First things first: The theme song of the week is the closing credits to The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.
Poll of the week: A new New York Times/Siena College poll of likely Iowa Democratic caucus-goers finds a close race in the first in the nation contest, with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 22%, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders 19%, South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 18% and former Vice President at 17%.
The average of polls show Warren at 22%, Biden at 18%, Buttigieg at 16% and Sanders at 16%.
What’s the point: Mess is the only word I’d use to describe the current state of affairs in Iowa. There is no clear front-runner, and the closer we get to the caucuses, the hazier the crystal ball seems to be getting. With three months to go until Iowa, any of the top four candidates have a real shot of winning because the race has only become tighter.
Look at how the average of polls has changed over the last few months. Back in July and August, Warren was polling at the same 22% she is now. Biden has fallen back from 23% to 18%. Buttigieg and Sanders have climbed from the low-to-mid teens to the mid-to-high teens.
The New York Times’ poll gives us more reason to believe that things may shift further. About two-thirds of likely caucus-goers (65%) say they could be persuaded to caucus for another candidate. This includes 74% of current Warren supporters.
When you examine history, you can tell Iowans aren’t kidding when they say they could change their mind this year. The polling leader in early November before the Iowa caucuses has lost more often than won since 2000. The three times the leader did win occurred when said leader was polling around 50% at this point. In every other caucus, the leader was polling in the mid-to-high 20s. In each of those five instances, the leader lost Iowa and eventually his or her party’s nomination for president.
Some of those leaders didn’t even come close to winning, like Dick Gephardt in 2004 for the Democrats, Herman Cain in 2012 for the Republicans or Ben Carson in 2016 for the Republicans.
Moreover, Warren is actually polling lower than any recent polling leader at this point. That suggests this race is even more wide open than usual.
What you also need to recognize is that polling the Iowa caucuses is not an easy exercise. It’s not just that Iowa caucus polls aren’t that predictive this far out. They’re far from precise even much closer to the caucuses.
If this were the polling on the eve of the caucuses, this is a race that I would describe as too close to call.
Since 2000, the average poll in the final three weeks of Iowa caucus campaign has been different than the eventual margin between the two top candidates by about 8 points. That’s less than the 5 points separating Warren and Biden in the New York Times poll right now.
Importantly, Iowa polling looks a lot like New Hampshire polling right in terms of potential volatility. The leader in a CNN/University of New Hampshire poll this week had Sanders and Warren out ahead with only 21% and 18% respectively. Just as in Iowa, this is the lowest for a New Hampshire front-runner at this point in the primary cycle since at least 2000.
Put Iowa and New Hampshire polling together, and it becomes clear that we just don’t have a very good idea who is going to be the Democratic nominee right now.
That makes for an exciting final three months until primary season kicks off.