Watchdog Blog

Barry Sussman: That Des Moines Register Poll

Posted at 5:04 pm, January 7th, 2008
Barry Sussman Mug

I got this email today from somenone named Chris in Virginia, referring to my criticism last week of a Des Moines Register poll of prospective Democratic caucusgoers:

“So, what do you say now about the DSM poll, which seems to have been right on the money? Is the Sussman column ‘inoperative,’ as Ron Ziegler would say?”

Dear Chris,

Thanks for this note. First, I do have to hand it to the pollster; her results were right on the money. (She had the order of finish wrong for Edwards and Clinton but the difference was miniscule.) Second, I was wrong in two statements. One, I said Iraq was never mentioned in the story or sidebar charts, and two, I said the methodology wasn’t explained. In fact, there was a chart that included Iraq in a list of ‘influential issues’ and an artlcle explaining some of the methodology. I looked for such sidebars before I wrote and didn’t see them—but they were there.

I’ve already commented on this to an extent; see the original piece, with an email appended by the husband of the Register’s editor and my response to him. But the Iowa poll and my criticism of it came up in a Romenesko item today, as it did last week. So I’m taking this opportunity to respond a little more visibly.

My problems with the poll were mainly that it was pure horse-race, ignoring important issues. In my judgment, it’s a disservice to have election coverage that ignores Iraq (and other important issues, too). The poll story ignored them.

The poll story is getting great credit for saying that ‘change’ would be a huge motivating factor for caucusgoers. ‘Change’ is now the theme of the reporters and candidates in this election, big time. One day somebody will wake up and say, change from what? To what? Change is a bumpersticker slogan. Do we mean by change that people want a new Iraq policy? Are caucusgoers and voters sorting candidates by their position on Iraq and other important issues? Could be, remember that Obama frequently says he was the only major candidate to oppose the Iraq invasion from the beginning. But the Iowa poll analysts didn’t help us see how Iraq is playing in this election at all, when they could have and should have.

I wrote in my column that “polls can tell us a lot about the electorate – but not when they are so focused on the horse race to the exclusion of everything else.” That still sums up my feelings.

I hope this is helpful; thanks for getting in touch,

Best wishes

–barry sussman

2 Responses to “That Des Moines Register Poll”

  1. Dave Mastio says:

    Change is such a vapid slogan in politics. I wish people could understand that.

    Adolph Hitler could run for president on a platform of change. “The problem with President Bush is that he was invaded the wrong countries,” the former dictator might say. “When I am president, I will bring change to foreign policy by invading Canada and nuking all the major cities in Mexico.”

  2. Scott Leith says:

    It is a disservice to the Register to criticize the paper for not including questions about Iraq and other matters in the paper’s pre-caucus poll. Over the past several months, I have found that the paper covered every issue and every candidate, including many stories that dealt with Iraq. A single poll — and a single story — cannot deal with all topics. The Register’s last poll did what it was supposed to do — it predicted, quite accurately, who would win the race. Regular readers of the paper were provided with a full range of coverage.

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