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About That Independent Turnout

By Jon Cohen
One leftover from the fierce brouhaha over the Des Moines Register poll, and a cautionary tale for looking at tonight's caucus results, is the truism that even exit (or entrance) polls are still only polls.

The demographics of the 2008 Iowa entrance poll will live on in campaign lore (and some pollsters' models) as "facts" for years to come. If the GOP poll shows 50 percent of caucus-goers to be evangelical, well then, that was so -- and will remain so until after the next election.

In reality, the entrance poll, like all polls, produces estimates, with a margin of sampling error, etc. And questionnaire design can affect results.

The Register's last pre-caucus poll, for example, came under quick fire from the Clinton and Edwards campaigns (Obama led the poll) for having "too many" independents in its sample. Forty percent of likely Democratic caucus-goers in the Register's sample described themselves as "independent" -- far higher than the 19 percent who said so the 2004 Democratic entrance poll.

While that 19 percent is now bandied about as truth, the 2004 entrance poll reported a five-point error margin for a typical characteristic, and, perhaps more importantly, the questionnaire may have tilted the playing field.

The 2004 Democratic questionnaire asked people "No matter who you are supporting tonight, do you usually think of yourself as a: Strong Democrat, Not strong Democrat, Independent or Republican"?

Respondents, then, were offered two chances to say "I'm a Democrat" -- but only one to call themselves "independent" as they arrived to caucus for a Democratic candidate. Perhaps some independents called themselves "not strong Democrats" on Jan. 19, 2004, making the percentage of independents to caucus in 2004 greater than 19 percent.

We'll never know for sure. Nor does it matter all that much, since this is not 2004, and the Democratic contest today is not like it was four years ago.

Quality pre-election polls have set the stage. Tonight Iowans will end the long-wait, and this year's entrance poll will provide the details -- plus or minus.

By Web Politics Editor  |  January 3, 2008; 9:01 AM ET
Categories:  Primaries , The Pollster  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Accusations of Dirty Tricks Fly on Final Pre-Caucus Day
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C-Span has conducted a daily tracking poll (Zogby/Reuters/CSpan) and today's results bear out the Register's Iowa Poll: OBAMA 31, Edwards 27 and Clinton 24. The margin of error is 3.3%. Note that Obama is clear of the margin of error on both of his competitors.

Argue with the Register poll if you want, but most of you will embrace Zogby.

Those who have been locked into the conventional wisdom of the pundits have not been looking closely at what was happening on the ground, at who was attending Obama's events and the significance of his message.

But as pollsters started digging into the numbers behind the poll, and comparing them to their own models, the Register's model is validated: more independents, more first time caucus-goers and Obama's strength is across the board, not just concentrated in the youth vote.

This is a "change" election, OBAMA is the candidate of change.

Posted by: jade_7243 | January 3, 2008 11:42 AM | Report abuse


Want to wager that the Register poll will be proven dead-on tonight?

Posted by: JakeD | January 3, 2008 11:00 AM | Report abuse

Well people would have believed the register poll if it had counted 25% independents, within the margin of last time. 45% independents and 5% republican, that's over the rainbow in lalaland. Evenif this race is generating much more interest than it has previously that would hold true for Democrats as well and their turnout would be greater as it was by no means 100% turn out last time. The increased number of independents would be offset by an increase in Democrats. 25% sure 45%, when pigs fly.

Posted by: slbk | January 3, 2008 10:55 AM | Report abuse

A happy omen for 2008 is that I like ALL the Dem candidates. May the best one win!

Posted by: jhbyer | January 3, 2008 10:47 AM | Report abuse

I'm holding out for Biden personally -- as for Michael Moore endorsing anyone, I thought he was still sitting on the fence (assuming he didn't crush the fence)?

Posted by: JakeD | January 3, 2008 10:46 AM | Report abuse

Living here in Iowa, I would advise all to keep an eye on Richardson and Biden, either of whom could pull a surprise and end up in the top three, given the way the system works--a lot of Dodd/Biden/Richardson caucusers will go to whoever of those three is viable in the second round, because of their disdain for the media's tunnel-vision focus on Clinton/Obama/Edwards. Iowa is known for big surprises, and one may well be in the making.

Posted by: iowanic | January 3, 2008 10:41 AM | Report abuse

The latest Reuters Poll TODAY shows Edwards continuing to gain: ahead of Hillary, and within striking distance of Obama.

It beginning to look a lot like Edwards!

If people do not nominate him they are crazy.

Michael Moore practically endorsed him, ans well as Norman Solomon, and Tom Hayden, as well as Ralph Nader.

It is time for Edwards to take the lead and lead the nation!

Posted by: river845 | January 3, 2008 9:53 AM | Report abuse

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