DES MOINES — Hillary Clinton is building her lead among Iowa Democrats, but rival Bernie Sanders hasn’t faded, a new Iowa Poll shows.
The poll, conducted for The Des Moines Register and Bloomberg Politics, suggests Clinton gained the most from Vice President Biden’s decision to stay out of the 2016 presidential race.
As the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses approach, 48% of likely Democratic participants say Clinton, a former senator and secretary of state, is their first choice for president. That’s up from 42% in early October. Sanders, a senator from Vermont, is the favorite of 39% of likely Democratic caucus participants, up from 37% in October.
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who has pounded the Iowa campaign trail harder than Clinton or Sanders, continues to lag far behind them. Just 4% of likely Iowa caucusgoers say he is their first choice. However, that total represents twice as much support as he had in the October Iowa Poll.
The October figures are from an Iowa Poll that included Biden as a possible Democratic candidate. He had 12% support in that poll, which was taken right before he announced he wouldn’t run.
Most Iowa Democrats like both of their leading candidates, the new poll shows. Eighty-two percent of likely Democratic caucusgoers have favorable feelings toward Clinton, and 80% of them have favorable feelings toward Sanders.
Poll participant Delores Davis, 73, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, likes both leading candidates, but she believes Clinton would be the better choice to run against the Republicans’ nominee next November.
Clinton has grown as a candidate since 2008, said Davis, a retired post office employee who supported Barack Obama when he upset Clinton in that year’s caucuses. Clinton’s service as Obama’s secretary of state helped solidify her understanding of a broad range of issues, Davis said.
“Each time she’s asked about anything, she always has an answer. To me, it’s similar to Obama — she’s up to speed on all the policies.”
Women, plus older, wealthier back Clinton
The new Iowa Poll continues to show that Clinton does better with older Democrats and Sanders does better with younger ones. Clinton draws support from 64% of those 65 or older, while Sanders draws support from 58% of those younger than 45.
Clinton also leads by sizable margins with women (54% to 35%) and the highest income group, earning $100,000 or more (55% to 30%).
Poll participant Emelia Etzel, 34, of Iowa City is a confirmed Sanders supporter. “I like him because he seems really honest and straightforward. No bullcrap,” she said.
Clinton seems more apt to duck questions in debates, said Etzel, who works as a paraeducator. She said older voters probably tend to like Clinton because they’re more concerned about security issues. “I think younger voters want to see more change. They tend to be a little bit more liberal,” she said.
Sanders has an edge with self-identified liberals (48% to 44%), the small group of independents (51% to 26%) and a group pollster J. Ann Selzer calls the “nones,” those who have no religious preference (55% to 36%).
The Iowa Poll of 404 likely Democratic caucusgoers was conducted Dec. 7-10 by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.
Experts view Clinton as likely Iowa winner
Two Democratic political experts said Clinton’s strength in the new poll, combined with the extensive preparations her staff has taken to turn out supporters on caucus day, make her the strong favorite to win here.
“I think if she goes in with a lead, that lead is going to hold up, because she has the organizational wherewithal to make it hold up,” national strategist David Axelrod said.
Axelrod, who helped Obama come from behind to beat Clinton in Iowa in 2008, is unaligned with any candidates this cycle. After the 2008 caucuses, many analysts said Clinton should have worked harder to win the state. She isn’t making the same mistake this time, Axelrod said.
Axelrod doubts Clinton will ease up her campaigning in Iowa over the next seven weeks, even if she continues to rise in polls here. “If I were advising her, I’d say, ‘Play Iowa hard until the end. Because if you win in Iowa, you’re almost certainly going to be the nominee,’ ” he said.
Sanders probably needs to beat Clinton in the Iowa caucuses and in the New Hampshire primary to stand any chance of taking later states, Axelrod said. The Vermont senator might win in next-door New Hampshire, Axelrod said, but he’ll have a tough time overcoming Clinton in Iowa.
Sanders has edge with new caucusgoers
National Democratic analyst Chris Kofinis agreed with Axelrod that Clinton shouldn’t rest on her Iowa lead. “The last thing you want to do is take your eye off the ball,” he said.
Kofinis said Sanders’ continued strength in the Iowa Poll makes sense. “There’s no question there’s a strong core of Sanders voters, and those people are not going to move. They’re going to be with him to the end,” he said. “The problem is they’re not going to be 50% of the caucus.”
Kofinis said Sanders’ backers could hope for a surge of unexpected support from young Iowans who’ve never caucused before. After all, that’s what put Obama over the top in 2008. But the Iowa Poll, led by Ann Selzer, correctly predicted Obama’s success with first-time caucus participants in that cycle, and Kofinis said he would expect Selzer to pick up on any looming groundswell for Sanders this time.
The new poll does show Sanders leading Clinton among Democrats who plan to caucus for the first time, by 49% to 40%. But that isn’t enough to overcome her popularity among other Democrats. Selzer also notes that 64% of Clinton’s supporters say their minds are made up, compared with 55% of Sanders’ supporters.
Another possible tactic for Sanders: Invite fellow U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a popular fellow populist, to the ticket. That could help Sanders — a little. Warren has given no indication she’d accept such an overture, but in this hypothetical exercise, Clinton’s lead narrows from 9 percentage points to 6 points.
Global tensions seen as helping Clinton
Axelrod said Clinton, as a former secretary of state, has the most to gain from voters’ growing concerns about international problems, including the rise of Islamic State terrorists. “I think people think she’s utterly experienced and steeped in these issues.”
In comparing the three Democratic rivals, 60% of likely Democratic caucusgoers believe Clinton would be best suited to “combat Islamic terrorism,” 56% believe she would be best at dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin and 55% believe she would make the best commander in chief.
A majority also think she has the most appropriate life experience to be president (60%), knows the most about how to get things done (56%) and would be best at managing the economy (51%).
Sanders does best on populist economic issues, the poll shows. Fifty-seven percent of likely Democratic caucusgoers believe he would do best at “reining in the power of Wall Street,” 56% believe he would “fight hardest for the middle class,” and 52% say he “is the most honest and trustworthy.”
Poll participant Linda Smith, 63, of Waterloo is still making up her mind. She said Saturday afternoon that she was leaning toward Clinton, but she was going to see Sanders speak Saturday evening. She likes his promises to fight for more fairness in the economy, but she believes the party probably should nominate Clinton to appeal to voters’ concerns about world events.
“I really think she did an excellent job as secretary of state. I think she has the best experience of anybody out there,” Smith said. She predicted Clinton’s command of foreign policy issues would suit her well in a debate against any of the Republican candidates, who in her view offer blunt, military-heavy solutions to every problem. “They’re like a bull in the china shop,” Smith said.
Clinton’s war vote still irks Democrats
Hillary Clinton’s support of the 2003 Iraq invasion continues to be unpopular with Iowa Democrats, though it doesn’t appear to be holding her back as much as it did in 2008, the new Iowa Poll shows.
Clinton, who was a U.S. senator, voted to authorize former president George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. She later apologized for the vote and called it a mistake, but Obama successfully used the vote against her in the 2008 campaign. The new Iowa Poll shows that 71% of likely Democratic caucus participants disagree with support of the Iraq invasion. Just 26% of Clinton’s own supporters agree with it.
But the same poll shows most Democrats view Clinton as the candidate best suited to serve as commander in chief and to fight terrorism.
Clinton’s main rival, Sanders, voted against authorizing the Iraq War. In the new Iowa Poll, his main issue of concern could be on gun control.
Sixty-one percent of likely Democratic caucusgoers say they disagree with a vote “against holding gun manufacturers legally responsible for mass shootings.” Clinton has slammed Sanders for voting that way in the Senate in 2005.
Sanders has countered that he believes in “middle-ground” solutions to gun violence, and he has said he represents a rural state where hunting is popular. But even among his own Iowa supporters, 52% say they disagree with the vote.
Likely caucusgoers give Clinton a bit more credit than Sanders for having the best stance on gun control, 36% for Clinton to 27% for Sanders and 8% for O’Malley, but 29% aren’t sure who has the best stance.
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