The final Des Moines Register poll ahead of Monday’s Democrat caucus finds Hillary Clinton clinging to a 3-point lead over socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
The supporters of former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who has only 3 percent support, may hold the razor-thin balance of power in the epic Democrat clash.
The Register poll shows the race essentially unchanged since early January, when Clinton held a 2-point lead over Sanders. The margin of error in both polls, however, is just over 4 percent, effectively making the contest a jump-ball between Clinton and Sanders.
O’Malley’s supporters may play a key role because the Democrat caucus differs from the Republican in one very important way. At the beginning of the Democrat caucus, supporters of each candidate physically segregate themselves inside the voting site. If a candidate doesn’t receive support from 15 percent of the caucus-goers in that precinct, they are openly lobbied to join another group of supporters.
Polling in the single digits statewide, O’Malley is unlikely to hit the 15 percent threshold in most voting places. Who his supporters ultimately decide to caucus with could mean the difference in the final outcome.
Almost 10 percent of likely caucus-goers are still unsure or uncommitted. This group good also prove decisive, because caucus rules for both parties allow lobbying and persuasion of voters attending the caucus.
The race between Clinton and Sanders will ultimately turn on who shows up to take part in the caucus. The battle between them is essentially a battle between two different parts of the Democrat electorate.
Older voters overwhelmingly support Clinton, while Sanders has massive support from young voters. Voters under 35 prefer Sanders over Clinton by a margin of 63-27. Voters older than 65 prefer Clinton by a mirror-opposite 65-27.
Clinton’s support from seniors this year is much stronger than it was in 2008, while Sanders’ lead with young voters is actually a bit higher than Obama’s edge with these voters that year.
In 2008, there was a flood of new, primarily young, voters to the Democrat caucus. This helped propel Obama to a 7-point victory margin in the state. Around 60 percent of Democrat voters in 2008 were participating in their first caucus.
The Register poll released Saturday night estimates that just 34 percent of Democrat voters this year will be caucusing for the first time.
Whether that assumption is correct will determine whether or not this final poll is an accurate prediction of the outcome on Monday.
Sanders has a 25-point lead among Independents and a 10-point lead among self-described liberals. He has a 5-point lead among men, while Clinton has a 10-point lead among women.
Clinton’s 10-point lead among women is surprisingly small, given the potential of her nomination to make history, a fact on which she has aggressively campaigned. Interestingly, 80 percent of Democrats agree with the statement that it is “time for a woman President.”
That sentiment isn’t automatically translating to the benefit of Clinton.
Both Clinton and Sanders have high favorable ratings among Democrats. Most Democrats would be enthusiastic with either as the party’s nominee. Voters have grown more comfortable with either serving as President.
Almost 70 percent of Democrats even say it would be “okay” to have a President who is a democrat socialist.
The key difference between the two may come down to a similar dynamic of insider versus outsider, like the one upending the Republican race. Among voters who believe that the political system largely works, Clinton is the runaway favorite. Among those who believe the system is rigged in favor of the rich and powerful, Sanders has a huge advantage.
Which Democrat party shows up Monday night will set the tone for the rest of the primary battle to come.