Why Polls Missed the Mark on Cruz and Sanders


decoderTwo days before the Iowa caucuses, the esteemed Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll predicted that Hillary Clinton would beat Bernie Sanders by 3 percentage points and Donald Trump would best Ted Cruz by 5 points. So said one of the best pollsters in America, Ann Selzer.

That didn’t happen. Clinton won by about .03% over Sanders and Cruz beat Trump by 4%.

What went “wrong”?

Democratic age gap. Clinton beat Sanders 58-35% among voters aged 45-64 and 69-26% among those 65 and older. But Sanders beat Clinton 58-37% among those aged 30-44 and he destroyed her 84-14% among voters younger than 30.

This is a huge age gap. By juicing the vote in college towns – more than pollsters expected — Sanders came within an eyelash of winning. The bad news for Bernie going forward is this: those younger voters are the least likely to turn out in big numbers in upcoming primaries.

Moveover, one of the reasons caucuses are so hard to predict is that when one candidate is declared not “viable” – that is, lacking 15% in a particular caucus – his or her supporters are free and encouraged to shift their support to one of the “viable” candidates.

Given that Martin O’Malley was one of two “not Hillary” candidates in the race, it was logical that once he was declared “not viable,” more of his supporters would gravitate to Sanders than to Clinton as their second choice., boosting Bernie’s numbers.

cruzprayingTo Ted be the Glory. As for the Republicans, Cruz had in his possession, shh, the secret evangelical decoder ring that both Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum had in previous Iowa contests.

Selzer had expected that six in 10 GOP caucus attendees might be conservative evangelical Christians and it turned out to be about 64% — enough Bible-thumping voters to propel Cruz past the thrice-divorced, formerly pro-choice Trump, with his “New York values.”

As we said when Cruz first blew this Christian dog whistle, “New York values” was code for everything religious, conservative Iowans can’t stand about New York, with its secular, metro-sexual, multiracial, pro-choice, liberal, sophisticated, complicated, sexy, cosmopolitan, raucous, ethnic, smart-ass and, of course, Jewish population.

This just in. Finally, about a third of the Iowa Republicans made up their mind in the last week of the campaign, many within the last 48 hours – after polling was completed — and Marco Rubio was pushing hard to score against Trump, which he did.

Does this mean polling is suspect everywhere? No. Selzer’s polling was within the margin of error in an extraordinarily difficult place to run a survey – the Iowa caucuses. Polling in New Hampshire and other states with primaries should come closer to the mark although late shifts suggest that those polls will be most accurate that are closest to election day.

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