It’s going to be an anxious night for the Establishment if Quinnipiac’s final Iowa poll proves true. The university projects Bernie Sanders to edge Hillary Clinton by three points, and Donald Trump to best Ted Cruz by a seven-point margin, as first-time caucusgoers break overwhelmingly for the two insurgents.
However, the survey does give Republican Party poo-bahs one reason to put down that bottle of Xanax: Florida senator Marco Rubio gained 4 percentage points since the previous Quinnipiac poll one week ago, giving the footwear fashionista 17 percent support and a commanding grip on third place. A strong third-place showing is viewed as critical for Rubio’s chances of building momentum in subsequent primaries and thus sparing his party a two-man race between a pathological narcissist and sociopathic ideologue.
On the Democratic side, Quinnipiac’s findings stand in tension with the final poll from Ann Selzer, the Beyoncé of Iowa election forecasting. Working with Bloomberg and the Des Moines Register, Selzer found Clinton leading the Vermont senator by three points.
The discrepancy between the two polls comes down to turnout. Selzer anticipates that first-time caucusgoers will make up only a third of Monday’s electorate, while Quinnipiac projects them at 38 percent. Even a small difference in turnout among first-timers could prove decisive, as both polls find Sanders dominating among newcomers, besting Clinton 62 to 35 percent in Quinnipiac’s survey.
The new survey also suggests that the Democratic divide is fundamentally generational: Sanders beats Clinton 74 to 23 percent among voters 18 to 44, while Clinton boasts a 71 to 24 percent lead among those 65 and older.
Notably, Clinton appears to be winning the party’s heated debate over health care. After a month of attacking Sanders’s single-player plan as politically unfeasible (and/or a nefarious plot to take away your Obamacare), Clinton leads 50 to 46 percent among Iowans who say health care is their No. 1 issue. For his part, Sanders enjoys double-digit leads among voters who prioritize the economy and climate change.
Both Quinnipiac and Selzer find Trump building his lead over Cruz, amid growing concerns about the Texas senator’s Canadian origins. Trump leads Cruz by a whopping 50 to 21 percent among voters who prioritize immigration, and 30 to 18 among those most concerned about economic matters.
With races this close, Monday night’s winners may ultimately be determined by the idiosyncrasies of the Iowa process. This is especially true on the Democratic side, where O’Malley supporters will be forced to switch their votes at any caucus where the former Maryland governor fails to draw 15 percent — which will be damn near all of them. Further, Sanders’s hopes may be compromised by his concentration of support in a handful of university towns across the state.
On the Republican side, Cruz supporters have to hope that the senator’s venerable turnout operation proves more potent than the Donald’s celebrity.
As of Monday morning, FiveThirtyEight puts the probability of a Clinton victory in the Hawkeye State at 66 percent. On the GOP side, Nate Silver’s site has given up its long-running Trump-bearishness, giving the Donald a 44 percent chance of giving an insanely boastful victory speech tonight — FiveThirtyEight gives Cruz only a 38 percent chance of doing the same.