Cheat-Seeking Missles

Monday, December 31, 2007

Iowa Polls Show ... Nothing

As the Iowa caucuses draw near, the news is full of the latest polls -- Huckabee's falling, Edwards is strong, Thompson is ... is whatever the most recent results of a few hundred phone calls across the frozen fields says it is.

And it's all pretty much meaningless, mostly because only about six percent of Iowans actually participate in the caucuses. A poll of party regulars could be meaningful, but nearly all the polls are drawn from random samples of Iowa registered voters, most of whom will be busy doing something other than caucusing this Thursday evening.

John Fund has broken down all this in an excellent WSJ Opinion Journal article today, What's the matter with Iowa? In it, he lays down these faults with the caucus process:
  • They occur during a brief, fixed window at night, so those who work odd hours or have to care for kids or home-bound loved ones can't make it.

  • There are no absentee ballots, so the sick, disabled, elderly and busy are hugely underrepresented.

  • The rules of the Democratic caucus require participants to publicly stand with others who support their particular candidate -- this is no secret ballot.

  • To further complicate things, if less than 15% stand for a Dem candidate at a caucus, they have to pick another candidate to stand with, resulting in yelling, cajoling, and results that are anything but representative of a primary or an election.

  • "Entrance" polls that are reported Thursday night under-represent rural communities and the candidates, like Thompson and Edwards, who are stronger there.

  • There is no process of screening caucus participants for residency, so results could be skewed by over-zealous campaign workers.
In short, polls on Iowa voter preference are virtually meaningless, and the results of the caucuses are not representative of much other than a candidate's organizing abilities -- and this year, his commitment to campaigning there.

Yet it is the first test of any sort for the 2008 election, so the media cover it from border to border, from morning to night, the pollsters call and call and call again, in search of tea leaves to read, the candidates pour their hearts and purses it it ... and we political junkies wait anxiously for the results, cloudy, faulty, skewed and weird as they may be.

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