Clinton remains with strong lead, new Loras College Poll finds

With the 2016 Iowa precinct caucuses only seven weeks away, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton continues to hold a strong lead over her nearest rival, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in the statewide Loras College poll of 501 likely Democratic caucus voters conducted December 7-10.

The newest poll finds Clinton leading in terms of which candidate people intend to vote for, and in terms of which candidate people expect will actually win the caucus, as well as be the eventual nominee.

“How much these expectations are built upon media attention and punditry, and how much on an accurate sense by Iowans of how other voters are likely to act is an interesting question.  But, right now it looks like Clinton is in a strong position with the campaigns turning toward the holiday stretch,” commented Associate Professor of Politics and Director of the Loras College Poll, Christopher Budzisz, Ph.D.

Candidate Preference

Candidate Candidate Support
(as first choice)
Candidate Support
(as first or second choice)
Hillary Clinton 58.9 percent 79.7 percent
Bernie Sanders 27.3 percent 62.2 percent
Martin O’Malley 3.8 percent 17.8 percent
UNDECIDED 10.0 percent

Democrats appear quite comfortable with the top two candidates in the field as a first choice or second choice candidate.

“Say what you will about negatives Clinton may have in a general election, but right now among likely Democratic caucus voters in Iowa she does not appear to be a divisive figure,” Budzisz remarked.
One of the unique aspects of the Iowa precinct caucus on the Democratic side is the requirement for viability (i.e., meeting the 15 percent threshold of precinct participants to form a valid preference group and be awarded delegates).
“Given the current level of support for Senator Sanders, I expect many Sanders voters will not have to exercise their second choice option,” Budzisz concluded.

Differences from Last Loras College Poll
As in the last Loras College Poll released October 27, Clinton maintains an advantage over her competitors, and their percentage of the vote has remained consistent.

Candidate Candidate Support as
First Choice
(Oct. 19-22 poll)
Candidate Support as First Choice
(Dec. 7-10 poll)
Hillary Clinton 61.6 percent 58.9 percent -2.7
Bernie Sanders 23.6 percent 27.3 percent +3.7
Martin O’Malley 3.2 percent 3.8 percent +0.6
UNDECIDED 10.2 percent 10.0 percent -0.2

This consistency is not good news for former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley.

“Despite a tight budget, the O’Malley campaign has continued with campaign visits to Iowa.  But these efforts don’t seem to have translated into increased support among likely caucus voters.  It will be interesting to see if O’Malley alters his approach,” Budzisz commented.

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

Expected Caucus Winner Expected Eventual Nominee
Hillary Clinton 79.4 percent Hillary Clinton 81.8 percent
Bernie Sanders 12.2 percent Bernie Sanders 10.0 percent
Martin O’Malley 0.4 percent Martin O’Malley 0.4 percent
UNDECIDED 7.8 percent UNDECIDED 7.8 percent

Clinton dominates expectations among likely Democratic voters.

“While the field is different than in 2008, Clinton has been in this position of presumptive caucus winner and nominee before.  These final seven weeks will be critical for Senator Sanders and his campaign to alter the developing narrative of how the 2016 nomination fight is likely to go.  The Sanders campaign is a real presence here on the ground in Iowa, and they will need to make these final weeks count to reverse popular perceptions about the trajectory of the race,” Budzisz remarked.

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
Hillary Clinton +72.6
Bernie Sanders +69.2
Martin O’Malley +40.3

“Both Clinton and Sanders have maintained strong favorability ratings.  Both have very few likely Democratic caucus voters who think poorly of them (6.4 percent and 9.6 percent, respectively).  For O’Malley the good news is that few people have a negative view of him (only 8.6 percent rated him unfavorably), but the bad news is that 40.1 percent have no opinion of him at all,” Budzisz commented.

A Closer Look at the Electorate
In terms of the ideology of likely Democratic caucus voters, Clinton receives the majority of support from all categories except for those identifying themselves as “very liberal” (Sanders picks up 56.5 percent of this category).  Clinton secures support from 63.4 percent of those identifying as “liberal,” 59.0 percent of those identifying as “moderate,” and 64.7 percent of those identifying as “conservative.”  It should be noted, however, that this final category is the smallest ideological subgroup within the sample of likely caucus voters (only 6.8 percent of those sampled).  Looking more specifically at the ideological composition of supporters, 53.3 percent of Clinton’s support comes from people who identify as very liberal or liberal, with Sanders receiving 66.4 percent of his support from these same two groups.

Clinton leads across all categories of voters’ highest educational attainment, except in those with “some high school,” where she is tied with Sanders.  Looking more specifically at those who say they are supporting Clinton, 54.2 percent have a college degree or more and 22.0 percent have a high school degree or less.  The remainder have either some college (22.7 percent) or refused to identify their education level.  Of those indicating their first choice is Sanders, 58.4 percent identify that they attained a college degree or more, with 15.3 percent of Sanders supporters indicating they have a high school degree or less.

Climate Change, Refugees, and Terrorism
The newest Loras College Poll asked likely voters to respond to questions on climate change, refugees, and terrorism.  Respondents were asked their approval/disapproval of a U.S. commitment to a reduction in its greenhouse gas emissions as currently being pursued in Paris.  Respondents were also asked their approval/disapproval of  the use of ground troops in Syria to fight ISIS as well as the current plans for the U.S. to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees.  In all three cases, a noteworthy partisan divide exists.  Results of these issue questions are as follows:

U.S. commitment to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions

Republican Subsample Democratic Subsample Total Sample
Total Approve 30.8 percent 88.2 percent 59.6 percent
Total Disapprove 55.8 percent 5.6 percent 30.6 percent
Unsure 13.2 percent 6.2 percent 9.7 percent

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

Republican Subsample Democratic Subsample Total Sample
Total Approve 65.4 percent 27.8 percent 46.5 percent
Total Disapprove 22.4 percent 58.3 percent 40.4 percent
Unsure 12.0 percent 13.6 percent 12.8 percent

Plan to accept 10,000 refugees from the conflict in Syria

Republican Subsample Democratic Subsample Total Sample
Total Approve 13.8 percent 67.5 percent 40.7 percent
Total Disapprove 78.2 percent 20.8 percent 51.0 percent
Unsure 7.8 percent 8.6 percent 8.2 percent

Other noteworthy results from the poll of Democratic caucus electorate include:

  • Likely Democratic voters were asked which candidate they trust the most to address the threat of terrorism.  65.7 percent responded they trusted Clinton the most, 15.4 percent said Sanders, and 2.6 percent indicated they trusted Martin O’Malley most.
  • Likely Democratic voters were also asked which candidate is best prepared to handle foreign policy.  As with terrorism, the vast majority of respondents (78.4 percent) indicated they felt Clinton was best prepared. 13.2 percent said Sanders, and 1.4 percent indicated Martin O’Malley was best prepared.
  • Likely Democratic caucus voters remain quite positive about President Obama’s job performance as 82.0 percent approved of his job performance.
  • Likely Democratic caucus voters are also generally positive about the direction of the country.  52.9 percent say the country is on the right track, while only 28.1 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 (499 likely Republican voters, 501 likely Democratic voters).  The survey was conducted December 7-10, 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%, 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 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 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 statewide sample was balanced for gender and age to approximate past caucus entrance polling, and divided evenly across Iowa’s four congressional districts.
  • 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