CNN's latest Iowa poll: Live analysis

Analysis by Harry Enten, CNN

Updated 11:36 a.m. ET, September 22, 2019
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11:30 a.m. ET, September 22, 2019

TL;DR: Warren surges to join Biden in top tier in Iowa

Our new CNN/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll of likely Iowa Democratic caucusgoers shows that Sen. Elizabeth Warren has climbed to 22%. She was at 15% in June.

Former Vice President Joe Biden's at 20%, slightly down from 23% in June.

All other Democratic candidates are well in the back of the pack. These include Sen. Bernie Sanders at 11%, Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 9% and Sen. Kamala Harris at 6%. 

Everyone else is below 5%.

Here are a few other takeaways from the poll:

  • Warren's jump occurred in-part because she's doing well with both people who caucused for Hillary Clinton in 2016 (22%) and those who caucused for Sanders (32%).
  • Warren gets 24% of the vote from the 28% of caucusgoers who are comfortable with “Medicare for All” but think it could cost Democrats the election. Can she keep it up?
  • Among those who say they are certain of their vote, it's Biden 26%, Sanders 19% and Warren 14%. This suggests Warren's support is less secure than others.
  • Buttigieg has a 33% very favorable rating, which is second highest in the field to Warren's 44%. This could indicate that he has a lot of room to grow.
  • A look back at past Iowa caucuses' polling at this point suggests that no candidate has greater than a 30% chance of winning given their current polling.

11:16 a.m. ET, September 22, 2019

There remains no clear favorite to win Iowa

One of the things I have tried to stress during the course of this campaign is that no candidate has anywhere close to a greater than 50% chance of winning either the Iowa caucuses or the Democratic primary overall. That remains true today.

What I've done is gathered Iowa caucuses' polls taken closest to this point in non-incumbent nomination processes since 1980. I then ran a simple model that controlled how high the best polling candidate was and figured out how often a candidate should win given where they were polling at this point. Keep in mind, these are rough odds.

What we see is that if history holds, someone in Warren's polling position should win about 30% of the time. That means, there's something like a 70% chance someone other than Warren wins the Iowa caucuses.

Someone in Biden's polling position should win about 25% of the time.

Someone at around 10%, like Buttigieg and Sanders, have about a 10% chance of winning.

Everyone else has less than a 10% chance of winning. Even Harris, who is at 6% in our poll, has something like a 7% chance of winning.

If you add up the top 5, their cumulative chance of winning is only between 80% and 85%. That means, there's still a 15% to 20% chance that someone not in the top 5 wins Iowa.

In other words, this race isn't over by any stretch.

11:00 a.m. ET, September 22, 2019

Warren voters are far more persuadable than Biden's

Our latest Iowa poll has a lot of good news for Warren. She's rising; Biden is mostly static; and Sanders is fading.

Warren's support grows among voters who are extremely or very enthusiastic, and she has a significantly higher very favorable rating than Biden or Sanders.

All that may, however, hide a weakness. We asked likely caucusgoers whether their mind was made up or whether they could be persuaded to change their support another candidate. The minority, 20%, said their mind was made up. The majority, 63%, said they could be persuaded to change their allegiance.

Warren doesn't do anywhere near as well among those who said their mind is made up.

Among those who said their mind was made up, the horserace breakdown was Biden 26%, Sanders 19% and Warren 14%.

Among those who said they could be persuaded to vote for a different candidate, it was Warren 31%, Biden 22% and Sanders 12%.

These numbers shouldn't be too surprising. Even as Biden has dipped since entering the race, he's consistently been in the top tier. His voters seem to be more with him than others. Sanders, meanwhile, has seen his backing drop to mostly his core supporters.

Warren has a lot of new supporters aboard her campaign train, so it makes sense that they are more persuadable. The question is whether Warren can lock them down over the next few months.

10:45 a.m. ET, September 22, 2019

Why I'd keep an eye on Buttigieg in Iowa

One of the things I love about our Iowa poll is that it doesn't just ask whether caucusgoers have a favorable or unfavorable view of the different candidates. It gets broken down by very favorable and somewhat favorable ratings.

That's important because many voters will like many candidates. Primary voting is more about loving than liking a candidate.

In our poll, Warren has a 44% very favorable rating and a 31% somewhat favorable rating. She gets the vote of 44% among those who hold a very favorable view of her. That drops all the way down to 8% among those who hold a somewhat favorable view of her.

The same pattern holds for Biden. His very favorable rating is 29% compared to 38% somewhat favorable rating. Biden earns 52% of the vote among those who have a very favorable rating and only 14% who have a somewhat favorable rating of him.

Interestingly this suggests potentially good news for Buttigieg. His very favorable rating of 33% is second best in the field, yet he's coming at just 9% in the horserace. That's because he is earning "just" 25% of the vote among those with a very favorable view of him.

If Buttigieg can start to convert those with a very favorable rating of him to voters like either Biden or Warren, then he's going to be a real player in Iowa down the stretch.

10:31 a.m. ET, September 22, 2019

Caucusgoers tilt toward key Warren demographics

One of the reasons Elizabeth Warren is doing better in Iowa is simply the demographics of likely caucusgoers. Nationally, Warren's support is considerably strong among white Democrats and those who have a college degree.

Both of those groups make up a considerably larger portion of the Iowa electorate than they do the national Democratic primary electorate.

White Democrats make up a little less than 60% of the potential Democratic electorate in our last few national polls. In Iowa, they typically make more up than 80% of actual caucusgoers.

Among whites in our Iowa poll, it's Warren 23% to Biden's 20%. Among the other likely caucusgoers, it's Biden 22% to Warren's 17%.

Likewise, our poll finds that a majority of likely caucusgoers have at least a college degree. Nationally, that's flipped. It's closer to 60% of potential primary voters saying they don't have a degree, while 40% say they have one.

In Iowa, it's Warren's 24% to Biden's 18% among those with at least a college degree. Among those lacking one, it's Biden 24% to Warren's 16%.

10:16 a.m. ET, September 22, 2019

How the race changes if candidates dropped out

Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden come in with 22% and 20% respectively in our Iowa poll. But what would happen if some of their main competitors decided to drop out or began bleeding support? It seems that Warren would stand a better chance of benefitting than Biden would.

Here's how the topline would breakdown if candidates' supporters were reallocated to their second choice in our poll.

If Bernie Sanders backers were reallocated:

  • Warren 28%
  • Biden 22%

(Unlike some national polling, Warren clearly benefits from Sanders out of the way in this poll.)

If Pete Buttigieg backers were reallocated:

  • Warren 26%
  • Biden 22%

If Kamala Harris backers were reallocated:

  • Warren 24%
  • Biden 22%

There are two ways to look at these numbers.

First, Warren's margin either stays the same or grows a little larger. That's a very good sign in caucuses where there is a 15% threshold for delegates and where plenty of movement could occur with months to go until people caucus.

Second, the race is actually fairly similar even if one candidate does something that causes their backers to abandon them. That's partially because none of the candidates besides Warren or Biden are actually pulling in a substantial amount of support. If this race is going to move a lot, it would be because of movement across numerous candidates' supporters, not just one.

10:00 a.m. ET, September 22, 2019

A key bloc in Iowa poll: Like 'Medicare for All', but fear its general election appeal

Right now, there's an intense health care debate among Democratic presidential candidates about whether to go with 'Medicare for All' or a government run health care option.

Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have been skewered by fellow Democrats for supporting Medicare for All, and national polls suggest the public option is more appealing.

But perhaps a better question is whether backing Medicare for All is actually an electoral anchor.

Our poll asked caucusgoers whether they were comfortable with Medicare for All and want it to be policy, comfortable with Medicare for All but believe it could cost Democrats the election, or whether they were uncomfortable with it and thought it was bad policy.

Caucusgoers broke down:

  • 41% comfortable and should be policy
  • 28% comfortable but could cost Democrats in the general election
  • 24% uncomfortable with and bad policy.

The nearly 70% combined total are comfortable with Medicare for All looks like the national polling when Democrats were asked whether it is a good idea.

Not surprisingly, Warren does her best, 31%, among caucusgoers who say Medicare for All should be policy. She drops to 9% among those who are uncomfortable with it.

Biden, on the other hand, does his best with those who are uncomfortable with Medicare for All, at 30%. He does his worst, 14%, among those who think it should become policy. (Sanders gets 22% among this group.)

But the key group here is the middle one: those who are comfortable with Medicare for All, but believe it could cost Democrats the general election.

Warren right now comes in with 24% among this subset of caucusgoers. Biden is at 20%. That 4 point margin matches nearly perfectly with the overall margin in the poll of 2 points.

If Warren ends up losing Iowa, it could be because of caucusgoers who like her ideas, though don't think general election voters will.

9:46 a.m. ET, September 22, 2019

Elizabeth Warren bridges the Clinton-Sanders divide

One of the reasons I've been skeptical about Bernie Sanders' chances is because there are a lot of bad feelings left over from the 2016 primary. Well, this poll confirms those bad feelings.

Sanders earns the support of 0% of those who said they caucused for Clinton in 2016. He's at 25% among those who say they caucused for him, which suggests he's bled a lot of support from this group.

Meanwhile, Warren comes in at 32% among those who caucused for Sanders in 2016. What makes her a very strong competitor, however, is that she takes 22% among those who caucused for Clinton.

That 10-point gap is significantly smaller than the 25-point gap Sanders exhibits across the two groups. It's also significantly smaller than the 23-point gap Joe Biden is showing right now.

Biden gets 29% among former Clinton caucusgoers. He drops all the way down to 6% among former Sanders caucusgoers.

Interestingly, no other candidate besides Biden or Sanders exhibits a large gap between former Clinton and Sanders caucusgoers in 2016.

9:32 a.m. ET, September 22, 2019

Elizabeth Warren does well with issues and electability caucusgoers

One of the big questions this cycle seems to be whether Democrats want to choose someone who is more aligned with them on the issues or want someone who is more likely to beat President Donald Trump. In our poll, 63% say electability is more important, while just 31% say issue agreement.

You might think that would do in Warren, who is on the left end of the party.

Here's the thing: Warren does about equally well with those voters who prize electability (22%) and issue agreement (25%). This matches up with national polling suggesting that Warren may not be winning the electability argument, but she's more than holding her own.

Biden is dead even with Warren at 22% in the horserace with voters for whom electability is more important. He comes in at 17% among voters who say issue alignment is more important.

Put another way, Biden isn't winning the electability argument in Iowa at this point. And if he can't win that argument, his campaign is likely in plenty of trouble.

Sanders' campaign is most definitely in trouble because, although he's at 16% among issue alignment voters, he's at just 9% among electability voters.