The old saying remains true: Turnout is key for Iowa.
With just hours remaining before the Iowa Caucus polls continue to show a small lead for Donald Trump; one that is growing smaller.
In the polls released a week before the first selection contest for the Republican presidential nomination, Trump enjoyed as much as an 11-point advantage over his nearest rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. But that advantage by the same polling company showed just a 7-percent lead on the day before the caucus.
“The size of the turnout tonight will likely be the key factor,” said Peter Brown, assistant director for the Quinnipiac University Poll. “High turnouts with lots of new caucus participants likely would mean a good night for…Donald Trump.”
The dwindling lead repeats in two other polls released less than a day before Iowans head to their designated caucus spots to back their chosen candidate. Emerson College Polling shows a single point separates the two top candidates, while Opinion Savvy shows less than a percent, 20.1 to 19.4.
The tightening of the race can be broken down to two factors: favorability of Trump and the pickup of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
“Since our January 21 poll, Trump’s favorability has decreased by 10 points,” said Emerson College Polling analyst Matt Couture in a statement. “And his decision to boycott the debate seems to be a factor in this decrease.”
The debate was the last Republican debate among the candidates held on Jan. 28, just four days before caucusing begins. Trump refused to attend the debate, citing his disapproval of Fox News host Megyn Kelly as a moderator. Instead, he hosted a fundraiser for veterans just minutes from the debate sight. Fox News still had 11 million watch, an increase from the previous debate hosted by Fox Business News but more than half of the first debate hosted by Fox News.
Another factor in Iowa’s narrowing competition is the rise of Rubio in the Hawkeye State. While focusing on New Hampshire’s primary in over a week, Rubio did not do much ground work for the caucus until late in the game. It seems to be paying off, though, as he enjoyed an 8-point bump in the past 10 days.
The Opinion Savvy poll shows Rubio at 18.6 percent to Cruz’ 19.4 and Trump’s 20.1. That puts all three candidates in the margin of error, returning to the need to turn out the vote from the three candidates.
“Donald Trump could win Iowa,” said Stuart Stevens to the Des Moines Register. “But he has little room for error. He is almost no one’s second choice.”
Instead, Rubio and Cruz are the backup supporters. That means if Trump’s operation does not turn out his supporters, the night could go to one of the two candidates.
There has been much talk lately that Trump’s organization has struggled to meet expectations. This is despite Chuck Laudner, Trump’s Iowa director, running the show. Laudner is known for the come-from-behind win for Rick Santorum in 2012 and for Rep. Steve King’s win in 2002.
The Des Moines Register poll, run by highly-respected pollster Ann Salzer, shows Trump’s win almost inevitable with a 5-point advantage over Cruz. That would solidify Laudner as the man who knows how to get the job done even with the most unlikely of candidates.