Monday, December 31, 2007

Obama leads in Register's final poll, appears to take Iowa's small towns; Edwards has rural areas

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama had a marginal lead in The Des Moines Register's final Iowa Poll before Thursday's presidental caucuses, with 32 percent of likely Democratic caucusgoers. The poll found Obama leading in small towns, small cities and metropolitan areas but trailing former Sen. John Edwards among rural residents. Edwards and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton were virtually tied in the poll, with 24 and 25 percent, respectively. However, during the Dec. 27-30 polling period, support for Clinton declined while support for Edwards increased. (Register graph)

The poll's margin of error was plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, so while Obama probably led during the polling period, that is not a statistical certainty -- contrary to the suggestion in the Register's story, which said Obama had "a lead larger than the survey's margin of sampling error." Error margins apply to each result, not the difference between two results.

The newspaper did not give the sample sizes of error margins for its temporal or geographic subsamples, but by definition their error margins would be much larger. The results among rural residents were Edwards 30, Clinton 25, Obama 24. Obama's other results were 32 percent in small towns, 35 percent in small cities and 37 percent in metro areas. In small cities, Edwards and Clinton were tied at 25; in the other categories, Clinton was running second and Edwards third. Clinton took issue with the poll, noting that 40 percent of the respondents were independents, and the Register's David Yepsen sounded skeptical.

The polling trend shows Edwards with the greatest current momentum, and his increasingly strong, populist message is aimed mainly at small-town and rural voters, reports Dan Balz, chief political writer for The Washington Post. "It is a call to arms that is raw and angry, populist and pugnacious. It is a message that is as exhausting as it is confrontational. It is a message that makes Al Gore's 'people versus the powerful' seem timid by comparison," Balz writes. "One Edwards supporter, departing after a big rally in Des Moines on Saturday night, said he hasn't heard a message as passionate or strong since Bobby Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign. . . . That message is strong brew and not for everyone, but it has found a following. Edwards is counting on enough Iowans -- those in small towns and rural areas especially -- to buy into it to put him over the top on caucus night." (Read more)

Meanwhile, Obama said in a Dec. 30 conference call with family farmers that he had been more consistent on agricultural and rural policy than Edwards, and made a subtle dig at the fact Clinton's rural organization "is headed by a large scale pork producer of the kind that family farmers want better controls placed upon," reports Al Giordano in his blog, The Field. Giordano also questions the validity of polling in Iowa at a time when many caucusgoers, according to reporting by Balz, have stopped answering their phones because of the onslaught from campaigns and pollsters. (Read more)

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