Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Iowa Endgame Polling

Happy New Year, and let's look at the endgame of Iowa polling.

There have been seeming sharply contradictory polls since Christmas. Within the week ARG has had Romney up 9 over Huckabee while Research 2000 had Huckabee up 7 over Romney. We've also seen Clinton up 7 over Obama in ARG and Obama leading Clinton by 7 in the Des Moines Register/Selzer poll. And none of this looks to be because of very strong late trends. Depending on when you start and how hard you squint you can see some modest trends or no trends at all in the polling since mid-December. Our trend estimators, both standard blue and sensitive red, see small trends over each day, but the noise of the individual polls around these trends is large. (These trend estimates are based on ALL the Iowa data, not just the polls shown in the plots. They are the same estimators you see at Pollster.com and here.)

The current trend estimator puts the Republican order at Huckabee 31.2%, Romney 26.8% and McCain 11.9%. For the Democrats the trend estimates are Clinton 29.5%, Obama 26.6% and Edwards 25.2%.

The variability in the polls means that there is lots of room for cherry picking the poll you like. Since the Des Moines Register/Selzer & Co. poll came out last night, the Edwards and Clinton campaigns have found fatal flaws in what was (before Monday night) the most respected poll in Iowa. No surprise there.

(See Mark Blumenthal's write up of our Pollster.com "Poll of Pollsters" on the reputational rankings of the various pollsters.)

The closeness of the Democratic race makes folly of any attempt to crown a winer based on the polls. Aside from the polling difficulties, the unknown ability of the campaigns to mobilize their supports, and the effectiveness of turning out first time caucus goers is enough to make staying up Thursday night worthwhile.

On the Republican side, Huckabee leads in the trend, but it is worth noticing how consistent Romney's poll results have been since Christmas compared to how variable Huckabee's numbers have been. Add to that the bad media days Huckabee has been suffering, including yesterday's press conference to announce he would not run the negative ad he then showed, and I think you have to wonder if this endgame may yet shift by Thursday night.