A new CNN/ORC poll released Thursday shows that Senator Bernie Sanders has taken a strong lead in Iowa. Sanders beats Clinton 51 to 43 percent among Democratic voters who are likely to attend the caucus ten days from now. This is the second recent poll showing Sanders on top. A Quinnipiac poll earlier this week found Sanders leading 49 to 44 percent. The Clinton campaign and pundits all but counted Sanders out in Iowa as recently as three weeks ago.
The news gets worse for Clinton the farther down one digs into the poll. In Iowa, Independent voters are allowed to vote in the caucuses. They were not included in this poll. Sanders leads Clinton among Independent voters by a larger margin. He also leads Clinton among millennials 2-1. They are not likely caucus voters either, but if they show up, Sanders could do better than this poll indicates.
The poll showed that 80 percent of Iowa voters have decided who they are voting for with 64 percent saying their decision is definite. Only 20 percent are undecided. Clinton can’t count on those twenty percent breaking her way. The poll shows that on all key issues but one, voters agree with Sanders by a large margin—including health care—the issue Clinton has been attacking Sanders on.
Voter agree with Sanders position on health care 51 to 41 percent—similar to the margin he leads the race by. On the economy, another issue Clinton has attacked Sanders on, 58 percent of Democratic voters favor his proposals as opposed to 36 percent who agree with the establishment candidate, Clinton. And when asked who represents the values of Democrats like you, Sanders wins 57 percent to 38 percent. The only issue Clinton tops Sanders on is foreign policy. She beats Sanders 65 to 25 on that one issue.
One does not need a poll to know that Clinton is in trouble in Iowa—just like in 2008. Clinton and her surrogates have been attacking Sanders hard for the last week. The attacks show their desperation. First, they blasted Sanders on gun control. That did not stick, so they turned their guns to health care. That dog did not hunt either. Now, they have gone nuclear—saying that the nation will never elect a Socialist. One surrogate went so far as to use the words “hammer and sickle” in the same sentence as Bernie Sanders.
This strategy is dangerous. It may have the opposite affect just as Clinton’s attacks on Obama did in 2008. It may anger young Sanders supporters, insuring they attend the caucus. Clinton is gambling that these smears will win over Independent voters. It may, but they may decide to simply vote in the Republican primary instead, which does Hillary no good.
The personal attacks are not working in New Hampshire either. Bernie is maintaining his big lead there. Should Clinton win the nomination, it will be difficult for her to get enthusiastic Sanders supporters to vote for her. One only needs to look at 1968 and 2000 to see what happens when a large block of Democratic voters stay home or vote for a third party.
Another tactical mistake Clinton is making is trying to position herself as the “establishment” candidate. Her surrogates have fanned out across the nation playing up that point, painting Sanders as “extreme” and “not mainstream.” They may have missed it, but this is not an election where the establishment is a good thing. Ask Jeb Bush. Better yet, ask Donald Trump. He is pulling ahead of the other non-establishment candidate, Ted Cruz, in Iowa.
Rather than attack Bernie, Clinton might be better serve to get new advisors. If her primary strategy ends up working, she is coming closer to snatching a defeat out of the jaws of victory come November by alienating Sanders supporters and giving talking points to Republicans.