Why Iowa Wasn't a Disaster for Pollsters

Why Iowa Wasn't a Disaster for Pollsters
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The first votes of the 2016 presidential campaign resulted in a reality check for the candidate who has spent weeks touting his sizable lead in public polling. But does Ted Cruz’s victory in Monday’s Iowa Caucuses over Donald Trump signal that we’re in for a primary season that will be littered with bad polls? Not necessarily.

“Give me 49 other states, but Iowa is just so difficult given their system,” Republican pollster Adam Probolsky told C&E. “It’s a very bad place to grade the research industry.”

Polling has suffered no shortage of high-profile failures over the past four years, and the survey research industry is certain to be in the hot seat for the duration of the primary campaign and straight through November’s general election. But even though Monday’s results differed from the pre-caucus public polling, most notably on the Republican side, polling the Iowa Caucuses is one of the toughest challenges in the industry.

The fluid nature of the process, and the large number of voters who make their final decisions in the 48 hours before they caucus makes it tough for even the best polls to nail the final results. And Monday’s record-breaking turnout made what was already a quagmire for pollsters a next to impossible task, argued Probolsky.

“Having to poll in a place where the people showing up are brand new, which is the case here, that’s a very hard job to have,” the California-based pollster said. “[In California] you have a sterile, inelastic electorate that’s really just little movements of the dial, but in Iowa you have these massive shifts.”

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