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Iowa 2020: Warren's Support Drops While Sanders Rises

In the latest WHDH 7 News/Emerson College Iowa Poll, former Vice President Joe Biden has maintained his support and lead in the Iowa Caucus with 23% of the vote. Senator Bernie Sanders is the runner up with 22%, followed by Pete Buttigieg with 18% of the vote. Senator Elizabeth Warren has lost ground, receiving 12% support. Amy Klobuchar has seen her popularity grow with 10%, followed by Cory Booker with 4%, and Tom Steyer with 3%. Michael Bloomberg, Tulsi Gabbard, and Andrew Yang received 2% each. The rest of the field had no support. (December 7-10, MM, Democratic Caucus, n=325, +/-5.4%)


The most movement in this poll, as compared to the last Emerson Poll in October, is Warren’s downward slide from frontrunner status, and Sanders’ subsequent gain. Warren and Biden had 23% each in October. While Biden held his numbers in this poll, Warren fell 11 points. Sanders may have benefited from Warren’s loss of support, surging to 22% from 13% of the vote in October. Buttigieg maintained steady support over the last two months, gaining slightly from 16% in October to his current 18% of the vote. Amy Klobuchar experienced a huge leap from noncompetitive numbers - just 1% in October - to 10%. 

Continuing the trend evident in previous Emerson polls, Sanders leads among those under 50 with 32% support. Following him in that group, is Warren with 16%, Buttigieg with 13%, Biden with 11% and Klobuchar with 8%. Among those 50 and over, Biden leads with 36% support, followed by Buttigieg with 23%, Klobuchar with 13%, Sanders with 11% and Warren with 8%. 

Looking within political ideology, of those self-described as “very liberal,” Sanders leads with 49% support followed by Warren with 16%, Biden with 11%, and Klobuchar and Buttigieg with 7%. Of those self-described as “somewhat liberal,” Buttigieg leads with 27% followed by Sanders with 21%, Warren with 15%, Biden with 14% and Klobuchar with 10%. Of those self-described as “moderate” or “conservative”, Biden leads with 37%, followed by Buttigieg with 18%, Klobuchar with 12%, Warren with 9% and Sanders with 8%.

Respondents were asked to identify their second choice candidate. 


  • Among Biden supporters, 27% chose Warren as their second choice, 24% chose Sanders, 23% chose Buttigieg and 14% chose Klobuchar. 
  • Within Sanders supporters, 42% picked Warren, 20% chose Biden, 12% chose Yang and 9% chose Buttigieg. 
  • Of Warren supporters, 51% selected Sanders, 19% chose Buttigieg, and 5% chose Biden. Among Buttigieg supporters, 26% picked Biden, 23% picked Sanders, 22% picked Warren and 12% picked Klobuchar. 
  • Within Klobuchar supporters, 27% chose Warren, 22% chose Buttigieg and Yang and 11% chose Biden. 
  • Among the supporters of the candidates not in the top five, Buttigieg leads with 29%, followed by Sanders with 18%, Klobuchar with 17%, Warren with 12% and Biden with 7%. 


According to Spencer Kimball, Director of Emerson Polling, “the second choice question suggests that Mayor Pete might be in better shape than his 18% because nearly 1 in 3 voters who are initially supporting a less viable candidate breaks towards Pete as their second option.”

A plurality of Democratic primary voters named Sanders as having the best healthcare policy, at 31%. Following him, 19% said Buttigieg has the best policy, 18% said Biden, 13% said Warren, and 9% said Klobuchar. Sanders also held a plurality lead when voters were asked which candidate has the best higher education plan, with 28%, followed by Warren with 20%, Buttigieg with 16%, Biden with 13%, and Klobuchar with 10%.

Mirroring a larger trend in the 2020 Democratic primary, the responses varied significantly by age. More than half of respondents between 18 and 29 years of age said Sanders’ healthcare plan was the best, at 55%. Meanwhile, just 10% of those above 65 years of age had the same opinion of Sanders plan. The same age disparity carried into the higher education plan: 47% of those 18-29 said Sanders’s policy was the best, while just 8% of those 65 and over agreed. 

When Iowa voters were asked what healthcare policy they most support, 23% said a public option, 22% opted to keep it as is, 20% said Medicare for All, 17% said something else, and 19% were unsure. Among registered Democrats, 36% support Medicare for All, 31% support a public option, and 15% were unsure. Among Republicans, 33% want to keep it as is, 25% said something else, and 18% said support a public option. Independents were split across health care policies, with 22% wanting to keep it as it is, 19% supporting a public option, 18% supporting Medicare for all, and 18% supporting something else. 


Those who have a union member in their household were split on what health care policy they support: 24% respectively said they support a public option and keeping it as it is, 21% were unsure, and 19% support Medicare for All. 

Medicare for All was the most popular among Iowans whose main source of health insurance or coverage is Medicare or Medicaid (28%), and those who have a plan through their parents (39%). A public option was the most popular among Iowans who have purchased their own plans (34%). Keeping the system as it is is popular among those who are on Medicare or Medicaid (25%), and those who have a plan through their employer or their spouse's employer (25%)


With the impeachment investigations reaching a boiling point in D.C., opposition to impeachment in the Hawkeye state sits at 50% while 38% are supportive of it. 12% of Iowans still have yet to make up their minds about the issue. Despite the recent hearings and pressure from the House Democrats, support for impeachment has dropped slightly since the last Emerson Iowa poll in mid-October when 48% opposed impeachment, 42% supported it, and 10% were unsure.

In the 1st district, represented since 2019 by Democrat Abby Finkenauer, impeachment is opposed by a plurality of voters, 45%-43%, with 12% unsure. The 2nd district, represented by Democrat Dave Loebsack since 2007, shows a similar margin but in favor of impeachment. 46% of Loebsack’s voters support it while 42% oppose it and 12% are unsure. In the 3rd district, which Democrat Cindy Axne won in the last midterms, impeachment is more unpopular with 48% opposing it and 43% supporting it, leaving only 9% undecided. In the more conservative 4th and final district, represented by Republican Steve King, impeachment is opposed by 66% of voters. 

President Trump leads all potential Democratic opponents in head to head matchups in Iowa. The President leads Buttigieg by a point 46% to 45%. Against Biden, he leads 49% to 45%, and against Sanders and Warren he leads 50% to 43%. This is a shift from the previous Emerson Iowa poll, in which Sanders lead Trump by a point, and Biden and Warren trailed Trump by two points.

Donald Trump’s job approval has improved slightly among Iowans over the course of the year. The Emerson poll back in March showed a 42% approval and 51% disapproval. In October, 44% of Iowans approved of the job Trump was doing as president and 47% disapproved. In the latest Emerson Poll, 45% approve and 46% disapprove of the job Donald Trump is doing as president. There is a huge disparity in Trump’s approval by gender. Among men, 54% approve of the job he is doing and 36% disapprove. Among women, 36% approve and 55% disapprove. 

The most important issues for voters when deciding for whom to vote for president is the economy (32%), which is down just a point from the October poll. The second most important issue for voters is healthcare (19%), the same as the October poll. Social issues is third (14%), four points higher than the October poll. The issue of impeachment (5%) has dropped a point since October.

Spencer Kimball, Director of Emerson Polling said, “one potential explanation for Trump's improvement in Iowa is the Democrats’ inability to make the impeachment issue resonate more with voters as we saw a drop in both importance and support since October”.

Regarding Governor Kim Reynolds job approval: 39% approve, 36% disapprove. This is almost the same as in October, when Reynolds was at 39% approve and 35% disapprove. Independents are slightly more approving than disapproving of the governor, with a 37% approve, 35% disapprove job rating among those voters. 

Caller ID

The Iowa Emerson College poll was conducted December 7-10, 2019. The sample consisted of registered voters, n=1,043, with a Credibility Interval (CI) similar to a poll’s margin of error (MOE) of +/- 3 percentage points. The data was weighted based on 2016 voter model of congressional district, gender, age, education, party affiliation. It is important to remember that subsets based on gender, age, party breakdown, ethnicity and region carry with them higher margins of error, as the sample size is reduced. Data was collected using both an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system of landlines only (n=684) and an online panel provided by Dynata and MTurk (n=359). 



Key Takeaways
  • Impeachment loses support as Trump’s approval and head-to-head performance improves
  • Iowans split on healthcare policy
  • Klobuchar jumps from 1% to 10%
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