Clinton Extends Lead over Sanders, Loras College Poll Finds

Coming through a particularly busy week in Democratic presidential politics, Hillary Clinton has opened a sizeable advantage over her nearest rival in Iowa: Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. With less than 100 days before the 2016 Iowa Caucuses, Clinton appears to be gaining some momentum and is solidifying her position in the battle for the Democratic Party’s nomination, according to a Loras College poll conducted October 19-22.

“It has been a very active few days for the Democratic race, and I think this is reflected in these results. From the announcement that Vice President Biden will not run for president, to the day-long Congressional Benghazi hearings where former Secretary Clinton was center stage, to the continued reaction to the first Democratic debates, as well as the withdrawals of Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee, it was an interesting week to be polling Democratic voters in Iowa,” said Associate Professor of Politics and Director of the Loras College Poll, Christopher Budzisz, Ph.D.

“Most media accounts indicated Clinton performed well in the recent debate; she benefitted most from the decision of Vice-President Biden and stood up well during the congressional hearing.  Our poll numbers certainly echo that it has been a good stretch for Clinton. Only time and further polling will confirm how well Clinton is successfully consolidating support within the Democratic electorate here in Iowa,” Budzisz concluded.

Beyond the presidential nomination race, the Loras College Poll also asked voters their opinion on the direction of the country, state of the economy, presidential job approval, their support or opposition to raising the debt ceiling, support for independent candidacies and their confidence in government to address the issues facing society. In addition, likely Democratic caucus voters were asked to rate debate performances by the candidates.

Candidate Preference

Candidate* Candidate Support
(as first choice)
Candidate Support
(as first or second choice)
Hillary Clinton 61.6 percent 80.6 percent
Bernie Sanders 23.6 percent 57.8 percent
Martin O’Malley 3.2 percent 13.6 percent
Jim Webb* 0.8 percent 2.4 percent
Lincoln Chafee* 0.2 percent 0.8 percent
Undecided 10.2 percent

*During the week of calling for this poll, both Webb and Chafee announced they were no longer seeking the Democratic nomination.

Clinton has opened up a lead on the field following a particularly active several days in the Democratic presidential race.

“The Democratic field is narrowing considerably and opening up a possibility for Clinton to consolidate support. But, Senator Sanders is well-funded and organized in several of the early states, including Iowa,” Budzisz commented. “With less than 100 days until the Iowa Caucuses, we are entering a crucial period for all the candidates. I expect Senator Sanders and Governor O’Malley will sharpen their focus on drawing contrasts with Secretary Clinton.”

Net Favorability
The Loras College Poll asked likely voters whether they had a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the various candidates. The results below indicate the net favorability of the candidates (percentage favorable opinion minus percentage unfavorable opinion). As such, positive numbers indicate a net favorable view, whereas negative numbers indicate a net unfavorable opinion.

Candidate* Net Favorability
Clinton +72.8 percent
Sanders +58.4 percent
O’Malley +21.6 percent

*During the week of calling for this poll, both Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee announced they were no longer seeking the Democratic nomination and have been excluded from this table.

Likely caucus participants were also asked whether or not there was a candidate they absolutely would not vote for. Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee were the two candidates most opposed by likely Democratic voters, and with their exit from the race, there is little sense that any of the remaining candidates are much opposed by likely voters. Of the two top candidates, 6.8 percent of those surveyed indicated they absolutely would not vote for Hillary Clinton, while 9.6 percent said they absolutely would not vote for Bernie Sanders.

“Judging by the favorable opinions and low levels of opposition to specific candidates, Democratic voters appear comfortable with their choices. Unlike the Republican field, there really are not polarizing candidates,” Budzisz commented.

Differences from Previous Loras College Poll
Looking back to the results of the Loras College Poll released on September 2, Clinton support is growing modestly. PLEASE NOTE: The previous poll included Biden as a first-choice candidate option. The second choice of these Biden voters was re-allocated to create the first column of candidate support in the table below.

Candidate* Candidate Support
(August 24-27 Poll)
Candidate Support
(October 19-22 Poll)
Hillary Clinton 57.2 percent 61.6 percent +4.4 percent
Bernie  Sanders 26.3 percent 23.6 percent -2.7 percent
Martin O’Malley 5.6 percent 3.2 percent -2.4 percent
Undecided 8.0 percent 10.2 percent +2.2 percent

*During the week of calling for this poll, both Webb and Chafee announced they were no longer seeking the Democratic nomination, and have been excluded from this table (both were below one percent in both polls regardless of reallocation of Biden support).

A Closer Look at the Electorate
A majority (51.4 percent) of those surveyed labeled themselves as very liberal or liberal (14.4 percent and 37.0 percent, respectively), with 35.2 percent thinking of themselves as moderates, and 9.8 percent conservative. The remaining balance was either unsure or refused to apply an ideological label. These results largely mirror the exit/entrance polling from the last competitive Democratic Caucus in 2008.

Looking to specific candidate support by ideological group, Senator Sanders draws more of his support from liberal voters.  Nearly 64 percent of Sanders supporters consider themselves very liberal or liberal, whereas only 49 percent of Clinton supporters identify as such. Compared to Sanders, Clinton does particularly well with likely Democratic caucus participants who consider themselves moderate or conservative.

Turning to educational attainment and candidate support, Clinton captures 71.8 percent of those likely voters polled whose highest education level is high school degree or some high school, whereas Sanders captures 15.5 percent of that demographic. Nearly 59 percent of Sanders supporters come from those who have achieved a college or graduate degree, whereas 52.3 percent of Clinton supporters have similar levels of education.

“As with our previous polling, Sanders draws his strongest support from those with the highest levels of formal education and liberal ideological identity. Clinton does better with voters with lower levels of formal education, as well as moderate and conservative sections of the Democratic electorate,” Budzisz remarked.

Likely voters were asked about their confidence in the federal government to address the issues facing the country.  Half of Sanders supporters indicated they had little to no confidence in the federal government. This contrasts with 34.4 percent of Clinton supporters who said the same.  Only 21.2 percent of Sanders supporters said that had a great deal or fair amount of confidence in the federal government, whereas 37.7 percent of Clinton supporters indicated this level of confidence.

“While you should not draw too much from these differences given the small numbers involved, these results certainly fit the narrative that Sanders supporters seek to more substantially challenge the status quo,” Budzisz commented.

Other noteworthy results from the poll of likely Democratic caucus voters include:

  • Unlike Republican voters surveyed, there is support for an increase in the debt ceiling by likely Democratic voters.  Of those surveyed, 64.4 percent said they supported an increase in the debt ceiling, with 21.8 percent opposed and 13.0 percent indicating they were unsure.
  • Likely Democratic voters were asked if they watched the first Democratic presidential debate. Over half (54.4 percent) of those surveyed indicated they had watched some or all of the debate. Those who watched the debate were asked to think about—regardless of who they support—which candidate they think did best in the debate. About 70 percent said they thought Hillary did the best job, with 18.8 percent giving Bernie Sanders the highest marks.

For toplines and crosstabs related to today’s release, please click here.

Note on Methodology:
The Loras College Poll surveyed 1,000 likely 2016 caucus voters (500 likely Republican voters, 500 likely Democratic voters). The survey was conducted October 19-22, 2015. Both subsamples of party caucus participants include no-party registrants who passed likely voter screen (see below).  Margin of error for full sample results is +/- 3.1 percent, while for the party subsamples the margin of error is +/- 4.4 percent. All results calculated at a 95 percent confidence interval.

  • Survey conducted with a random sample of registered voters, with phone numbers drawn from official Iowa Secretary of State voter files of those who voted in either the 2012 or 2014 general election or who had registered since December 1, 2014.
  • Likely caucus voter was defined as those indicating they were “definitely or very likely” to vote in the 2016 Iowa Caucus. Those indicating they were “somewhat likely” were subjected to further screen questions regarding their general interest in politics. Only those indicating they were “very interested” in politics were then accepted within the sample as a likely caucus voter.
  • The statewide sample was balanced for gender and divided evenly across Iowa’s four congressional districts. Age was balanced to approximate past caucus entrance polling.
  • Survey included both landlines and cell phones.
  • The survey was conducted using live operator interviews through a contracted professional call center.
  • Script development and methodology used for the survey received input from Republican campaign consultant Brian Dumas and Democratic campaign consultant Dave Heller.

The Loras College Poll is conducted several times each year. Loras College faculty and student researchers work as part of the survey research team to develop poll questions, analyze and interpret data, and assist with sharing the final results with local, regional and national media.  Surveys are administered by professional, live callers through a contracted call center.

Capitalizing on its location in the politically vital and vibrant state of Iowa, the Iowa Presidential Caucuses serves as a cornerstone of the Loras College Poll, with additional surveys focused on current events, social issues, economic issues, politics and more. For more information, please visit or follow @LorasPoll or @ChrisBudzisz on Twitter.

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