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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Monkey Wrenches

A batch of Mason-Dixon polls (done for MSNBC and the McLatchey papers) came out over the weekend, covering both parties’ presidential contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. And to some extent, these polls throw monkey wrenches into the rapidly emerging conventional wisdom that Obama’s surging past HRC in Iowa; Edwards is irrelevant; and Huckabee’s conquering all on the GOP side.
For one thing, Mason-Dixon shows HRC still up in Iowa. On the other hand, it shows Obama nearly catching up with Clinton in NH and in SC. Edwards is still hanging in there in Iowa; is still looking weak in NH; and for the first time ever, seems to be making a move towards respectibility in his native state of SC (at 18%, compared to 28% for Clinton and 25% for Obama).
The most interesting Mason-Dixon finding is a test of what would happen in NH if either Edwards or Obama drops out after IA. As you probably know, the CW is that if Obama can croak Edwards in IA, he can consolidate the anti-HRC vote and perhaps win decisively in NH and beyond. But this poll shows Edwards voters in NH going overwhelmingly to Clinton, even though Obama voters (if he were to drop out after IA) would go overwhelmingly to Edwards.
The bad news in these polls for Edwards is that for all the talk about his massive union support, he’s running a very poor third in Nevada, a state where a lot of folks thought he might post an early win if he survives IA.
On the Republican side, Mason-Dixon shows Huckabee with a big (12%) lead in Iowa, but still running fourth in NH. Giuliani has sunk to an astonishing 5% in IA (fifth place), a good indicator of how voters there treat you if you disrespect them. And five candidates are competitive in SC, the state where the whole deal could go down, or at least winnow the field to two prior to the February 5 mega-primary.

3 comments on “Monkey Wrenches

  1. Noah Dvorak on

    Ed: A lot of what’s seen in these polls just confirms their limited use at this early point, especially when the nomination hinges on something as weird as the Iowa caucuses.
    The nuance that Tiparillo talks about emphasizes an oft-repeated point that seems hackneyed but also makes sense: Obama’s voters, recuited by Oprah or not, are not good bets for caucusing in Iowa, and they will likely only turn out in NH if Obama has momentum coming in. Basically Obama has the Bill Bradley voting base, and I haven’t seen much from the Obama campaign that indicates they’ll be much better than the Bradley campaign at targeting them and bringing them out to vote.
    Unlike Bradley, however, Obama isn’t so naturally strong in NH that he can use it as a firewall against losing Iowa. If Obama loses Iowa, he has enough money to stay on TV until March, but it would be an ultimately vain Bradley-esque denoument.
    These polls say Edwards is doing better in SC. At this stage in the campaign, this can only reflect Edwards’s recent TV buy there. Polls really echo TV buys pretty well (see the inflated Richardson numbers in IA and NH). It’s more likely that Edwards has always had a fairly entrenched but small base there, that his TV buys haven’t moved him much, and that he is buying TV in SC to maintain what he has in case he wins IA and loses NH. Maybe he bought the TV to make people think he’s confident in his internal Iowa numbers. The same dissonance with polls is possible in Nevada, which is a caucus: Even if the only people who show up are HERE members, polls will inevitably reflect a much wider universe. (Maybe most importantly, no one knows who the Nevada caucusgoers are for sure, but there probably won’t be many of them, and it may not matter who wins.) In any case, the poll only tells a small part of the story.
    Even if everyone realizes the CW is overreliant on polls, they are such attractive reference points that it’s impossible to put them in realistic perspective.
    Iowa has always been decided by field organization and this time will be no different. Obama has always looked like a third-place candidate in Iowa because he just doesn’t have enough precincts and his turnout strategy is oddly Howard Dean-like. Thus he has an outsized place in the narrative of this campaign.
    The most crucial narrative is the Edwards vs. Hillary battle on the ground in Iowa. Hillary has the decided edge here.
    Once Iowa is over, the campaign finally takes shape in time for open primaries, and polls start meaning a lot more.

  2. edkilgore on

    I was surprised, too, though it may be a good reminder that despite Edwards’ faithful channelling of netroots rhetoric, his actual base of support is among rank-and-file union folk and/or older Democrats who aren’t likely to be that attracted to Obama. From that perspective, it’s also not surprising that Obama supporters who perceive HRC as the ultimate blast from the past would prefer Edwards in a one-to-one with Hillary.
    Ed Kilgore

  3. Tiparillo on

    Wow – I have a hard time believing that the Edwards voters will break that dramtically for Clinton.
    My impression from a limited sample is that Edwards voters – much like the cnadidate – are not fans of Clinton at all.
    But this poll is about New Hampshire in particular so…..


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