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Last Iowa Poll Before Caucus Scrapped Because Of Apparent Error


With the Iowa caucuses about to start tomorrow, we're getting a surprise twist, kind of like a dinner guest who never shows. The Iowa poll, which is published by The Des Moines Register and highly anticipated as a measure of the race, was supposed to be released last night. CNN was even planning a prime-time special. But with just minutes to go, it was scrapped. The people running the poll say a surveyor polling at least one voter skipped a candidate's name.

NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro is in Des Moines this morning. Hey, Domenico.


FOLKENFLIK: So what happened with this poll?

MONTANARO: You know, it's a really odd situation, and what we've been able to sort of unpack from this is that the Pete Buttigieg campaign said that it received a call from a poll respondent who raised concerns that not every candidate was mentioned. They then passed that to the pollsters and the media sponsors, which - The Des Moines Register and CNN. And the pollsters surprisingly scrap the entire poll.

That's a very unusual thing to do. In fact, a lot of pollsters responded last night and this morning, including the pollster who conducts the NPR/PBS NewsHour poll, saying, you know, there could have been recordings or quality control checks, and we're kind of wondering why they would scrap the whole thing - sounds like they did it out of an abundance of caution, but certainly a situation we've never quite seen before.

FOLKENFLIK: And that candidate was Pete Buttigieg. He was left out in that one call.

MONTANARO: Yeah, we don't know the extent of this. I mean, it could've been one call. It could've been multiple calls. We don't exactly know. We don't have a whole lot more detail than that.

FOLKENFLIK: So this is a poll that's really well-regarded, and the folks running it alluded to that in saying why they wanted to protect their reputation. At the same time, polls often get so much attention. It's only a day before the caucuses. I kind of am, you know, embracing the idea of just waiting for it to play out. Why does this matter?

MONTANARO: This poll is a good poll, right? It's considered the gold-standard poll in the Iowa caucuses. Iowa's a traditionally very difficult place to poll. And it's fun to talk about. It's interesting. But we have real voting, real caucusing that's happening tomorrow. So I think it's just fitting, considering that we've had four different poll leaders in Iowa, in New Hampshire.

And, you know, we've been to a lot of rallies, a lot of events around town. It's pretty clear that there's a lot of energy with those top four candidates - surprise, surprise. And, you know, do I need a poll to tell me that? I don't know. People will actually caucus tomorrow.

FOLKENFLIK: All right. So you're on the ground, and you've been there, reporting along with our colleagues. What are you seeing about how this race stands, how people are feeling, where there's energy, with just a day left?

MONTANARO: Yeah. And definitely, like I said, you know, it seems that Bernie Sanders is the favorite, that this is his race to lose. He had thousands of people last night at a rock concert featuring Vampire Weekend, you know? And I was at a Biden rally in the same town, you know, a couple miles away. And you know, it was a packed middle school gymnasium. The people there seemed to have a strong sense of support for Biden and an urgent sort of sense that Donald Trump is a real threat to the country.

The Sanders folks seem to be embracing a broader vision. And I've heard from a lot of people who may have been kind of going toward Warren but then decided, well, Bernie's surging. Bernie Sanders is surging. They're going to get on board now.

Warren's team, though, has a great operation. We'll see what they wind up doing. And of course, Pete Buttigieg has a lot of good feeling with a lot of people here. So you know, I think it is going to come down precinct to precinct. It's going to be really a lot of fun to watch.

FOLKENFLIK: Never sell short the Iowans for voting strategically as well. That's NPR's Domenico Montanaro in Des Moines.

Thanks, Domenico.

MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.