Clinton’s Lead Shrinks as Iowa Caucuses Loom
Policy + Politics

Clinton’s Lead Shrinks as Iowa Caucuses Loom

REUTERS/Randall Hill

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton continues to “feel the Bern” as she loses   altitude nationally in her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. Her chief rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, now threatens to defeat her next Monday in Iowa’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses.

New polling by The Washington Post and Quinnipiac University released on Wednesday tells the story:

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  • Clinton continues to hold a double digit lead over Sanders among Democratic voters across the country, 55 percent to 36 percent, according to the new Washington Post-ABC News survey. However, her lead has shrunk since late last year as Sanders has turned up the heat in Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two tests of the campaign season that Sanders is threatening to win. Clinton’s lead over the self-styled democratic socialist has declined by 12 points since last December.
  • Sanders is slightly ahead of Clinton in Iowa in the final days of that race, 49 percent to 45 percent, with four percent for former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, according to the Quinnipiac University poll.  Little has changed in that race since January 12, the last time Quinnipiac assessed the campaign, and it remains a statistical tie.

Both polls reflect the decline in Clinton’s once towering prospects to win the Democratic nomination. The former secretary of state and U.S. senator is generally seen as a strong leader, more seasoned and more electable than Sanders. But Sanders is far more popular among liberals and younger voters who think he speaks to their aspirations and would bring about fundamental change to government and politics and address income inequality between middle class Americans and the “billionaire class.”

When Iowa Democrats were asked in the  Quinnipiac University poll to assess the characteristics of the two candidates, Sanders won on “shared values” (63 percent), someone who “cares about me” (68 percent) and “honesty” (76 percent). In contrast, Clinton won on “strong leadership” (63 percent), having the “right experience” (80 percent) and having the “best chance of winning” against Republicans this fall (77 percent).

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During a Democratic town hall meeting at Drake University in Iowa Monday night, Clinton wrapped herself in the policies of President Obama and sought to make the case to voters – especially young people – that she was best equipped to lead the country for the next four years. But she continues to be dogged by questions about her mishandling of sensitive government email while she was secretary of state and her close ties to Wall Street over the years. During the town hall meeting, for example, the first question she received from a young man in the audience was to respond to the frequent comments he has heard that she was dishonest.

With the race so close in Iowa, Clinton and Sanders campaign officials agree that it will all come down to who has the better organization and ground game and how many supporters they can turn out to the caucuses throughout the state next Monday. At this point, voter attitudes are pretty much locked in. Eighty-one percent of the Democrats interviewed in Iowa said their minds are made up, while 19 percent said they might change their minds before voting.

“Perhaps more than other contests, the Iowa caucuses are all about turnout,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University poll, in a statement. “If those young, very liberal Democratic caucus participants show up Monday and are organized, it will be a very good night for Sen. Sanders. And if Sanders does win Iowa, that could keep a long-shot nomination scenario alive.”