J. Ann Selzer, the head of the Des Moines Register’s Iowa Poll, first became the subject of national attention in 2008, when her survey correctly showed that Barack Obama would win the Iowa contest, thanks to unprecedented turnout among first-time voters. In 2014, Selzer’s poll pinpointed Senator Joni Ernst’s victory over the Democrat Bruce Braley within one percentage point. And ahead of the 2016 general election, her poll rightly warned of a drop-off in African American voters in Iowa. Even as Americans have grown doubtful about the polling industry’s ability to accurately forecast electoral outcomes, Selzer’s status among political observers hasn’t diminished.
But with just five months to go before caucus night, a wrench has been thrown into the process: Citing security fears, the Democratic National Committee announced yesterday that it wants the Iowa Democratic Party to throw out its plans for an unprecedented virtual caucus, in which voters could participate remotely using their phones. In a statement, Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price said officials will “explore what alternatives may exist to securely increase accessibility” for voters. Selzer’s polling operation—which had already had to change tack to accommodate for the virtual event—is now waiting to find out exactly what Iowa’s caucus will look like. “Whatever it is they’re going to try to do,” Selzer told me in an interview this week, “we’re going to try to poll, if we can.”