But those poll results never came out. Because of a technical error, CNN and the Des Moines Register
scrapped the poll entirely. Two days later, a massive failure of the state Democratic Party’s infrastructure delayed the caucus results themselves for nearly a day.
Now Selzer — and Iowa — get another chance. The Des Moines Register’s final poll of this year’s Republican race, co-sponsored by NBC News and the cable company Mediacom, is expected to be released this weekend.
The poll occupies a legendary space in the closing 48 hours before the caucuses. Even in a thus-far one-sided contest, it will once again be closely watched for signs of movement. And Selzer hopes it will help move past the nightmare of 2020.
The poll isn’t just notable for
its historical accuracy — it can also fuel the momentum of a late-surging candidate or pile on a flagging one. Selzer’s poll showed former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) gaining steam in the final days before the 2012 caucuses, and he ultimately overtook Mitt Romney and won.
That’s a key part of the poll’s influence: Caucuses aren’t primaries. Momentum and organization have always been the keys to victory — or at least outperforming expectations.
That raises the stakes for Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley, who could parlay the appearance of momentum in Selzer’s final poll to energize supporters to brave the likely subzero temperatures on Monday night to vote for their candidate.
It’s also another test for Selzer and the polling profession at large. Pollsters have struggled to measure Trump’s support, and this year’s primaries could offer clues about whether they’ve figured out how to reach his backers.
Unlike some other pollsters, Selzer’s methodology is broad and fairly simple. Rather than only targeting voters who’ve participated in caucuses before, the poll starts with a list of all registered Iowa voters. “Our screen is very simple: We ask how likely is it you’ll be attending the GOP caucus,” Selzer said. “Will you definitely attend, probably attend, might or might not attend, or probably not attend? And we take you if you say ‘definitely’ or ‘probably.’”
Trump’s campaign, for one, says it is seeking to bring out large numbers of first-time caucusgoers, who might be missed if pollsters ignored people who’ve never caucused before. That was part of Selzer’s success in the 2008 Democratic race, when her poll correctly suggested then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) would benefit from a surge of new caucusgoers that had little precedent in history.
Selzer’s poll is still conducted over the telephone, even as many other surveys have moved online to cast a wider net or reduce costs. Selzer said she is “not comfortable making that shift yet,” since phone numbers are still the most accessible contacts for registered voters.