WHY IOWA, NEW HAMPSHIRE AND SOUTH CAROLINA MATTER - Keith Gaddie and Kirby Goidel: “On February 1, 2016 the first presidential nominating delegates will be selected, in Iowa. Iowa is the first of the 'trinity' events that start the actual campaign, along with New Hampshire and South Carolina….[O]f the last six open GOP nominations, Iowa correctly picked two winners, New Hampshire four and South Carolina five. [T]he Trinity matters because it creates an early opportunity to seize momentum, demonstrate viability and garner media attention.” [HuffPost]
‘Great uncertainty’ about how the primaries will play out - More from Gaddie and Goidel: “The invisible primary has been unusually visible this election, with multiple televised debate-events feeding the public a steady stream of content….The campaign is particularly abrasive due to the combination of style and strategy. The result is a campaign environment where we are still sorting out contenders and therefore the events of the early primaries are uncertain. This is both fun from a gamesmanship standpoint, but also creates great uncertainty about how momentum and viability will be captured by the remaining contenders.”
That uncertainty means primary polls still aren’t predictive - Nate Cohn: “You have undoubtedly heard that primary polls aren’t necessarily very predictive far from an election. With just a month to go until the Iowa caucuses, I’m writing to tell you that it’s still true….This phase of the race — the final stretch before Iowa and New Hampshire — can be the most volatile of the entire campaign….In recent primary campaigns, going back to the 2004 Democratic primary, those candidates who have led in Iowa or New Hampshire polls with just one month to go have lost as often as they have won. On average, candidates’ share of the vote at this stage differed from their final share of the vote by around seven percentage points. With many candidates running, it was not at all uncommon for a candidate to move by more.” [NYT]
TRUMP LEADING IN NEW HAMPSHIRE AND SOUTH CAROLINA, CLOSE RACE IN IOWA - Donald Trump is enjoying a lead of over 20 points in both New Hampshire and South Carolina polls. In New Hampshire, Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Gov. Chris Christie (N.J.) are the nearest competitors, while in South Carolina Cruz, Rubio and neurosurgeon Ben Carson are in the second tier. In Iowa, Cruz holds a slight lead over Donald Trump in the HuffPost Pollster Iowa chart, averaging 30.8 percent to Trump’s 28.4 percent. Rubio is in a distant third, more than 15 points behind Trump. The close averages reflect inconsistency in the polls -- the last five polls have ranged a Cruz advantage of up to 9 points to Trump leading by 3 points.
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POLLSTERS SAY PUBLIC IMAGE OF POLLING HAS DECLINED - Carl Bialik: "No votes have been cast yet in the 2016 election, but there may already be one set of losers in the campaign: pollsters’ reputations. And that’s according to the pollsters themselves. We asked people working at some of the nation’s most prominent polling outfits whether pollsters’ public image has improved or declined since the 2012 election. Of the 21 who answered, none said their public image had improved, and two-thirds said it had declined….Using a classic tactic in politics, many pollsters blamed the media….Pollsters said they shouldn’t be blamed if the media overstate the certainty of a poll’s finding about what the majority wants, or if policy makers put undue emphasis on what polls find. ‘Polls are not meant to be a blueprint for policy,’ said J. Ann Selzer of Selzer & Company, a Des Moines, Iowa, polling firm. ‘But, it is helpful to know where a majority stand — imagine a world where you did not know that.’” 
HUFFPOST POLLSTER TWEAKS CRITERIA FOR INCLUDING POLLS IN CHARTS -- HuffPollster: “At HuffPost Pollster, we aim to be inclusive. We want to include every poll that makes an honest attempt to measure opinion in the relevant population, and we don’t discount polls solely because of the methods they use….At the same time, we agree that many pollsters are too lax in providing important details to help poll consumers assess their work. In 2010, Blumenthal wrote that Pollster would only include polls in its charts if their publicly accessible reports meet the National Council on Public Polls' ‘level 1’ disclosure requirements. For the last few years, we have accepted information via email, even when it’s not part of the pollsters’ public materials. However, we are now returning to the requirement that all of the NCPP’s minimal disclosure items must be available publicly before we will include that pollster’s polls in our charts….We will not make any changes to our procedures for the 2016 Republican and Democratic primary races at the national or state level….For the national 2016 general election, starting Jan. 1 we will only include polls from pollsters who have all of the NCPP level 1 disclosure information publicly available either on their poll releases or on their websites. Pollsters who are members of the American Association for Public Opinion Research's Transparency Initiative will be accepted without question.” [HuffPollster]
MORE OF THIS WEEK'S POLLS
-Most Americans think 2015 was a good year for them personally but not for the rest of the world. [YouGov]
-A HuffPost/YouGov poll shows that 2015 didn’t bring an end to Americans’ economic worries. [HuffPost]
-Support for religious protection varies depending on the religion in question. [AP]
-A majority of Americans are okay with sacrificing civil liberties in exchange for safety. [ABC]
-Partisanship deeply affects views on president Obama and terrorism. [WashPost]
-Pope Francis and Donald Trump tie in second place for most admired man of 2015 behind Barack Obama. [Gallup]
THIS WEEK'S 'OUTLIERS' - Links to the best of news at the intersection of polling, politics and political data:
-Donald Trump's support is strongest among those who are less likely to vote in the primaries. [NYT]
-Campaign lawn signs won't increase turnout, but they can potentially shift votes in a close race. [Politico]
-Polls show a strong racial divide on the issue of whether college athletes should be paid. [WashPost]
-There are more polls than ever in the 2016 race, but that doesn't mean that they tell us much. [NYT]
-More Americans are shifting away from home internet and relying solely on smartphones for internet access. [Pew]
-Amy Walter remembers legendary pollster Andy Kohut as a “measured voice of reason” in the polling field. [Politico]
-New Year's ranks in 4th place as one of America's favorite holidays. 
-There's a new Donald Trump parody account that wants to “Make Polling Great Again.” [Twitter account]
This article previously cited a blog by Gaddie and Goidel that incorrectly stated Reagan won Iowa in 1980. Their article and the excerpt above have been corrected.