In the final poll before the Iowa caucuses Monday, Donald Trump holds a slight 5 point lead over Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are neck-and-neck within the margin of error. The Des Moines Register and Bloomberg Politics pool took place January 26-29, three days before Trump skipped the GOP Iowa debate to one day after.
This particular poll, which has a history of accuracy as it predicted Rick Santorum’s late surge in 2012, shows Donald Trump as the frontrunner, but still a close race with two days to go. Trump will need the help of first-time caucus-goers to boost his chances of beating Cruz and in this poll, 40 percent say their caucusing for their first time.
Trump does have weaknesses, though, in the eyes of Iowa voters who don’t like his position on eminent domain and past statements in favor of abortion rights. Cruz’s campaign has been running an ad in Iowa showing Trump in 1999 telling a reporter: “I am very pro-choice.”
“We all believe Cruz has a very very sophisticated ground game. I think there’s a feeling that Trump people are encamped, but have not been to a caucus,” said Richard Schwarm, former head of the Iowa Republican Party.
When voters were asked who was most likely win a general election, Trump leads Cruz 35 percent to 24 percent, and in the category of which candidate would be feared the most by enemies to the U.S., Trump is ahead of Cruz by nearly 30 points.
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad said earlier this month that he wanted Cruz defeated because of his position on ethanol, but those comments don’t seem to have had a major impact on the race, with 77 percent of likely Republican caucus-goers in this poll saying it didn’t sway their thoughts on Cruz.
Marco Rubio is also up in this poll, sitting in third place and has a 5 point lead over Ben Carson, 8 points behind Cruz.
“Maybe the folks who were deciding among the Rubio-Christie-Bush thing think Rubio has the best chance,” Schwarm said, referring to GOP establishment voters in Iowa. “Rubio is hot and this is the time to be hot. He had a good debate again.”
For the Democrats, Clinton held a 2 point lead over Sanders in the last Des Moines Register poll taken on January 14 and is at a 3 point lead in this poll, so there was no meaningful change.
Democratic strategist Jeff Link said that a key figure in the poll was that 34 percent of the people questioned identified themselves as first-time caucus-goers.
“Back in 2008 it was something like 60 percent. I think it needs to be a lot closer to 60 percent for Sanders to really get over the top,” Link said.
“The one thing that’s not knowable is what is the ultimate turnout,” he said. “We can make guesses based on those numbers, but if it gets over 200,000 I think sanders can win.”
Link said Iowa isn’t a must-win for Sanders, because if he does well in the state — which it looks like he will — he can raise support online and is currently the frontrunner in New Hampshire.