We report the surprising surge for Mike Huckabee in the state, remarkable for its intensity as well as its breadth. A Baptist minister, he's now leading longtime front-runner Mitt Romney by 2-1 among evangelicals, who account for nearly four in 10 likely participants in the Republican caucuses.
Among Democrats, the overall race has hardly changed, albeit with just enough movement to give Barack Obama a statistically significant lead over John Edwards – surely not welcome news for Edwards, who's run what’s been described as a make-or-break effort in Iowa.
The Obama-Hillary Clinton race remains quite close, among likely caucus-goers overall and also among the subset who say they’re "absolutely certain" to attend a Democratic caucus. But there’s more going on just under the surface – a shift toward Obama on his “new direction” theme, some significant blowback for Clinton on the issue of saying what she really thinks. It’s also worth a read.
I blogged in August, at the time of our last Iowa poll, about our methodology there, and we followed the same random digit-dialing procedures this time. Again there’s a lot of winnowing involved in getting down to likely voters: to get 500 likely Democratic caucus-goers we had to interview more than 4,800 adults in Iowa. That’s a lot of calls.
Sampling methodology is a critical point of differentiation among surveys. Another difference is in the number of undecideds – just 3 percent in our survey of Democrats, 4 percent on the Republican side, vs. anywhere from 10 to 16 percent in other recently released Iowa polls.
Undecideds in fact are pretty much of a misnomer, given the construct of the question all these polls ask – in essence, "If the election were today, for whom would you vote?" If the election were today, and you truly were voting (which is what all that “likely voter” winnowing is meant to approximate), then “undecided” would not be an option. Indeed we find that likely voters do have preferences, and with very little encouragement are perfectly willing to share them with us. Thus low undecideds, in our view, represents better pre-election polling.
For sure some people have lightly held preferences, and that’s well worth knowing and analyzing. But those aren’t undecided voters, they’re movable ones. We measure them in this Iowa poll, as elsewhere, by asking people if they might change their minds, and if so, how likely that might be. It’s an important element of the story, underscoring the substantial room to move that still exists in the contest.
The bottom line, as I’ve suggested in a previous blog on election polls, is that we’re certainly not trying today to predict who’ll win the Iowa caucuses in six weeks, nor even to focus singly on the horse race. Our intent is to try to understand the election as it unfolds – in Iowa as elsewhere, the issues and candidate attributes that people care about, the judgments about the candidates they reach, the various groups and competing interests involved. I hope you find it informative.