The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

Iowa Undecideds . . . Just What More Do You Need to See?


It’s Iowa Caucus Day! And today’s Morning Jolt is all about the Hawkeye State festivities:

Really, Undecided Iowans? Really?

Dear Iowans: Brett Favre wants you to hurry up and made a decision already.

Seriously: “The final Iowa Poll before the caucuses is seen as a bellwether for Tuesday night’s first-in-the-nation voting. Still, the race is fluid, as 41 percent have a first choice but said they could still be persuaded to support another candidate. Fifty-one percent said their minds are made up.”

At Slate, Sasha Issenberg offers a good analysis of the undecided voter in all of the myriad forms: “Many voters who tell pollsters they’re undecided are actually anything but — they’ve made up their mind, but for one reason or another, don’t care to share their feelings with pollsters. What’s more, studies have shown that many undecided voters don’t ever show up to vote in elections at all, making efforts to win them over doubly doomed . . .”

One type: the future bandwagoneer:

In early December, the George Washington University political scientist John Sides and Republican consultant Alex Lundry (of the firm TargetPoint Consulting) collaborated on an online experiment to test whether new information on electability moved voters. They polled Republican primary voters on their preferences, and then showed them the latest predictions from Intrade, which indicated Romney was the most electable candidate, followed by Newt Gingrich. The Intrade data proved persuasive: Forty percent of voters changed their pick after seeing it, mostly by going to Romney or Gingrich from less viable opponents — or by moving from “no preference” to picking a candidate.

Another type: The liar.

In late 2007, Hillary Clinton’s data team noticed a peculiar trend coming out of Iowa: The numbers coming in from volunteer phone banks consistently overstated Clinton’s support when compared to the numbers coming in from the paid call centers the campaign also used to identify voters. One of Clinton’s analysts concluded that part of the problem might be exuberant volunteers overestimating a voter’s potential support — so you’re saying there’s a chance? But the bigger takeaway was that voters don’t always want to be honest with someone on the other end of the phone about their preference. The easiest way to let a canvasser down easy: claim you’re undecided when you’re not. And while the Democratic caucuses require attendees to declare their preference in public, Republicans vote by secret ballot — so it’s easy for a voter to keep a choice private throughout the process.

This recent Washington Post profile of an undecided couple left me particularly underwhelmed:

Early last week, a postcard advertising a rally for Mitt Romney arrived at the home of Pam Arnold Powers and her husband, Kelly. As undecided voters, the couple had grown accustomed to such invites. They regularly received mail from Rick Perry and Ron Paul, and Romney himself called several times a week, clogging up their voice mail with automated messages that began “Pamela, this is Mitt.”

“They use our names!” said Ms. Powers, a gregarious 47 year old who, likewise, considers herself on a first-name basis with Mitt, Newt, Rick and the other Republican hopefuls.

A personalized automated message! This is a game-changer! *squeals*

Kathleen Parker contemplates the current odd atmosphere of indecision in Iowa:

As of this morning, 41 percent of Iowans were undecided. On the surface, this seems absurd. What thunderbolt are caucus goers expecting to clarify their choice? After months of candidate jockeying, a dozen debates, thousands of ads and millions of dollars spent, how could Iowans not know which candidate they prefer the day before they vote?

The simple answer is that no one candidate fills the bill. As one caucus-goer put it on MSNBC: “I like pieces of all of them.” The other reason is that the caucuses themselves provide valuable information. Not only to voters get to hear a final pitch from a representative of each candidate, but they also get to observe the quality of the campaign itself. Iowans say they’re interested in the issues foremost, but they’re also watching closely to see how candidates run their campaigns, figuring they’ll run the country the same way.

Dave Weigel lays out the shifting loyalties of Iowa caucus-goers: “Covering Paul, met people who caucused in 2008 for Thompson, Huckabee, Rudy, and Obama. Figure that out.”

Tags: Iowa Caucuses


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