Latest Iowa poll shows Warren ahead, but Iowans say they aren’t paying attention to poll numbers

The latest Iowa poll was released two hours after the Polk County Steak Fry on Saturday, which featured 17 Democratic presidential hopefuls. But, caucusgoers The Daily Iowan interviewed say they aren’t paying attention to poll numbers.


Katie Goodale

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass, addresses the crowd during the Polk County Steak Fry in Des Moines on Saturday Sept. 21, 2019. 17 democratic candidates gave speeches and grilled steaks.

Julia Shanahan, Assistant Politics Editor

Barbara Stannard and Dennis Doderer are neighbors and have lived in Iowa City for nearly 40 years. They attended the Polk County Steak Fry together on Saturday, wearing stickers and holding signs in support of U.S. Senator from Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren.

The Steak Fry event featured speeches from 17 Democratic presidential hopefuls and ended just two hours before the Des Moines Register released its latest Iowa poll, which showed Warren with a two-point lead over former Vice President Joe Biden for the first time. 

“You know, she’s kind of boiled it down to ‘I’ve got a plan’,” said Doderer.

While the two are not completely committed to Warren as their candidate, they said they strongly support her policies and can picture her winning the presidency. They said they would not be surprised if she clinched a lead in the polls. But, they said, poll numbers will not have a significant effect on how they will decide to caucus.

“I don’t think she makes claims that she cannot live up to,” said Stannard. “It’s the way she speaks — ‘this is what I want to do, and I need your help,’ and that’s about the truth. Because nobody can do anything totally by himself.”

Iowans the The Daily Iowan interviewed at the Steak Fry said they don’t completely trust poll numbers, many pointing to the polling that took place in 2016 that typically showed Hillary Clinton polling ahead of Donald Trump.

In the Register’s poll, 22 percent of likely caucusgoers said they would support Warren as their first-choice candidate. Biden, who led the last three polls from the Register, followed with 20 percent and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders polled in third with 11 percent of Iowans saying he would be their first-choice candidate.

Katie Goodale
Laura Votruba from Columbia, Missouri cheers for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass, during the Polk County Steak Fry in Des Moines on Saturday Sept. 21, 2019. 17 democratic candidates gave speeches and grilled steaks.

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg polled in fourth as a first-choice among 9 percent of respondents, and California Senator Kamala Harris trailed in fifth place with 6 percent. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker both polled at 3 percent.

The poll was conducted by Selzer & Co., a Des Moines-based polling firm. They polled 602 likely Democratic caucusgoers from Sept. 14-18, and the margin of error is plus or minus four percentage points.

Warren’s rise in Iowa has been steadily increasing since 2018 based off of various polls from the Register. In their first poll in December of 2018, Warren was polling at 8 percent, and in June she was favored among 15 percent of respondents. 

These polling results do not reflect the national averages calculated by RealClearPolitics. Biden is polling at a national average of 30.2 percent, Warren at 19.8 percent, Sanders at 16.6 percent, and Buttigieg at 6.2 percent.  

Rosie Thierer, a member of the Polk County Democrats central committee, said national polling doesn’t offer much insight into what the caucus will look like in February because, she said, respondents in national polls aren’t invested in their choices and are more likely to choose candidates whose names they recognize.

What’s more important for caucus success is Iowa organizing and outreach, Thierer said, and popular opinion in Iowa could change in the months leading up to the caucus.

“I’m not really believing in the polls,” she said, referring to both state and national polls. “Because there’s a lot of work to do between now and the actual time that we vote, and there’s a lot of ground game being put together.”

Some campaigns have expanded their Iowa staff in the last month. The Buttigieg campaign opened 20 new Iowa field offices in the weeks leading up to the Steak Fry and hired 36 additional organizers. The Harris campaign announced Sept. 19 that they will be doubling their resources in Iowa, adding 60 new organizers and opening 10 field offices.

These organizing efforts were visible at the Steak Fry, with some campaigns trying to show strength by setting up as many signs as they possibly could (18,000 by one count) and encouraging supporters to dress in unison. The Sanders’ campaign chose a different route and set up a wooden door with a sign that read ‘out knocking doors.’ The Warren campaign did something similar, and said in a statement they were using the Steak Fry as an opportunity to have personal conversations with Iowans.

The low polling numbers of some candidates, like former secretary of housing and urban development Julián Castro, former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, and U.S. Senator from New Jersey Cory Booker, did not stop supporters from organizing.

Katie Goodale
Former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro walks on-stage with a parade of supporters Julian Castro during the Polk County Steak Fry in Des Moines on Saturday Sept. 21, 2019. 17 democratic candidates gave speeches and grilled steaks.

Steve Villatoro, a Des Moines resident and Castro supporter, said he is not paying attention to any poll numbers and is not discouraged by his candidate’s low polling. Castro polled as a favorite among 1 percent of Iowans in the Register’s poll and is polling at a national average of 0.8 percent.

Villatoro, a Texas native and son of Guatemalan immigrants, said he notices other Latinos in his community not wanting to participate in polling. He said he doesn’t think poll numbers right now in Iowa are representative of the larger population’s opinion.

“I don’t believe the polls right now,” he said.

At the Steak Fry on Saturday, Buttigieg supporter Drew Deubner said physical events can be a better gauge of support than polls. 

“People have a hard time with quantifying the number of people that are really behind a candidate until you see it in real life,” he said.

The Register poll also showed that the field of Democratic candidates have not been completely narrowed down for voters. One in five respondents said their minds are completely made up, and 63 percent said they could still be persuaded to caucus for a different Democrat. 

“Poll numbers mean one thing as a quantitative statistic, but then you have a bunch of people rallying behind the person…and you can’t really get that unless you’re at an in-person event like this,” said Deubner.

Politics reporter Caleb McCullough contributed to this report.


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