Iowa Pollster: Ann Selzer
CBSNews.com: And Obama?
Ann Selzer: What I think he has to worry about, even though his numbers look good, is what I call the "if" factor. That is, he leads with people outside of the hard Democratic core. He's the one that is getting independents excited about his candidacy. And this election, unlike so many other caucuses before, is absolutely wide open. There's no incumbent. There's no former vice president who's running, and that could really open up these caucuses and bring in a lot of new voters. And if Obama can make that happen, that's the power behind what he's got.
The other way to look at it is that while he is two points ahead of Hillary Clinton, his numbers are soft. That is, it's not necessarily strong among the people we are most definitely confident of showing up on caucus nights.
CBSNews.com:: When we interviewed Carter Eskew, he said that the risk for Obama is that he may end up in the same spot as Paul Tsongas and Bill Bradley and Howard Dean before him, and that he's the candidate who appeals to a more educated, more white, more activist slice of the Democratic pie, but that those candidates tend not to be able to broaden their support enough to actually win.
Ann Selzer: I think what happens is they're seduced by those numbers, and they pay more attention to the younger voter, and to the independents at the expense of what they need to do with the hardcore caucus voter. You just cannot ignore them. Their numbers are too big.
CBSNews.com: OK, so turning to Republicans, the big story coming out of your Republican Iowa poll is obviously Mitt Romney and the poll shows a serious Romney surge. He's beating John McCain 30 to 18. What's Romney doing so well in Iowa?
Ann Selzer: Here's my take on this. When the news came out about how much money he has raised, there was a great deal of earned media about this. And I think the Republicans kind of picked up their heads and said, "Oh, ha, who is this guy? Better go take a look." And they liked what they saw. His numbers if you look across his demographic profile, it isn't like Obama. It's a very flat profile. That is, he has broad appeal across all the segments of the party. That's the kind of thing that you view with a lot of confidence that his number is for real.
CBSNews.com: Even though Giuliani and McCain are essentially tied for second, much of the Iowa pundit class has seemed to say that McCain's got a real edge, because of his organization, which got me thinking: How does one define a good Iowa organization?
Ann Selzer: Well I don't know that I know that much about McCain's organization. He all but skipped Iowa before. So, unlike Edwards, he doesn't have a carryover kind of organization already in place. And I can't tell you that I'm aware of a lot of activity going on in that realm.
And in fact, I think he is sort of the Obama of the Republicans. There's a certain lightness in his vote when you look at who it is who's lining up behind him. So, I don't know that he's all that strong.
And I think on the Giuliani point he gets a little bit of help from some pro-choice Republicans in the state, but again, just as an observer, I don't see him doing that which gets people excited about him, and that is showing leadership. He has stumbled around a bit on where he's going to stand on abortion — which comes across as, OK, it's an issue he's a little afraid of to say what it is that he really thinks in a clear and forceful way. And if he doesn't have leadership, I mean — that's what really got him in this game. And people are expecting to see it.
CBSNews.com: So not to be the proverbial skunk at the garden party, but how predictive are Iowa polls at this point?
Ann Selzer: This is so early. Keep in mind there's a lot more to come. And all of those people who are down at the bottom of the ballot, they have to make a move at some point. And who knows exactly how that's going to play out? Like I said with John Edwards, you know, at this time, four years ago, he was an unknown, absolutely unknown. And Kerry was sitting in third place, and he didn't move out of that until December. So, you know, this is where the campaign is today. So is this what it's going to look like on caucus night? Boy, I hope not. (2. see addition below)
CBSNews.com: But do you think there's anything fundamental that we've learned about how Iowa thinks about these various candidates?
Ann Selzer: No, and in fact, we asked the question of whether your mind is made up, could you still be convinced for somebody else. And it's less than 20 percent who would say that they're locked in.
Additions and clarification added May 25, 2007:
1) Selzer contacted us and said would like to clarify her statement about Obama and Hillary being in a tie in the polls for second. She says: "it's superior to call it what it is— a two-point difference — than to call it a tie."
2) At the end of her answer to the question about how predictive Iowa polls are, Selzer adds: "I mean by that, I hope there is more excitement. It would be dull if nothing were to change."
3)To her response to the final question of the interview about the early Iowa polls, Selzer adds: "It's like asking whether the first quarter of a football game tells you anything fundamental/definitive about the way the game will end when the clock runs out. Sure, you pick up on some elements that will turn into lasting trends. But you do expect to see the teams change things up as the game progresses."
By Brian Goldsmith
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