Presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures towards rivals Senator Marco Rubio and Senator Ted Cruz during the sixth Republican presidential candidates debate in North Charleston, S.C., Jan. 14, 2016.
Photo by Randall Hill/Reuters

On Caucus Day, latest polls show close Republican race

The countdown is over and the Iowa caucuses have arrived. After dozens of polls over several months, the speculation can end as the process begins in earnest.
While there’s plenty of worthwhile data to go through in anticipation of this evening’s big event, the Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register Iowa Poll, conducted by J. Ann Selzer, was released over the weekend, and it has the race shaping up like this:
1. Donald Trump: 28% (up from 22% a month ago)
2. Ted Cruz: 23% (down from 25%)
3. Marco Rubio: 15% (up from 12%)
4. Ben Carson: 10% (down from 11%)
5. Rand Paul: 5% (unchanged)
Each of the remaining candidates were at 3% or lower in this poll. Trump’s 28% is his best showing in any Selzer poll this cycle, and his five-point lead is his biggest margin since August.
In other words, there’s reason to believe the Republican frontrunner is headed into the caucuses with the wind at his back.
For casual observers, it might seem odd that this one poll, often referred to as the “gold standard” in Iowa polling, gets so much attention. In this case, however, there’s a reason.
Looking back over the last 28 years, Selzer’s surveys have correctly identified the winner of the Republican caucuses in every instance but one.
And what about that exception? In 2012, the final Des Moines Register poll, conducted the week before the caucuses, showed Rick Santorum coming on strong at the end, but when the survey was in the field, the former senator had not yet reached the top. The poll caught his rise before it was complete.
If you look at the reporting from the time, the Register explained that Santorum was in a vastly stronger position in the second two days the poll was in the field than he was in the first two days.
It’s only natural to wonder, then, was there was a big difference between the first two days and the second days for, say, Marco Rubio this year? Apparently not. The Register noted over the weekend, “There’s no indication of a surge: [Rubio’s] support declined during the four days of polling.”
Other tidbits from these latest results:
* 55% of those surveyed said their mind is made up, while 45% said they may yet change their minds.
* On a related note, 71% of Trump voters said their minds are made up. Only 47% of Rubio supporters said the same.
* Half of Trump’s backers say they’ll be first-time caucus participants, which may be a potential danger sign, since “veteran caucus-goers tend to be more reliable.” Roughly a third of Cruz’s supporters will be caucusing for the first time.
* A 46% plurality of Iowa Republicans said they were not bothered by Trump skipping last week’s debate.
And what about the same poll’s results about Democrats? We’ll be taking a closer look at the Clinton/Sanders/O’Malley race in our next post.
Watch this space. It’s going to be an interesting day.