Trump, Clinton Hold Leads In Final Des Moines Register Iowa Poll

The final Des Moines Register poll before Caucus Night shows Donald Trump leading the GOP field, and Hillary Clinton with a narrow lead over Bernie Sanders, but much of the final outcome will depend on who shows up for the respective party caucuses.

Donald Trump Hillary Clinton

The Des Moines Register released its final poll before Monday’s Iowa Caucuses on Saturday evening, a release that was highly anticipated given that the poll is generally seen as the gold standard for polling in the Hawkeye State and has generally been quite accurate in showing the state of the race and late-breaking trends. Four years ago, for example, the DMR poll released on New Year’s Eve, just two days before the 2012 Caucuses, showed that Mitt Romney and Ron Paul continued to sit at the top, but most importantly the poll caught the first signs of a surge toward former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum that led him to win the caucuses in a narrow victory over Romney, although initially it appeared that Romney had narrowly won the caucuses by a mere eight votes. There was no poll on the Democratic side, of course, because President Obama was running for re-election unopposed.

This time around, of course, we’ve got contested races on both sides of the political aisle. On the Republican side, the race has been dominated in the Hawkeye State as it has elsewhere by Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, both of whom have traded the lead in polling a few times since Thanksgiving. In the past month, though, it became apparent that Cruz may have peaked too early in a state that has been at the center of his efforts to clear the field for the inevitable showdown between himself and Trump. Where Cruz was developing a clear lead in the state prior to the Christmas break, over the past three weeks he found himself slowly falling behind Trump while simultaneously looking over his shoulder at Marco Rubio, who has been slowly rising in the polls over the same period while the rest of the Republican field has fallen into the irrelevancy, and that’s largely what the new DMR poll is showing as well:

Donald Trump has muscled ahead in Iowa, regaining his lead on the brink of the first votes being cast in the 2016 presidential race.

Trump stands at 28 percent, while rival Ted Cruz has slid to 23 percent. But there’s still a strong case for Cruz in this race — he’s more popular and respected than Trump, the final Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics Iowa Poll shows.

“The drill-down shows, if anything, stronger alignment with Cruz than Trump, except for the horse race,” said J. Ann Selzer, the pollster for the Iowa Poll.

Mainstream Republicans, faced with seeing governors Jeb Bush and Chris Christie stalling and the grim reality looming of a victory by a smash-mouth game show host or an ultra-conservative obstructionist, have gravitated toward Marco Rubio. The young-looking, first-term U.S. senator from Florida is now at 15 percent. Still, Trump gets more of their support.

“Donald Trump could win Iowa,” said Stuart Stevens, a Maryland-based GOP strategist who has worked on five presidential campaigns but is neutral this election cycle. “But he has little room for error. He is almost no one’s second choice.”

Rubio and Cruz, in contrast, are popular backup selections.

Another sign of a possible cliffhanger Monday night: Although just 9 percent of likely GOP caucusgoers haven’t yet made a choice, they’re part of the 45 percent who could be persuaded to change their minds in the final hours before the nation fires the starting gun on 2016 presidential voting at 7 p.m. in Iowa.

Trump excels with voters who have never participated in the caucuses. But the poll, conducted Tuesday through Friday, detects no flood of fresh voters.

A victory for Trump would give him a huge head start toward the nomination, paving the way for him to achieve the unprecedented feat of winning both the first caucus voting in Iowa and the first primary in New Hampshire. A second-place finish for Cruz could make his path to the nomination difficult. He was expected to dominate in Iowa, where fellow religious conservatives make up a bigger bloc than in many other states.

Looking deeper into the numbers, Trump’s strength in the new poll, which amounts to a six point comeback from where he was the last time the Register polled the race, may not be as strong as it appears and will depend heavily on whether or not the people who have been supporting him in the polls and appearing at his rallies make the effort to come out on Monday night to caucus for him. One major caveat, for example, is the fact that the poll is not detecting a major change in the number of first-time caucus goers likely to show up on Monday night over 2012. This is important because, while Trump is quite strong among potential first-timers, Cruz has a three point advantage among those who have gone to caucuses before, The poll also indicates that there are still some lingering doubts about Trump on the personal level that could cause voters to change their mind or to be less inclined to jump ship and support him if their first candidate doesn’t prove to be viable. In that respect it’s worth noting that Florida Senator Marco Rubio leads all candidates as a potential second choice, although Cruz comes out on top if first and second choice numbers are added together. Rubio also has the highest favorable/unfavorable numbers of any of the candidates, while Cruz has seen both his overall poll numbers and his favorable numbers sink significantly since the last DMR poll, a development that suggests that the Texas Senator could indeed have peaked too early and may find himself in trouble Monday night. All of this is important because the poll shows that as many as 40% of the poll respondents say they could change their mind before Caucus Night. The fact that Trump’s lead is a precarious one that depends largely on his campaign’s ability to drive turnout, that Cruz’s numbers seem to have peaked, and that Rubio, while a relatively distant third, seems to be the candidate a sizable number of Republicans would pick as their second choice, has the room to grow at the last minute much in the same way that Santorum did four years ago, although Rubio has a far bigger gap to overcome than Santorum did.

With the release of the DMR poll, the RealClearPolitics poll average now shows that Donald Trump (30.8%) has an average 6.3 point lead over Ted Cruz (24.5%). while Cruz is followed by Marco Rubio who is now averaging 14.5% in the Hawkeye State. After Rubio, there’s Ben Carson, who has fallen to an average of 8.5% and seems to be shedding supporters as rapidly as ever, something that could potentially have a big impact on the race depending on where those Carson supporters end up going. After Carson, no candidate is averaging above four percent and the last two GOP Iowa Caucus winners, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, are averaging 2.5% and 1.0% respectively. The results are largely the same in the broader Pollster average, and both averages show a trend that tends to show Cruz’s numbers continuing to drop significantly while Marco Rubio marginally rises. There’s also an indication of Trump’s numbers dipping slightly, but that appears to be a reflecting of the fact that the DMR poll does not show Trump pulling support above 30% as other recent polling has shown.

On the Democratic side, the DMR poll shows Hillary Clinton with a slim two point lead over Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in a race that also will likely depend heavily on turnout on Monday night:

Hillary Clinton has kept a tight grip on her slim lead over Bernie Sanders in the waning hours leading into the Iowa caucuses, a new Iowa Poll shows.

Clinton is the top pick for 45 percent of likely Democratic caucusgoers, with Sanders at 42 percent, The Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll shows.

Clinton’s support is up 3 percentage points from earlier this month, and Sanders’ is 2 percentage points higher.

“This race is as tight as can be,” said David Axelrod, a national political strategist. “If Bernie Sanders had momentum headed into the final month, the race now is static and essentially tied.”

“It comes down to who can grind it out on the ground on Monday night,” said Axelrod, a senior political commentator for CNN and an architect of Barack Obama’s successful 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns.

The results are within the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

“Turnout is everything,” Axelrod said. ”If turnout is within a normal range, Hillary likely wins. If it goes higher, approaching 200,000, it will be a good night for Bernie.”

Clinton leads Sanders among Democrats who say they will definitely hit caucus sites, while Sanders leads among Democrats who say they will probably caucus.

Clinton, a former first lady and former secretary of state, wins a majority among caucusgoers who are 65 and older, Catholics and moderates. Sanders, a U.S. senator representing Vermont, wins a majority of those under 35, first-time caucusgoers and political independents.

“Clinton’s voters are more certain and much more likely to have caucused before,” Axelrod said. ”Bernie’s organizational task, counting so heavily on first-time caucusgoers — many of them young — is greater.”

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley snags 3 percent of likely caucusgoers’ support. He had 4 percent support in early January.

Clinton is helped by supporters who think the system works reasonably well for people working hard to get ahead, the poll shows.

Sanders benefits from supporters who believe the system is rigged against all but the very rich and powerful.

Overall, about two-thirds of Democrats believe the system works against them.

“That theme is probably why this race is so close,” said Ann Selzer, who conducts the Iowa Poll.

Nine percent of caucusgoers are undecided or not committed to a candidate, compared with 14 percent earlier this month. They are part of a larger group of 30 percent who are up for grabs, both those without a first choice and those with a first choice who could still be persuaded to move to another candidate.

Selzer said the data suggest Clinton’s support is more solid than Sanders’.

The poll shows 83 percent of Clinton’s caucus supporters have made up their minds going into Monday’s vote, up from 69 percent earlier this month.

“That’s huge,” Selzer said. ”That’s a number any candidate would like to see.”

Sixty-nine percent of Sanders’ supporters are firmly behind him coming into the caucuses, about the same as earlier this month.

The poll shows a gender and generational split among Clinton and Sanders supporters.

Clinton enjoys heavy support from older caucusgoers, especially women over 45. Sanders has support from 63 percent of those under 35 and holds the edge with men.

“The age break is stark,” Axelrod said. “The man who would be the oldest president by far entering office has a solid base among the young.”


Selzer said Clinton’s and Sanders’ caucusgoers will likely lobby hard Monday night for O’Malley backers if they fail to reach the viability threshold under Iowa Democratic Party caucus rules. It’s too close to say how the shift could break down.

Jamie Lynch, 38, of Urbandale who backs O’Malley for his moderate views, believes he might be able to attract voters.

“It will be an uphill battle, but I’ll try to sway some votes,” he said.

What we’re seeing in the poll on the Democratic side is basically consistent with what we’ve seen in the Hawkeye State for Democrats since the start of the year. While Clinton had seemingly opened up a lead in the state late in 2015, that lead began to slowly shrink in December and became essentially meaningless in over the past month to the point that the idea of Bernie Sanders winning the first two contests of the 2016 race has now become a real possibility. As with the Republican race, the outcome among Democrats will depend significantly on turnout and whether the many would be first time caucus goers that make up a large segment of Bernie Sanders supporters actually end up coming to the polls. Because of the way the Democratic caucus process works, it could also depend heavily on what those people who support former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley or arrive at the caucuses undecided end up doing when it comes time for the second round of voting in which they will be given the opportunity to change their vote to either of the two leading candidates. (The Republican process is a straight one-time secret ballot.) While these groups are a small percentage of the total caucus participants, they could end up being decisive to the outcome of the caucus in the end. In any case, much like 2008 Clinton is faced with a situation with an upstart candidate has a chance to pull off a surprise victory by dramatically increasing turnout at the Democratic caucuses. The difference is that, this time, she’s facing a septuagenarian socialist from Vermont rather than a young African-American Senator who seemed to have a date with destiny. Whether that will be enough to prevent history from repeating itself will have to wait until Monday night for an answer.

Factoring in the DMR poll, the poll averages show just how close this race actually is in Iowa. According to RealClearPolitics, Clinton (47.3%) has a mere 3.3 point lead over Sanders (44%) and the results are largely the same in the Pollster average. This suggests that, whatever the final outcome is in Iowa, it will likely be a close victory for one candidate and a narrow loss for the other, however that only tells half the story. If Clinton walks away from Iowa with even the narrowest of victories then it will go a long way toward putting to rest many of the doubts about her inevitability that have developed over the past several weeks as hr numbers have weakened in Iowa and New Hampshire. it would also lessen the potential damage that would ensue from a possible loss in New Hampshire, where Sanders has been leading in the polls since more or less August. While Clinton would no doubt like to follow up an Iowa victory with a surprise win in New Hampshire, the victory in the Hawkeye State would make it easier for her campaign to dismiss the outcome in New Hampshire as being largely due to it being a neighboring state to Sanders’ native Vermont and the fact that he has been well-known in both states for the better part of three decades. This would allow her to head into Nevada and South Carolina, where she presently leads in the polls, with some measure of confidence that she could pull off wins that would make a Sanders win in New Hampshire seem insignificant. Were she to lose both Iowa and New Hampshire, though, Nevada and South Carolina would instead become must-win states and many of the old questions about her ability to close the deal with voters would be revived.

In any case, this is where the “gold standard” poll in Iowa sees things as of tonight. We’re likely to see one or two more polls before Monday night on both the Republican and Democratic sides that may provide some further insight on last minute trends but, for the most part, we’re at the point now where we’ll just need to wait to see what the people of Iowa have to say.

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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. Ron Beasley says:

    We can expect some surprises. In this age of cell phones and caller ID polls are becoming almost meaningless.

  2. bill says:

    how dare bernie make her work for the nomination……..she was just supposed to ascend to the throne as it’s “hers”.

  3. PJ says:


    how dare bernie make her work for the nomination……..she was just supposed to ascend to the throne as it’s “hers”.

    Are you listening to the voices in your head again?

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    Have you ever actually participated in or seen the Iowa Caucuses, Doug? They don’t work the way you’re suggesting. By and large the best organized faction tends to prevail. Among Democrats that tends to be the candidate favored by unions and among Republicans it’s the candidate best-favored by evangelicals.

    My WAG about the outcome is Clinton and Cruz. It could be Trump on the Republican side but Cruz is still a possibility.

  5. grumpy realist says:

    @Dave Schuler: Heh. I wish a Cruz victory would happen, just to see how Trump would handle it.

    He’ll proclaim it a victory for himself, just as he always does. It’s always those mean other people, or “I’m not involved”, or Someone Else was working against him. He never takes responsibility for any of his failures.

    I don’t think I want a president like that.

  6. grumpy realist says:

    Here’s a comment I made over at TAC:

    There’s a good article over at Politico talking about Trump’s “Art of the Fail”

    I’m wondering if at least some of his attraction is due to this. Trump has never taken responsibility for any of his failures. It’s always “I wasn’t that involved”, or “it was actually a huge success”, or “someone else caused the problem.” He’s presenting himself as a “successful Christian” in spite of the two divorces, the adultery, the four bankruptcies. Just decide that no matter what happens to you, it’s never your fault and never your responsibility. And you may in fact convince other people of this.

    Given how so many people in the US are being slammed for their non-successes in life (if you’re poor, it’s because you haven’t worked hard enough, or didn’t go to college, or had sex before marriage, or you’re WCW), Trump’s outright egoism must be outright refreshing and representing a beacon of hope to these people. They WANT to be successful like Trump, and he’s now telling them that the self-control and take-responsibility morality they’ve had drummed into their ears since Day One is exactly the wrong thing to do. Look what Donald has done! It’s not their fault that they haven’t succeeded!

    (The fact is, a society composed of Donald Trumps would rapidly disintegrate. See Golding’s The Lord of the Flies. But Donald doesn’t care. As long as he can be Pied Piper, it’s all gravy to him.)

  7. CSK says:

    @grumpy realist:

    The Trumpkins have totally bought into Trump’s version of his failures. No one’s as successful as he is. No one makes deals as well as he does. And anyone who questions Trump’s acumen is a “smear merchant” trying to sully his reputation with “lies.”

  8. grumpy realist says:

    Trump’s already laying the groundwork if he doesn’t come first.

    Excuses excuses excuses. There’s a reason why Trump ended up as a reality show host rather than stick with the building stuff. The more you lie to yourself about your awesomeness, the less you learn from your experiences. Which means you just end up failing, over and over again. The only place you can end up is somewhere where the Selling of the Deal is the only thing you’re measured on. Not on whether your products actually work, or whether there’s a market for them. Only the Sale is important. And provided you have sufficient gullible idiots around to act as marks.

  9. Tyrell says:

    My grades of the candidates:
    Proposals/ideas : Hillary 4* Sanders 8
    Likeability: Hillary 2 Sanders 10
    Experience: Hillary 9 Sanders 7
    Organization: Hillary 10 Sanders 8
    Trust: Hillary 1 Sanders 10
    Toughness: Hillary 10 Sanders 3
    Past baggage: Hillary 2 Sanders. 10
    Pragmatic: Hillary 9 Sanders 7

    * Nominate Obama for Supreme Court ? She’s been out in the sun too long.

  10. Scott says:

    Off topic but has anybody noticed the Obama’s approval ratings have been rising steadily all through January and are the highest in a year? Does this tell us anything about the Presidential race once the primaries are over?

  11. Neil Hudelson says:


    Past baggage: Hillary 2 Sanders. 10


  12. Tyrell says:

    @Neil Hudelson: Thanks for your attention and reply. My weird scoring system means that 10 is great, 5 average, and 2 is not good. So in the past baggage category, it seems that Hillary is pulling a lot, and Sanders none ( to my knowledge, I haven’t read or heard about any scandals or suspicious activities associated with Sanders ).
    These scores are based solely on my opinions, which are based on the various news outlets that I look at, reading materials, discussions at the local coffee group, and radio. That being said, I will take no responsibility for any harmful results or damage resulting from these scores.

  13. Grumpy Realist says:

    @Tyrell: thanks for the explanation.