Watch CBSN Live

Analysis: Iowa Polls Drove Huckabee Surge

This analysis was written by CBS News pollster Anthony Salvanto.

Mike Huckabee's quick ascent in the national polls speaks volumes about the influence not only of Iowa, but of all the polling done in the state before the caucuses.

Huckabee was climbing in the standings among Iowans, and then he moved up nationally - even though the Hawkeye state is the only spot he's really campaigning. While winning Iowa has historically been a way for a candidate to vault into national prominence, for the former Arkansas Governor, just doing well in its pre-election surveys is having that same impact.

Huckabee rose from also-ran status of four percent in the October CBS News/New York Times to 21%, and just shy of first place, among Republican voters in this week's poll.

In between the two national polls, our November poll of Iowa found Huckabee coming on strong there, as have a flurry of other recent Iowa polls (17 are listed on released between mid-November and now.)

And then there's been plenty of national coverage generated from all those results: a quick Lexis-Nexis search on the words "Huckabee," "Poll," and "surge" - just to pick an action verb - for the last 90 days turned up 889 citations.

Because Huckabee hasn't been a national figure - until now - it's the really attentive voters around the country, presumably watching all this Iowa coverage, the most likely ones now considering Huckabee. In the CBS News national poll, Huckabee leads the GOP pack among voters paying a lot of attention to the race. Among those paying just some attention, he's third, and Giuliani is the national leader. (Sure, Huckabee has been in debates televised to a national audience, but he was in them before all these Iowa polls documented his rise, too.)

Still, a question lingers: if Iowa polls can have so much national impact, what about Mitt Romney? He was doing very well in Iowa polling throughout the summer, but not nationally.
The answer may be partly about rising attention as the primaries near, and partly about getting the attention of a key GOP voting bloc. Much of Huckabee's national backing now comes from white evangelical Christians, a group of voters that has increased its attention since October (27% are paying a lot now, up from 18%). Polls in the fall said that it's important for a candidate to share their religious beliefs. (Huckabee does.) In October, most Evangelical GOP primary voters hadn't heard of Mike Huckabee; now a majority has, and they're very favorable toward him.

Will any of this matter on January 4th, a day after Iowa's votes are in? Maybe. Along with the exposure from these state polls, Huckabee has also now entered the expectations game, so if he doesn't do well on caucus day interest in him might evaporate overnight. But, there are voters in other early states (like New Hampshire) liable to be influenced right now. For example: in 2004 when John Kerry won New Hampshire, he won the voters who'd made up their minds only after Iowa was settled. But a quarter had made up their minds more than a month before that primary, and they voted for Howard Dean. That wasn't nearly enough for Dean, of course, but such early-deciding voters exist, and every voter can matter in a tight contest.

Either way, it's interesting to watch this brand new dynamic play out in 2008: an update, perhaps, on Iowa's tradition of influence. In the years leading up to the 1976 primaries, a then-largely unknown Jimmy Carter was going door-to-door in Iowa, defining what later would become the go-to strategy for aspirants without money or name recognition. Carter's campaign counted on early wins to grab attention and create a national splash.

In this front-loaded, earlier-than-ever primary schedule of 2008, it might be fitting that Iowa's impact is making itself felt even before its votes are cast.
By Anthony Salvanto

View CBS News In