Sanders jumps to small lead in major Iowa poll

By Natasha Korecki

Bernie Sanders has a slight lead over a tightly packed group of Democratic frontrunners in Iowa, according to the early state’s gold-standard poll.

The Des Moines Register/Mediacom/CNN survey shows Sanders leading the Democratic presidential field with 20 percent, with Elizabeth Warren (17 percent), Pete Buttigieg (16 percent) and Joe Biden (15 percent) close behind the Vermont senator.

The latest Iowa Poll represents a 5-point jump for Sanders, who was at 15 percent in the Register’s previous poll, in November. But it shows a significant, 9-point drop for Buttigieg, who led the field in the November survey.

Buttigieg’s drop since November is a sign of how fluid the top tier of the race remains with just 24 days before the first-in-the-nation primary caucus.

Like the latest survey, the three other polling leaders — this time, Warren, Biden and Buttigieg — stand in a three-way statistical tie. If the numbers hold for the caucuses, four contenders will meet the 15 percent threshold needed to win delegates out of the first caucus state. The next closest is Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who garnered 6 percent support.

The news of Sanders’ narrow, first-place standing — the first time this cycle he has led in the Register's Iowa Poll — served only to further energize the Sanders campaign.

“Time to knock doors,” Sanders’ 2020 Iowa State Director Misty Rebik said.

And on social media, Sanders tweeted: “This is our time to complete the political revolution and create a government for all.”

The results suggest there may not be a clear winner out of Iowa on Feb. 3. A cluttered finish at the top could complicate the messaging from the campaigns, which typically draw energy and momentum from the caucuses to propel them in the first-in-the-nation primary the next week in New Hampshire, and beyond.

His uptick comes amid new national momentum for Sanders, who has improbably gained steam since suffering a heart attack, and after winning the endorsement of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). The poll also provides a welcome sign for Warren, who was bunched with the other frontrunners at a time when other data suggested she had fallen behind.

The results did not show any signs of last-minute gasps from lower-polling candidates who have struggled to break into the top tier for months. Andrew Yang weighed in just behind Klobuchar at 5 percent, and Cory Booker, whose campaign has been flagging for months, was at only 3 percent. Behind him at 2 percent was billionaire Tom Steyer, who has spent heavily on television and recently qualified for next week's debate in Iowa, along with Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii).

Yang’s 5 percent is likely bittersweet for his campaign. The Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa Poll counts toward qualifying candidates for next week’s debate, which is hosted by CNN and The Des Moines Register at Drake University in Des Moines. This was Yang’s second 5 percent in a DNC-approved poll — but candidates need four polls at 5 percent (and 225,000 donors) to get on stage.

With no more polls expected before the deadline at the end of Friday, Yang is likely to miss out on the debate that will feature Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Sanders, Tom Steyer and Warren (according to POLITICO’s tracking). Also set to miss the debate: Booker and Gabbard, both of whom failed to earn 5 percent in any of the 23 polls that counted for debate qualifying.

The poll was conducted Jan. 2-8 by Selzer & Co., a well-regarded firm in West Des Moines. The poll surveyed 701 likely Democratic caucusgoers and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

Roughly 1-in-10 voters, 13 percent, said they were undecided or didn’t prefer any of the candidates. But even among the voters who did have a first choice, the race is fluid. Only 40 percent of Democrats who picked a candidate said their minds were made up, while 45 percent said they still could be persuaded to support someone else.

Those numbers reflect a Democratic electorate that’s still trying to make up its mind — or can easily change its mind — before caucus day, said Sue Dvorsky, former Iowa Democratic Party chair.

“There will be more undecided Iowans walking into the room that night than we’ve had in a long time,” Dvorsky said. “People like to compare 2020 to 2004. It’s not 2004, it’s not like anything — it’s not like anything ever.”

Zach Montellaro contributed to this report.