Updated Feb 2, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Font fiasco tanks climactic Iowa poll

Sen. Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg at the start of the Democratic Presidential Debate at Otterbein University on October 15, 2019 in Westerville, Ohio.

Democratic presidential candidates at the Democratic presidential debate in Westerville, Ohio, Oct.15. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

In a Saturday night stunner, the Des Moines Register and CNN scrapped the final Iowa Poll before Monday's caucuses because of fears it was tainted.

Why it matters: This is the gold-standard poll, published by the Register for 76 years, that gives talking heads their cud to chew for the final 48 hours.

It appears a candidate's name was omitted in at least one interview in which the respondent was asked to name their preferred candidate."
— Des Moines Register

The big picture: Iowa is the first state to caucus in presidential elections and serves as an early indicator of which candidates could succeed at the national level.

  • The release of the results was highly anticipated in the final stretch of the Iowa race, which has seen Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg polling neck-and-neck in recent weeks.
  • Per Politico, the survey "has the power to fuel a candidate's 11th-hour momentum — or damage a contender who under-performs expectations. J. Ann Selzer, the Iowa-based pollster who has worked for the Register for decades, is a minor celebrity in politics and widely regarded as one of the top survey researchers in the country."

How it happened: One respondent told the Pete Buttigieg campaign that the former mayor's name wasn't one of the choices he was offered.

  • The campaign alerted CNN and other polling partners, an investigation was conducted and the results were spiked.
  • CNN said: "A respondent raised an issue with the way their interview was conducted, which could have compromised the results of the poll. We were unable to ascertain what happened during this respondent's interview, and cannot determine if this was a single isolated incident."

A CNN source told Axios the amazing backstory: An interviewer at the poll's call center increased the font size of the questionnaire on their screen so much that the bottom choice (which rotated between calls) wasn't visible.

What they're saying: "Nothing is more important to the Register and its polling partners than the integrity of the Iowa Poll," said Carol Hunter, the Iowa paper's executive editor, in a statement just after 9 pm ET, when the highly anticipated results of the influential poll were expected to be released.

  • "While this appears to be isolated to one surveyor, that could not be confirmed with certainty. Therefore, ... the partners made the difficult decision not to move forward with releasing the poll."

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Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

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