Second Choice Info: Polling News That Is Actually Interesting

Zogby just released the first Iowa poll that redistributes the supporters of the second-tier candidates according to who their choice within the first tier is.

This is important because of the way the caucuses work. In the Iowa Democratic Party’s system, a candidate must establish “viability” at the beginning of the caucus. The caucus chair in each caucus room counts the number of attendees, and then has people split into groups depending on who they support. Any group that doesn’t represent a pre-set percentage of the total attendees (usually 15 percent) is declared unviable, meaning their candidate is out of the running to win delegates from that caucus. The caucus-goers in the unviable group can either stand strong in a symbolic but ultimately meaningless gesture, or they can disperse and join other groups around the room representing the viable candidates. (And yes, in caucuses people actually psyhically move around the room. In 2004, many Kucinich supporters left Kucinich after he was declared unviable to move to Edwards. Gephardt supporters largely refused to budge, and where not counted.)

Clinton, Obama, and Edwards will be viable, without question. Depending on how good his organization is at getting out supporters on caucus night, Richardson may also be viable in most places. But there is a good chance that Dodd, Biden, and Kucinich will not be viable.

So the second choice of Dodd, Biden, and Kucinich supporters is important to know. Will they go to Obama? Clinton? Edwards? Zogby redid their Iowa poll with second-tier candidates removed and found that Edwards gained six percent, Obama gained four percent, and Clinton gained two percent. Here are the numbers:

Candidate First Choice Only Including Second Choices of Those Who First Backed Unviables
Clinton 28% 30%
Obama 25% 29%
Edwards 21% 27%

So a tight race becomes even tighter. It will be interesting to see what other polling outfits show when they also poll with second-choicers in mind, because other polling outfits show a much closer race than Zogby’s 28/25/21 split. One recent poll actually has Obama leading for the first time.