With at least one poll of Iowans being released every day, the results tell us that while no candidate is the definitive frontrunner, certain patterns have emerged.
With different candidates leading in different polls, both the Democratic and GOP races are classic ‘toss-ups.’ In polls released during the past week, Hillary Clinton led by 4 points in Zogby’s survey and by 7 points in American Research Group’s poll. John Edwards polled on top by a statistically insignificant 1-point in MSNBC/McClatchy’s survey and Barack Obama was tied with Edwards in the KCCI-TV / Research 2000 survey.
On the Republican side, Mike Huckabee polled on top in the latest Zogby and KCCI-TV surveys (by 2 and 7 points respectively) while Mitt Romney led in polls by American Research Group and MSNBC / McClatchy (by 9 and 4 points).
No one can call themselves a frontrunner in Iowa not only because different polls tell us there are different leaders, but because each polling organization has to make subjective decisions as to whom is a ‘likely caucus voter.’ Turnout at such caucuses is very hard to predict, and a tighter screen is needed than that used for ‘regular’ likely voters.
Secondly, the Huckabee surge has stopped—though his base support might be strong enough to carry him through on Thursday night. Romney, and to some extent John McCain, appear to have picked off some of Huckabee’s softer supporters in recent weeks. Romney’s support, however, has been more fragile than most other top candidates throughout Iowa and the early primary states, so there is no guarantee his 25+ percent of base support will stick with him throughout the caucuses.
Thirdly, the race for third place on the GOP side appears to be between McCain and Fred Thompson, with Rudy Giuliani polling in the single digits alongside Ron Paul for fifth in most recent polls. A sixth place showing for Giuliani behind the well-funded Paul would be no less than a nightmare for the former New York City mayor, even though Giuliani has not been spending as much time in the Hawkeye State as most other GOP candidates (McCain, for example, has not devoted much campaign resources to Iowa, and yet leads Giuliani by at least 5 points in most surveys).