Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders lead the pack among likely Iowa caucusgoers, according to a new Iowa Poll in March 2019. Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke, Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker also chart.
Adam Wilson, Wochit
©Copyright 2019, Des Moines Register and Tribune Co.
Joe Biden has yet to enter the 2020 presidential race — he’s been weighing the decision in a closely watched will-he-or-won’t-he saga — but the former vice president still leads the pack in Iowa.
According to a new Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa Poll of likely Democratic caucusgoers, 27 percent say Biden is their first choice for president. That’s down slightly from the 32 percent who said the same in December, but it tops the 19 other declared and potential candidates tested.
Biden has a 2-percentage-point advantage over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Though that’s within the poll’s 4.9 percentage point margin of error, other numbers bode well for the former vice president and suggest a stronger advantage over Sanders. The poll of 401 likely Democratic caucusgoers was conducted March 3 through 6.
“If I’m Joe Biden sitting on the fence and I see this poll, this might make me want to jump in,” said J. Ann Selzer, president of the Des Moines-based Selzer & Co., which conducted the poll. “I just can’t find much in this poll that would be a red flag for Joe Biden.”
Seventy percent of respondents say they believe Biden’s political views are neither too liberal nor too conservative, but instead, are “about right” — the highest percentage of any candidate tested.
And 64 percent — including a majority in every demographic group — say they think Biden’s experience is an asset and he should enter the race. About a third of respondents say his time has passed and he should not run.
“He’s got a lot of years of political experience — being a senator for over 35 years, being the vice president,” said Travis Underwood, a 30-year-old Ottumwa resident and poll respondent who said Biden is his first choice for president. “And he’s very charismatic. It seems like today we’re in an era where it’s all partisan politics. There are not too many out there who are middle-of-the-road. Biden is moderate, and that means he actually talks about issues.”
Biden has spent months mulling whether to make a third run at the White House after failed bids in 1988 and 2008 — setting deadlines for himself and then blowing past them. But a decision now appears imminent. According to a report from The New York Times, one Biden strategist has been telling Democrats that Biden is 95 percent committed to running.
Sanders formally announced his candidacy last month and visited Iowa for the first time as a declared 2020 candidate this month. According to the poll, 25 percent now say Sanders is their first choice for president — up 6 percentage points since December.
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Right now, the contest in Iowa could be characterized as a two-person race. The next-closest challenger, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, trails Sanders by 16 percentage points.
Support has ticked up slightly for Warren and California Sen. Kamala Harris is in fourth place. Warren is now at 9 percent, up from 8 percent, and Harris is at 7 percent, up from 5 percent.
Next is former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke, who has seen his support fall by about half since December as he continues weighing a possible run. Five percent of likely Democratic caucusgoers now say he is their first choice for president — down from 11 percent in December.
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar tie with 3 percent. No other candidate gets more than 1 percent, and some — including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and California Congressman Eric Swalwell — were not named as a first choice by a single poll respondent.
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Some Sanders weaknesses and Biden strengths
The Biden-Sanders rivalry embodies a key debate happening within the Democratic Party: Should Democrats nominate a bold progressive who pushes the debate further left, or should they elevate a more moderate centrist who could potentially appeal to independents and disaffected Republicans?
Sanders, an independent senator who identifies as a Democratic socialist, is the furthest left of all the potential candidates. Forty-four percent of likely Democratic caucusgoers say he’s “too liberal” — more than for any other candidate tested. Forty-eight percent say his political views are “just right,” 2 percent say he’s “too conservative” and 7 percent are unsure.
According to the poll, he appeals most to those who do not identify with any particular religion (37 percent) and those younger than age 35 (34 percent).
But, generally, likely Democratic caucusgoers say they are OK with candidates who think the country should be more socialist.
Fifteen percent would be “very satisfied” with such a candidate and 41 percent would be “mostly satisfied.” Thirty-three percent would be dissatisfied, and 11 percent are not sure.
That’s roughly comparable to a 2016 Iowa Poll in which 43 percent of likely Democratic caucusgoers said they identify as “socialist.” That was more than the 38 percent who identified as “capitalist.”
And though Sanders’ overall support has ticked up, his favorability ratings fell slightly since December. Seventy-one percent view him favorably now — down 3 points since December, and 25 percent view him unfavorably — up 3 points since December.
Biden, who is expected to campaign as a left-of-center candidate and lean on his decades in politics, does well with self-described moderates (35 percent). A Catholic, he also does well with the poll’s small constituency of Catholics (44 percent).
Even though Biden and Sanders represent opposite ends of the Democratic ideological spectrum, much of their support overlaps.
If Biden decided not to run, 30 percent of those who name him as their first-choice candidate would switch their allegiance to Sanders, whom they named as their second choice. Among those who say Sanders is their first choice, 40 percent say Biden is their second choice.
Second choices are important in the Iowa Democrats’ caucus night process. If a caucusgoer’s first choice fails to advance, the attendee has an opportunity to recast support for a different candidate.
“The only reason (Biden) is my first choice is because I couldn’t pick two,” said poll respondent Madison Jones, an 18-year-old Waukee resident who likes both Biden and Sanders. “Honestly, they’re both really great candidates. I’m drawn to them because, even though they’re older, they have a better grasp of what the future is going to look like, and they’re obviously collaborative and open to change.”
But both Biden, 76, and Sanders, 77, face criticism that their time has passed, with some arguing they should step aside to make room for a new generation of leaders.
A majority — 54 percent — agree that Sanders’ 2016 candidacy “has pushed the party in a good direction, and he should be in the race again.” But 43 percent say the time for Sanders as a candidate has passed and he should not be in the race.
More are open to a Biden run. Nearly two-thirds say he should get in the race, and 31 percent say his time has passed.
“As an old white man who’s been active on the fringes of politics, I think it’s time to give a shot to younger people, because they’re going to be inheriting the Earth that we’re kind of messing with right now,” said poll respondent Gordon Dunn, a 70-year-old Altoona resident who thinks the time for both Sanders and Biden has passed. “Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden have been very diligent in their efforts to pay attention to important things. I applaud their efforts. But you know, at a certain point in time, the best thing for some of us older people to do is help the younger people get going.”
Dunn said he’s interested to hear more from other candidates, particularly some of the women in the race, such as Warren, Klobuchar and Harris.
Movement among the other candidates
Harris is among those who have seen their favorability ratings rise since declaring a presidential run and visiting Iowa as a candidate.
In December, 49 percent viewed her favorably. That’s now up to 58 percent – the biggest boost in favorability ratings of any candidate. Those who view her unfavorably is virtually unchanged. In December, 41 percent were unsure how they felt about her — a number that has fallen to 33 percent.
Klobuchar has seen an increase in both her favorable and unfavorable numbers.
In December, 38 percent viewed her favorably, and that’s risen to 43 percent today. But the percentage of those who view her unfavorably has also risen, from 8 percent to 15 percent, the biggest climb in unfavorable numbers for any candidate. She’s been the subject of recent news reports that she’s verbally abusive toward her staff members.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who announced his run last week, also gets a boost. The percentage of those who view him favorably rose by 6 points to 17 percent, though he’s largely unknown. Seventy-five percent do not know enough about him to say whether they like him or not.
Julian Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio and the secretary of Housing and Urban Development under Barack Obama, has also seen his favorability ratings climb 6 points, from 27 percent to 33 percent. However, he’s also relatively unknown: 58 percent say they don’t know enough about him to form an opinion.
Gillibrand, the senator from New York, has formed an exploratory committee and has visited Iowa twice this year. But the percentage of people who view her favorably has held steady at 35 percent while those who view her unfavorably has climbed by 6 percentage points.
Health care, climate change top of mind for Iowa Democratic caucusgoers
The poll also asked Iowans what they want candidates to discuss during the campaign and tested their support for various issues. Health care and climate change top the list of what they want to hear about. Just 22 percent think candidates should talk “a lot” about impeachment.
Eighty-one percent say they hope candidates will spend “a lot” of time talking about health care, and 84 percent say they prefer a candidate who supports shifting to a government-run health care system of Medicare-for-all, either all at once or incrementally. Forty-nine percent of respondents say they prefer a candidate who supports Medicare-for-all “in full,” and 35 percent who endorses it “in steps.”
Sherry Murphy, a Sioux City resident in her late 50s and poll respondent, said she supports moving toward a government-run health care system incrementally. She said it’s especially important for “people that are in the middle that are not poor enough to get free government care, like my daughter and her husband.”
“They’ve got two kids, and they make pretty good money,” Murphy said. “But still, they’re struggling to pay for health care. The middle class is just about gone. It’s ridiculous.”
Eighty percent of poll respondents say candidates should spend “a lot” of time talking about climate change. Ninety-one percent say they prefer a candidate who supports the “Green New Deal,” which couples government programs to address climate change with support for jobs in the clean energy sector to help address poverty. That includes 65 percent who favor a candidate who supports the “Green New Deal” in full and 26 percent who favor approaching it in steps.
“I didn’t expect to see the kind of reports that we’ve had in the last few months about how serious and imminent the danger is,” said Dunn, the Altoona resident. “I’ve known about it for a long time and thought… we had more time to work on it. That doesn’t appear to be the case anymore. I think we need action pretty quick and on a national level.”
Dunn, who used to work on energy efficiency policy for the Iowa Utilities Board before he retired, said he thinks the Green New Deal itself has become “toxic,” but wants to see candidates talking about the issue and making bold suggestions.
Eighty-nine percent of respondents support new taxes that target people with more than $50 million in assets, something Warren specifically has proposed. Other candidates have said the wealthy should pay more in taxes. Sixty-seven percent favor a candidate who supports the plan in full, and 22 percent prefer moving in steps.
About this poll
The Iowa Poll, conducted March 3-6, 2019, for The Des Moines Register, CNN and Mediacom by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines, is based on telephone interviews with 401 registered voters in Iowa who say they will definitely or probably attend the 2020 Democratic caucuses and 400 registered Republicans.
Interviewers with Quantel Research contacted 1,618 randomly selected active voters from the Iowa secretary of state’s voter registration list by telephone. The sample was supplemented with additional phone number lookups. Interviews were administered in English. Responses for all contacts were adjusted by age and sex to reflect their proportions among active voters in the list. For the registered Republican sample, responses for the 418 registered Republican contacts were adjusted by age and sex to reflect their proportions among active registered Republicans in the voter registration list.
Questions based on the sample of 401 voters likely to attend the 2020 Iowa Democratic caucuses have a maximum margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points, as does the sample of 400 registered Republicans. This means that if this survey were repeated using the same questions and the same methodology, 19 times out of 20, the findings would not vary from the true population value by more than plus or minus 4.9 percentage points. Results based on smaller samples of respondents — such as by gender or age — have a larger margin of error.
Republishing the copyright Iowa Poll without credit to The Des Moines Register, CNN, and Mediacom is prohibited.
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