Clinton maintains lead, new Loras College Poll finds

With the 2016 Iowa precinct caucuses only ten days away, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton maintains a strong lead over her nearest rival, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, according to the newest Loras College Poll. The statewide poll of 500 likely voters in the Democratic caucus was conducted Jan. 13-18.

The newest Loras College Poll finds Clinton leading in terms of which candidate people intend to vote for, which candidate people expect will actually win the precinct caucuses, as well as who they expect will be the eventual nominee. While Sanders has made small gains since the last Loras College Poll released in December, he remains well behind Clinton in this poll.

“These last days are crunch time for the campaigns,” said Christopher Budzisz, Ph.D, associate professor of politics and director of the Loras College Poll. “The ground games and turnout efforts of the Democratic candidates are in high gear, and with Iowa’s election-day registration rules, it will be a fascinating 10 days. In little more than a week the voters of Iowa will have their say in this remarkable and memorable election year.”

Candidate preference

Candidate Candidate Support
(as first choice)
Candidate Support
(as first or second choice)
Hillary Clinton 59 percent 83 percent
Bernie Sanders 30 percent 73 percent
Martin O’Malley 7 percent 22 percent
UNDECIDED 5 percent

*Due to rounding, percentage totals may not add to 100% (applicable throughout)

Democrats continue to appear quite comfortable with the top two candidates in the field. Only 5 percent said they would absolutely not vote for Clinton, and another 6 percent said they would absolutely not vote for Sanders.

“Caucus night on the Democratic side can be quite chaotic as the quest for precinct delegates under the viability and allocation formula takes hold,” Budzisz said. “It’s clear that the voters we spoke with were not opposed to either of the frontrunners.  As caucus night unfolds, supporters of all the candidates will be looking for opportunities to bring their neighbors from one candidate preference group to another.  There is always the possibility of some horse-trading in the Democratic precinct caucuses.”

One potential obstacle, however, for a big shakeup in the race is the level of commitment by voters. A full 75 percent of those surveyed indicated they were absolutely committed to their first choice candidate.

Differences from Last Loras College Poll
Looking back to the results of the previous Loras College Poll, Clinton has maintained her lead.

Candidate Candidate Support as First Choice
(Dec. 7-10 poll)
Candidate Support as First Choice
(Jan. 13-18 poll)
Hillary Clinton 59 percent 59 percent 0
Bernie Sanders 27 percent 30 percent +3
Martin O’Malley 4 percent 7 percent +3
UNDECIDED 10 percent 5 percent -5

Voter expectations
In addition to the standard question of which candidate they personally intend to vote for, likely caucus voters were asked whom theyexpected would actually win the caucus and whom they expected would eventually win the nomination.

Expected Caucus Winner Expected Eventual Nominee
Hillary Clinton 62 percent Hillary Clinton 75 percent
Bernie Sanders 22 percent Bernie Sanders 15 percent
Martin O’Malley 1 percent Martin O’Malley 1 percent
UNDECIDED 14 percent UNDECIDED 10 percent

Net favorability
The Loras Poll also asked likely voters whether they had a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the 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
Bernie Sanders +80
Hillary Clinton +77
Martin O’Malley +49

Since the December Loras poll, Sanders has overtaken Clinton in terms of net favorability.  Both remain extremely popular amongst likely voters in the Democratic caucus. Martin O’Malley has also seen an increase of +9 in his net favorability since our last poll, but a relatively large 24 percent have no opinion of him at all.

A closer look at the electorate
Liberal voters serve as the cornerstone of the Democratic caucus electorate. The sample obtained for this poll included the following in terms of ideology:

How would you describe yourself
Percentage within Democratic subsample
(Jan. 13-18 poll)
Very Liberal 19 percent
Liberal 42 percent
Moderate 32 percent
Conservative 5 percent
Unsure 2 percent

Comparing to 2008 entrance/exit polling, the current sample is very similar in distribution. In that competitive caucus year, 18 percent of attendees at the Democratic caucuses identified as very liberal, 36 percent liberal, 40 percent moderate, and 6 percent conservative.

Sanders continues to draw his strongest support from the most progressive element of the caucus electorate. Looking at the first choice of likely voters by ideological subgroup, Sanders is the choice of 50 percent of those who label themselves “very liberal,” while Clinton receives support of 39 percent of this group, and O’Malley receives 10 percent of this group. In the other ideological categories, Clinton holds a decided edge.  For comparison, 70 percent of Sanders’ supporters label themselves as very liberal or liberal. For Clinton, that figure is 57 percent.

Looking further, 45 percent of the current sample were males, with 55 percent female.  Clinton received the support of 64 percent of these female voters.

In addition to questions of voter preference for candidates, the newest Loras College Poll asked likely voters to respond to questions on a number of important issues in the news.  Majorities of likely voters in the Democratic caucus support President Obama’s recently announced executive action on gun control, oppose the use of ground troops against ISIS, believe that the nation’s current border policies are adequate to protect the country, and that their community would be welcoming to Syrian refugees. On national debt, the likely voters were more evenly split.  The Democratic caucus-goer results are a reverse image of the polled voters likely to participate in the Republican caucus.

Support for recently announced presidential actions on gun control

Likely Democratic Voters
Total Support 88 percent
Total Oppose 7 percent
Unsure 6 percent

Use of U.S. ground troops to fight ISIS in Syria

Likely Democratic Voters
Total Support 27 percent
Total Oppose 58 percent
Unsure 15 percent

Would your community be welcoming to Syrian refugees?

Likely Democratic Voters
Total Welcoming 67 percent
Total Unwelcoming 23 percent
Unsure 9 percent

“Current U.S. border security measures adequately protect the country.”

Likely Democratic Voters
Total Agree 54 percent
Total Disagree 40 percent
Unsure 6 percent

How critical is it to begin to lower the national debt?

Likely Democratic Voters
Extremely or Very Critical 43 percent
Moderately or Slightly Critical 47 percent
Not Critical at All 6 percent
Unsure 3 percent

“The first thing people may notice is that this current result is substantially different from some other recently-released polls of the Hawkeye State,” Budzisz said.

Media coverage, as well as some other polling, paint a picture of a tightening race.  Differences in poll results can come from a variety of factors, including who was surveyed, how the sample was drawn, when the survey took place, how the likely voter screen was determined, as well as things like the means used to contact voters.

The Loras College Poll drew its sample from the official list of registered voters and is limited to those who have previously participated in the political process by voting in the 2012 or 2014 general election or who have been registered since (up to December of 2015).

“It is always important to note such differences when comparing results, and it is always important to remember that most polling is merely a snapshot,” Budzisz said.

Other noteworthy results

  • Likely Democratic caucus voters were asked which candidate they trust the most to address the threat of terrorism.  69 percent responded they trusted Clinton the most, 15 percent said Sanders, and 4 percent indicated they trusted Martin O’Malley most.
  • Likely Democratic caucus voters were also asked which candidate is best prepared to handle foreign policy.  The results largely mirror the terrorism question, with 78 percent indicating Clinton was best prepared, 12 percent said Sanders, and 3 percent indicated O’Malley was best prepared.
  • Likely Democratic caucus voters overwhelming give President Obama high marks, with 89 percent approving of his job performance.
  • Likely Democratic caucus voters are also generally positive about the direction of the country.  70 percent say the country is on the right track, while only 19 percent say the country is headed in the wrong direction.

For toplines and crosstabs related to today’s release, see:

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 January 13-18, 2016.  Sample includes no-party registrants who passed likely voter screen (see below).  Margin of error for full sample results is +/- 3.1%, while for the party subsamples the margin of error is +/- 4.4%. All results calculated at a 95% confidence interval.

  • Survey conducted with a random sample of registered voters (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—last file update December 2015).
  • 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 question 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 sample was balanced for gender and age to approximate past caucus entrance polling, and divided across Iowa’s four congressional districts with reference to registration.
  • Survey included both landlines and cell phones (with an approximate 70-30 split).
  • 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.

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.

Loras Poll