Hillary Clinton And Bernie Sanders Battle Going Down To The Wire

With less than a week to go before the Iowa Caucuses, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are fighting a closely-pitched battle that will depend largely on turnout.

Bernie Sanders Hillary Clinton

With less than a week to go to the Iowa Caucuses, a new poll shows Hillary Clinton with a lead in Iowa as she battles with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in what could be the contest that sets the tone for the early part of the Democratic race for President:

Des Moines, Iowa (CNN) Hillary Clinton has a 6 percentage point lead over Bernie Sanders in Iowa, a new poll out just one week before the state’s caucuses shows.

The Fox News survey shows Clinton with 48% support to Sanders’ 42% and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s 3%.

The poll is the first since mid-December that meet’s CNN’s polling standards and shows Clinton with a sizable lead over Sanders. It could signal that momentum is swinging back in Clinton’s direction after Sanders surged into the lead in early January.

However, Sanders remains the front runner in New Hampshire, the first primary state, with a 56% to 34% advantage over Clinton, according to a Fox News poll of the Granite State.

And Clinton’s national lead among likely Democratic primary voters has narrowed — but is still clear. She’s up 49% to Sanders’ 37%, a third Fox News poll showed.

The Democratic nominating contest has tightened in recent weeks, with Sanders’ singular message of addressing income inequality breaking through.

Clinton still holds significant advantages as the contest shifts from Iowa and New Hampshire to Nevada and South Carolina, two states with much larger minority populations — among whom Clinton leads.

The new poll showing Clinton in the lead pushes back against other polling in the Hawkeye State that has been released since the beginning of the new year that has shown Bernie Sanders either closing the gap that Clinton had opened up in the final months of 2015, or even leading in the state. At this point, though, the state appears to be something of a toss-up, with Clinton holding less than a one point lead in the RealClearPolitics polling average, although the Pollster average shows Clinton lead as being slightly larger than that. As with the Republican fight in the state between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, though, the ultimate outcome may depend on whether or not the upstart candidate, in this case Sanders, can get supporters to the caucus locations on a cold February night. This is most notably demonstrated by the fact that restricting the most recent polls to people who had participated in caucuses in the past showed Clinton with a real advantage in much the same way Cruz has the advantage among past caucus goers on the Republican side. The question, therefore, will be which campaign can get its supporters out to caucus next Monday night. Of course, this is much the same issue that Clinton faced eight years ago when she faced off against Barack Obama and John Edwards. Back then, a highly organized Obama campaign was able to get first-time caucus goers to show up and pull off a surprise victory for their candidate that put him on the road to the nomination. Whether Sanders has the type of organization capable of pulling off what Obama did is something we won’t know until the results start coming in Monday night.

While the fight in Iowa remains close, that isn’t true at all of the fight in New Hampshire, where Sanders has held a lead in every major poll released since the start of the year, and where he has been performing strongly since August of last year. In the RealClearPolitics average, Sanders has a 14,7 average lead in the Granite State, and in the Pollster average the lead is roughly the same. This suggests that a win in Iowa, even a narrow one, may be Clinton’s only hope in pulling off a victory in New Hampshire. If Clinton wins in the Hawkeye State, she may be able to use the momentum that creates to pull New Hampshire Democrats back to her in sufficient numbers to pull of a win like she did in 2008 after having come in third in Iowa. Alternatively, if Clinton loses both Iowa and New Hampshire then she will have to deal with weeks of stories about a campaign in crisis and Democrats worried that they might throwing the election away as voters rally around a candidate who, unlike Barack Obama, cannot possibly win a General Election. These would be some dark days for the Clinton campaign if they came to pass, but fortunately for her she has a backstop that seems unlikely to fail.

Nationally, Clinton still has a massive lead over Sanders, as the new Fox News poll suggests. In the RealClearPolitics average she maintains an average lead of 14.6 points, for example, and in the Pollster average the lead is even larger. This suggests that the success that Sanders is seeing right now in New Hampshire, and the threat he poses in Iowa, would most likely be short-lived and not withstand the campaign going forward. In South Carolina, for example, Clinton has a more than thirty point average lead over Sanders according to both RealClearPolitics and Pollster, and the same is true in other states such as Nevada and Florida, both of which will play an important role in the race in the immediate aftermath of Iowa an New Hampshire. If these numbers hold up even under the barrage of back-to-back wins by Sanders in Iowa and New Hampshire, then Sanders will fizzle out and Clinton will ride to the nomination with relative ease going forward. Obviously, though, Clinton would prefer not to have to worry about backstops, and avoid the inevitable questions that would arise if she loses the first two questions. This is why the outcome in Iowa is arguably more important for Democrats yet again this election cycle than it is for Republicans.

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. SKI says:

    Let’s say Sanders wins both Iowa (narrowly) and New Hampshire (soundly). I still see Clinton going on to easily win Nevada (2/20) and South Carolina (2/27) before taking 8 of 11 on Super Tuesday (giving Sanders VT, MA and CO; Clinton AL, AK, GA, OK, TN, VA & MN) – maybe you can flip MN. Add in the super delegates and the favorable slate for her in the rest of March and she easily coasts the rest of the way. Where are Sander’s constituents (other than the internet)?

  2. Ben Wolf says:


    Where are Sander’s constituents (other than the internet)?

    Translation: Sanders voters are losers.

    The shrillness undercuts your projected assurance.

  3. Tyrell says:

    Hillary has been hitting away at the administration’s recent responses to Iranian behavior and the prisoner release – exchange. Sanders has not given a lot of clear foreign policy statements. If he is nominated, he will have to step it up on that. I like some of his ideas, but where is the money for all of the free stuff going to come from ? His figures do not add up; he must be using Common Core funny numbers math.
    Hillary has scandals hanging over her, but she has the organization and Washington experience. Sanders is very likable and I haven’t heard anything about any past problems.

  4. Tillman says:

    @SKI: If he wins both Iowa and New Hampshire, I feel the math changes on the Super Tuesday states. I don’t believe much momentum carries over from Iowa to New Hampshire, but winning both will send up the plausibility of his run much higher and cause a reevaluation of both candidates.

    If he loses Iowa, things will probably go much as you describe. I’m not convinced Sanders really wants to be president as of now, and his relative lack of endorsements even if he wins both will probably serve to keep Super Tuesday from evenly dividing delegates between Clinton and Sanders like it did with Clinton and Obama.

  5. C. Clavin says:

    Bundy was arrested and one of his guys killed,
    Trump is scared of Megan Kelly. Maybe the implosion we’ve been waiting for?
    Starting out to be a bad day in the Party of Stupid.

  6. Theodore Kimble says:

    Alternatively, if Clinton loses both Iowa and New Hampshire then she will have to deal with weeks of stories about a campaign in crisis and Democrats worried that they might throwing the election away as voters rally around a candidate who, unlike Barack Obama, cannot possibly win a General Election.

    Why is the notion that “[Senator Sanders] cannot possibly win a General Election” so easily thrown around when polls disagree completely?

  7. SKI says:

    @Theodore Kimble:

    Why is the notion that “[Senator Sanders] cannot possibly win a General Election” so easily thrown around when polls disagree completely?

    Because of history and knowledge and human nature.

    Elections are won based on structural factors as much as by personality of the candidate. And the structural factors that make a Democratic win more likely than not in the general do benefit Sanders if he were to get the nomination. However, those factors also mean that he is very unlikely to win the nomination.

    He has no broad-based constituency in those groups that typically vote. He is a 74 year old, Jewish, self-described socialist who wants to raise taxes significantly. His supporters are overwhelmingly young and white – and the typical democratic primary voter isn’t. Clinton still has a 12 point lead nationally and far bigger in the late February/early March states where the nomination is typically decided.

    His foreign policy statements, while not insane like the GOP, are unsophisticated and demonstrate little thought, knowledge or depth. Effectively, he is a one issue candidate. And while income inequality is a very important issue with deep resonance, one issue candidates don’t win. At a minimum, he needs to be able to stand up on a debate stage and be able to answer substantive questions – and he hasn’t been able to do that on foreign policy.

    He has little or no institutional support. Institutions matter – particularly to the base of the party. They are the organizations and people that get the vote out.

    He has little super-delegate support.

    The Associated Press conducted a survey of Superdelegates over the first few weeks of November 2015.[3] Among the 579 delegates they were able to reach, 369 had committed to a candidate: 359 supported Hillary Clinton, 8 supported Bernie Sanders, and 2 supported Martin O’Malley.

    Super-delegates matter .

    At the end of the day, he doesn’t have a path to the nomination unless Hillary Clinton becomes actually toxic to Democratic voters.

    Robert Reich’s comments on the two I think are accurate. They can be summarized as follows:

    Clinton is the best candidate for the world we live in; Sanders is the best candidate for the world we want to live in.

    Most voters, and most institutions, live in reality. If Sanders wants to win, he has to offer a compelling reason why he thinks that he will be able to completely change the rules of the game (something he already implicitly acknowledged he can’t do in his defense of his gun control votes). The reality is that such explanations, like Trump’s, always boil down to a “Green Lantern” approach of willpower. And that “Trust me, I will insist” approach sells far better to the GOP base than the Democratic one.

  8. HarvardLaw92 says:


    Has the polling changed significantly for Colorado and Massachusetts? The last polls that I can find have Clinton ahead in both states by close to 30 points. I can’t imagine that they have suddenly become competitive.

    Personally, I’m predicting that Sanders loses every Super Tuesday state other than possibly Vermont.

  9. Joe Gage says:


    I thought Sanders had a decent shot in Iowa, but the Sanders voters are mostly all in the college towns. I read somewhere that delegates in Iowa being a caucus are assigned on a geographical basis which really hurts Sanders. We could have a situation where Bernie gets more actual votes, but loses. I know Sanders is telling his Iowa college volunteers to vote at home if they live in Iowa rather than in the district their college is based.

  10. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Joe Gage:

    Iowa is an in-person caucus to my knowledge. They would have to return to their hometowns for the evening in order to participate there

  11. SKI says:

    @HarvardLaw92: Honestly, I didn’t look at the state by state polling. Both states are heavily white with a large component of the Democratic base being very progressive so a swing is theoretically plausible. I was tilting everything as much as I could towards Sanders to show that even in the most optimistic realistic scenarios, his campaign is dead by mid-March.