vision 2020

Iowa’s Gold-Standard Selzer Poll Canceled Over Font-Size Concern

Photo: Tom Brenner/Getty Images

Panic struck the electorally over-informed on Saturday night when the Des Moines Register announced that it was canceling its Selzer poll of Iowa caucusgoers, after Pete Buttigieg’s campaign raised concerns over the survey’s methodology.

The former mayor’s campaign reached out to the Register after a supporter informed them that they received a polling call in which the operator did not mention Buttigieg’s name. The paper and its partners — CNN, Mediacom, and the influential company of pollster J. Ann Selzer — then conducted an internal investigation, which led to the cancelation. According to the New York Times, one caller’s decision to change font size on the script resulted in the scrapping of the survey:

The poll is conducted by telephone from a call center, where operators read from a prepared script of candidates’ names to determine who a voter plans to support. One operator had apparently enlarged the font size on their computer screen, perhaps cutting off Mr. Buttigieg’s name from the list of options, according to two people familiar with the incident who did not have permission to speak about it publicly.

After every phone call, the list of candidates’ names is randomly reordered, so Mr. Buttigieg may not have been uniquely affected by the error, one of the people said. But the poll’s overseers were unable to determine if the mistake was an isolated incident.

“It is imperative whenever an Iowa Poll is released that there is confidence that the data accurately reflects Iowans’ opinions,” pollster J. Ann Selzer wrote, in a statement published by the Des Moines Register. “Because of the stellar reputation of the poll, and the wish to always be thought of that way, the heart-wrenching decision was made not to release the poll.”

One of the last surveys to be released before Iowa caucuses on Monday, the Selzer poll carries an outsized authority in the state and helps media organizations interpret how many candidates could come out of Iowa with a sizable representation of delegates. Since 1988, the leader of the Selzer poll released just before the Democratic caucuses has won the state, a record made even more impressive considering the wavering nature and last-minute decision-making of the Iowan electorate. Naturally, the void created by the poll has led to speculation over its results, and the possibility that it could leak despite the responsible decision to spike it:

Though the gold-standard poll has been compromised, a survey released on Sunday confirms that the first-in-the-nation caucus is going to be a close tipoff for the nomination process: According to a CBSNews/YouGov poll, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders split the lead with 25 percent support each, while Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren trail with 21 percent and 16 percent, respectively.

Iowa’s Crucial Selzer Poll Canceled Over Font-Size Concern