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A Reality Check on the 2008 Presidential Race

Polls sure are fun, especially when they defy the conventional wisdom. My newest set of numbers will help create the next round of conventional wisdom -- at least until the next round comes out.
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How's this for irony? Polls are just unpredictable. Especially polls in May 2007, several months before anyone casts a vote for President. But they sure are fun, especially when they defy the conventional wisdom. My newest set of numbers will help create the next round of conventional wisdom -- at least until the next round comes out.

First, an important rule for poll watchers: don't pay too much attention to the national polls of Democrats and Republicans just yet. Essentially, they are useful for measuring name recognition and are great for candidate hype and fundraising. Instead, look at the early states -- notably Iowa and New Hampshire -- because that is where the campaigns are most developed, where the candidates have pressed the flesh, and where some have even done some broadcast advertising.

My newest round of 500 likely Democratic caucus voters and 500 likely Republican caucus voters in Iowa, along with 500 likely Democratic primary voters and 500 likely Republican primary voters, has some intriguing results:

  • On the Democratic side, despite all the hype for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, John Edwards continues to hold on to a narrow lead in Iowa -- 26% to 24% for Clinton, and 22% for Obama. Edwards leads in the central part of the state and, most importantly for him, has begun to particularly take of among union voters. This is very much a three-way race and if Edwards should win, it will give him a bounce for New Hampshire. Clinton does well with liberals, with Democrats (as opposed to independents) among older voters and lower income voters. Obama does best among independents and in the eastern part of the state closest to Illinois. Importantly, while Edwards has kept his numbers since January, his two main opponents have grown -- Clinton from 16% to 24% and Obama from 17% to 22%.
  • Among Republicans in Iowa, the real story is the ascendancy of Mitt Romney. He now polls 19% to Rudy Giuliani's 18% and John McCain's 18%. This is shaping up right now to be also a three-way race. But Romney has moved from only 5% support in January to 11% in late March to his 19% -- while Giuliani has actually declined from 25% in march and McCain's numbers stayed about the same.
  • In New Hampshire, Romney has opened up a double digit lead with 35% to 19% for each of his major opponents. Again there has been dramatic growth in Romney's support from 13% in January and 25% in March to now. Meanwhile, Giuliani's number have stayed about the same and McCain has dropped from 26% to his current level.
  • On the Democratic side, Clinton now leads by only 2 points over Obama -- 28% to 26% -- with Edwards at 15% and Richardson at 10%. Clinton's numbers have grown from 19% in January to her current levels. Obama has moved up 3 points from January, Edwards has dropped 8 points, but Richardson has moved the moved up from only 1% to his current double digits.

What to make of all of this? It is too early to project anything at all but for now, Clinton has not been the inevitable nominee for months. She has turned around on the war on Iraq but is still not trusted entirely on that issue or on her ability to win. And she has the misfortune of running her history-making campaign against both Jack Kennedy (Obama) and Bobby Kennedy (Edwards). Three in four Democratic voters in these two states (along with previous polling in Nevada and South Carolina) tell us that they are satisfied with the field of candidates. But Richardson's performance in New Hampshire indicates that either he or perhaps Al Gore may have some room. This scenario will not likely happen unless at least one of top three (or even two) begins to get tiresome. Remember, we have been talking about these candidates the way we normally talk after someone wins the New Hampshire primary. Can they all sustain their campaigns and hold voter interest for so long?

On the Republican side, only a bare majority of voters are satisfied with the current field of candidates. That explains the interest lately in Fred Thompson. But those who tell us they the least satisfied are self-described conservatives who are waiting for the "Great Conservative". And that probably won't be Fred Thompson. Meanwhile, we have another three-way race and Romney is clearly a player after his performance in two debates, his triumphant interview with Mike Wallace, and his money raising.

I will be back with updates and later take a look at the general election (Hint: do not kid yourselves, the two parties are at parity). Until then, this is wide open on both sides and interesting as all hell. What a way to kick off what will probably prove the be the most important election in at least two generations.

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