It was a long time be­tween pres­i­den­tial polls in Iowa. I didn’t mind the gap.

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - CHANGE OF SUBJECT - By Eric Zorn er­ic­[email protected] Twit­ter @Er­ic­Zorn

The polling drought in Iowa ended last Sun­day with the re­lease of a CBS/YouGov sur­vey of nearly 1,000 likely par­tic­i­pants in the Feb. 3 Iowa pres­i­den­tial cau­cuses.

It had been a lit­tle more than seven weeks since the mid-Novem­ber re­lease of the last two sur­veys of Iowa vot­ers taken by poll­sters deemed re­li­able enough by the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee to count as “qual­i­fy­ing” for the pur­poses of lim­it­ing the num­ber of can­di­dates el­i­gi­ble to par­tic­i­pate in ma­jor tele­vised de­bates, in­clud­ing Tues­day’s de­bate in Des Moines.

A few pos­si­ble rea­sons:

The hol­i­days got in the way. They al­ways do for poll­sters, since all the travel and re­lated whoop-de-do make it dif­fi­cult to so­licit re­sponses, but this time Thanks­giv­ing and Christ­mas were packed as close to­gether on the cal­en­dar as pos­si­ble, mak­ing it worse.

The im­peach­ment got in the way. Poll­sters were more in­ter­ested in tak­ing the na­tion’s pulse about the Democrats’ ef­fort to re­move Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump from of­fice than they were in gaug­ing in­cre­men­tal shifts in pop­u­lar­ity in the large and ever-evolv­ing field of Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls.

News­room bud­gets got in the way. Polls are more ex­pen­sive than ever — “The swarm of robo­calls Amer­i­cans now re­ceive, along with the de­vel­op­ment of call-block­ing tech­nolo­gies, means that lots of peo­ple don’t an­swer calls from un­known num­bers,” ac­cord­ing to a re­cent Pew Research Cen­ter over­view. “Re­sponse rates have gone from 36% in 1997 to 6% to­day” — and many jour­nal­is­tic or­ga­ni­za­tions that spon­sor polls are cut­ting costs. What, af­ter all, is the value to the bot­tom line of post­ing re­sults that other news or­ga­ni­za­tions al­most im­me­di­ately re­post?

A sense of fu­til­ity set in. Why bother? Iowa is fa­mously hard to poll. Vot­ers there have ex­hib­ited a will­ing­ness to change their minds up to the last minute, mak­ing early polls more or less name-recog­ni­tion con­tests, and turnout for cau­cus events tends to be low.

“The rules of the game make it even harder,” said Michael Trau­gott, an emer­i­tus pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal science at the

Univer­sity of Michi­gan and for­mer pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion for Pub­lic Opin­ion Research. In a mul­ti­can­di­date Demo­cratic field “cau­cus par­tic­i­pants can get sec­ond, third and more chances to vote if their can­di­date doesn’t get 15% sup­port in a given round,” Trau­gott said. “It’s very dif­fi­cult to fore­cast where they’re go­ing to end up.”

The dearth of qual­i­fied polling caused un­der­stand­able con­ster­na­tion among Demo­cratic hope­fuls who hadn’t yet met the sur­vey re­quire­ments to make the de­bate stage — 5% in four qual­i­fy­ing polls or 7% in two qual­i­fy­ing early state polls be­tween Nov. 14 and the Fri­day (Jan. 10) dead­line — but who felt that their mo­men­tum ought to be car­ry­ing them there. Other can­di­dates had dropped out — no­tably Sen. Ka­mala Har­ris — and vot­ers had had the chance to watch sev­eral de­bates, yet their of­fi­cial num­bers were stuck.

An­drew Yang, in par­tic­u­lar, sent a let­ter to the DNC on Dec. 21 ask­ing the party to com­mis­sion its own polls since the news or­ga­ni­za­tions and uni­ver­si­ties weren’t com­ing through. “Big shifts can hap­pen within short pe­ri­ods in this race,” he wrote, but with the “mea­ger num­ber of polls cur­rently out in the field … a di­verse set of can­di­dates might be ab­sent from the (Tues­day de­bate) stage in Des Moines. … This is a trou­bling prospect for our party.”

Yang also joined eight other can­di­dates in sign­ing a let­ter to the DNC ini­ti­ated by

New Jer­sey Sen. Cory Booker ask­ing that can­di­dates who have demon­strated suf­fi­cient fundrais­ing abil­ity — 225,000 unique donors is the cur­rent stan­dard — be ex­empt from the polling thresh­old re­quire­ments prior to de­bates.

I like the idea. It doesn’t sit quite right with me to al­low poll tak­ers — no mat­ter how ob­jec­tive or well in­tended — and those with the time or in­cli­na­tion to re­spond to their queries to be­come gate­keep­ers for democ­racy. And the ei­ther/or method for keep­ing de­bates man­age­ably small seems fair enough.

Gen­er­ally, I read ev­ery story about poll re­sults and ob­sess over mi­nor move­ments even when they’re well within the mar­gin of er­ror, but I’ve got to say I wasn’t par­tic­u­larly both­ered by a paucity of pub­lic opin­ion data com­ing out of Iowa be­tween midNovem­ber and early Jan­uary.

(CBS/You Gov showed only mi­nor move­ments over that span among the top five con­tenders — Bernie San­ders, Pete But­tigieg, Joe Bi­den now tied at 23%; El­iz­a­beth War­ren at 16% and Amy Klobuchar at 7%, if you must know. A Des Moines Reg­is­ter/CNN/Me­di­a­com Iowa poll re­leased Fri­day evening showed San­ders at 20%, up 5% since Novem­ber; War­ren at 17%, up 1%; But­tigieg at 16%, down 9%; and, un­changed, Bi­den at 15% and Klobuchar 6%.)

The break in­vited us to con­sider the is­sues and the re­sumes of the can­di­dates, not their jock­ey­ing po­si­tion in the horse race. It in­vited us to stop fo­cus­ing for a mo­ment on vi­a­bil­ity and fo­cus in­stead on suit­abil­ity. And it fed the dream that on­the-ground, re­tail cam­paign­ing, not just big in­fu­sions of cash, was qui­etly but surely chang­ing the dy­nam­ics of this im­por­tant up­com­ing con­test.

Kind of re­fresh­ing, re­ally.

Go, you Bob­cats!

Ad­mit it. Just about ev­ery one of you po­lit­i­cal nerds who has read this far down in to­day’s col­umn rec­og­nizes the words “Quin­nip­iac Univer­sity” sim­ply from the ubiq­ui­tous ex­pres­sion, “a Quin­nip­iac Univer­sity poll.”

Fewer than 1 in 100 of you knows where it is — Ham­den, Con­necti­cut — or what re­la­tion polling has to its aca­demic mis­sion. I cer­tainly had no idea un­til, when do­ing some back­ground read­ing for the above, I came across sto­ries that ex­plained Quin­nip­iac was an ob­scure school of about 2,000 stu­dents un­til the late 1980s when it hired a new pres­i­dent from Marist Col­lege — sound fa­mil­iar? — who de­cided to em­u­late Marist and use polling to gen­er­ate name aware­ness.

Oth­ers col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties whose names you will likely rec­og­nize only from polling sto­ries in­clude Mon­mouth, Suf­folk, Emer­son, Winthrop and Siena.

Quin­nip­iac now re­port­edly spends more than $2 mil­lion a year on the Quin­nip­iac Univer­sity Polling In­sti­tute. This sounds a lit­tle nuts un­til you re­al­ize that many schools spend a lot more than that on in­ter­col­le­giate sports in far less suc­cess­ful ef­forts to raise their na­tional pro­file, and un­til you learn Quin­nip­iac has since boosted en­roll­ment to more than 7,400 stu­dents, which has ex­panded its aca­demic of­fer­ings.

Re: Tweets

Still speak­ing of polls, the win­ner of this week’s reader sur­vey to se­lect the fun­ni­est tweet was “Noth­ing says ‘I se­cretly think my God is pow­er­less’ like bring­ing a gun into church” by writer and di­rec­tor An­drew Bradley, who tweets as @Bet­tyBow­ers.


An at­tendee lis­tens to for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den, a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, speak dur­ing a cam­paign stop at Til­ford El­e­men­tary School in Vin­ton, Iowa, ear­lier this month.

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