    Everyone else was in single digits.

  21. PJ says:

    …and Huckabee is out.

  22. Tony W says:

    @Tyrell: You seem to think you live in a democracy. Go back and study how we elect our president – Here’s a link to some tidbits.

  23. C. Clavin says:

    You keep saying this crap…but investigation after investigation after investigation prove you wrong.
    Are you so thick you don’t know what wrong means?
    You. Are. Always. Wrong.
    You and pathetic Sarah Palin who sold herself out to Trump, and was wrong again.
    Excellent company you keep.

  24. Mike says:

    300 million citizens and we get this crew from the republicans as the leaders and other option is Hillary who seems incapable of being honest. God help us.

  25. CB says:


    Honestly, what makes her a crook? What is it. Wall Street connections? Arkansas stuff? Emails? …Benghazi?

    What makes her any more of a crook than any other mover and shaker thats been in the public view for the last 20+ years?

  26. Kylopod says:

    It turns out I was right in my suspicion that Trump would underperform relative to his poll numbers. Not only is he substantially behind Cruz, he’s only barely ahead of Rubio, who overperformed. It no longer looks so implausible that Trump might not win a single state in the end. He’s still the favorite in New Hampshire and South Carolina, but these things can change very quickly, as Cruz and Rubio will receive a boost, while Trump’s appearance of invincibility has been popped.

  27. ernieyeball says:

    @Mike:..God help us.

    Appeals for supernatural help are useless. We do this all by ourselves.
    There’s no Voo Doo spell to get us out of it.

  28. Franklin says:

    Trump’s concession speech should have concluded with his campaign manager getting fired. I mean, that’s what we’ve been waiting for all this time, right?

  29. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Tyrell: And I’ll bet you want them to get off your lawn, too! (Bunch of hooligans!)

  30. Tillman says:

    You know, after the endless endorsements (including from a respected local newspaper) and the DNC’s deliberately misscheduled debates to lower exposure for non-acceptable candidates, it should really give Clinton supporters some pause that the vote has, as of this moment, come out as a draw.

    It should alarm them that voters 18-35 went overwhelmingly for Sanders. The conjecture that women voters would as a bloc stand for Clinton is false: women broke down between the two along age lines. The over 35s of any gender broke for Clinton, but not to the degree the under 35s did for Sanders.

    Frankly, I’m just happy someone who gets paid to write this schlock is finally picking up on what I’ve been saying since fall:

    But the larger problem is the way that party as a whole — elected officials, operatives, leaders of allied interest groups, major donors, greybeard elder statespersons, etc. — decided to cajole all viable non-Clinton candidates out of the race. This had the effect of making a Clinton victory much more likely than it would have been in a scenario when she was facing off against Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, and Deval Patrick. But it also means that the only alternative to Clinton is a candidate the party leaders don’t regard as viable.

    Trying to coordinate your efforts to prevent something crazy from happening is smart, otherwise you might wind up with Donald Trump. But trying to foreclose any kind of meaningful contact with the voters or debate about party priorities, strategy, and direction was arrogant and based on a level of self-confidence about Democratic leaders’ political judgment that does not seem borne out by the evidence. [emphasis added] This is a party that has no viable plan for winning the House of Representatives, that’s been pushed to a historic lowpoint in terms of state legislative seats, and that somehow lost the governors mansions in New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Illinois.

  31. ernieyeball says:

    This is from a commenter on a thread at another site I will call Sneezin’.

    I spent a summer in Iowa working at an ethanol plant on the eastern border of the state. It was an awful combination of manufacturing belt decay and rural vindictiveness. Golf was more expensive than in San Diego because there was nothing else to do. Based on the results I’ve seen, it looks like most of the filthy-ass Mississippi and Missouri river people went for Trump and Sanders. MM

    Given that I too spent time working in the Hawkeye State. I have to classify these remarks as astute political analysis.

  32. Ben Wolf says:

    @ernieyeball: That’s quite a vile statement.

  33. Grumpy Realist says:

    Looks like standard Trump–over-promise and under-deliver.

  34. gVOR08 says:

    Let me take this opportunity to say – Trump is a LOOOZER!

  35. CSK says:


    That was a resounding “You’re fired!”, wasn’t it?

  36. C. Clavin says:

    Endorsed by a quitter and a loser!!!

  37. C. Clavin says:

    I wonder how the white supremacists that endorsed Trump feel? Beaten by a Canadian Cuban!!! Who may not be eligible for the office!!!

  38. rodney dill says:

    @ernieyeball: As that astute political analysis …. or ass toot political analysis.

  39. al-Ameda says:

    I fully expected Cruz to win Iowa, this was after all evangelical home court, and I could not see Trump getting over with those folks.

  40. ernieyeball says:

    @Ben Wolf:@rodney dill:I wouldn’t dish it out if I couldn’t take it.
    I was a river rat when I worked at the wastewater treatment plant on the banks of the Big Muddy in Southern Illinois.
    Not every government job is a sinecure.

  41. grumpy realist says:

    @al-Ameda: It was interesting because the surveys said that Trump would clobber Cruz.

    Yet another case where planning overtook drum-banging.