The Slatest

A Font Issue Led Des Moines Register to Abruptly Nix Release of Critical Iowa Poll

Democratic presidential candidate former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks at a Meet the Candidate campaign event January 31, 2020 in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Democratic presidential candidate former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks at a Meet the Candidate campaign event January 31, 2020 in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

The political world has descended on Iowa in advance of Monday’s presidential caucuses. And everyone was eagerly awaiting the Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom poll of likely Iowa Democratic caucus-goers that was set to be released Saturday night and would have undoubtedly led the conversation in the final hours of the campaign. But the release of the poll was called off at the last minute following complaints from Pete Buttigieg’s campaign about the methodology.

The poll was scrapped after Buttigieg campaign said an Iowa supporter received a call from an operator who did not mention the former South Bend. Ind. mayor as an option. The campaign shared the information with the organizers of the poll who conducted an internal investigation. “We applaud CNN and the Des Moines Register for their integrity,” Lis Smith, a senior adviser to the Buttigieg campaign, wrote on Twitter.

Sources told several news outlets that they figured out the whole problem was due to an issue with font size. Specifically, one operator working at the call center used for the poll enlarged the font size on their computer screen of the script that included candidates’ names and it appears Buttigieg’s name was cut out from the list of options. After every call the list of candidates’ names is reordered randomly so it isn’t clear whether other candidates may have been affected as well but the organizers were not able to figure out whether it was an isolated incident. “We are unable to know how many times this might have happened, because we don’t know how long that monitor was in that setting,” a source told Politico. “Because we do not know for certain—and may not ever be able to know for certain—we don’t have confidence to release the poll.”

The poll has correctly predicted the winner of the Democratic caucuses since 1988 and the results were being eagerly awaited by media outlets to plan their coverage considering how many candidates appear to be competing for the top slots. The results of the poll have historically helped candidates build on their momentum. The survey released last month showed Sen. Bernie Sanders on top with 20 percent while the rest of the top-tier candidates were stuck in a statistical tie behind him: Sen. Elizabeth Warren with 17 percent, former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg with 16 percent, and former Vice President Joe Biden with 15 percent.

In their official statements announcing the decision to nix the poll, the organizers did not mention the font issue, focusing instead on the need to maintain the integrity of the survey. “Today, a respondent raised an issue with the way the survey was administered, which could have compromised the results of the poll. It appears a candidate’s name was omitted in at least one interview in which the respondent was asked to name their preferred candidate,” Register executive editor Carol Hunter said in a statement. “While this appears to be isolated to one surveyor, we cannot confirm that with certainty. Therefore, the partners made the difficult decision to not to move forward with releasing the Iowa Poll.” CNN also issued a statement saying that the decision was made as part of their “aim to uphold the highest standards of survey research.”