Who's on First?

News non-stories always look exciting at first glace:

U.S. Rep. Dick Gephardt has overtaken former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean as the Democratic presidential front-runner in a new Des Moines Register poll of Iowans likely to take part in the Jan. 19 caucuses.


Curses! Dean is foiled again! Or not. Read on:

The Iowa Poll, taken last week, shows Gephardt is the first choice of 27 percent of Iowans who say they definitely or probably will attend the precinct caucuses. Dean is the favorite of 20 percent. That’s a gain of 6 percentage points for Gephardt and a 3-point drop for Dean since late July, when the last Iowa Poll on the race was taken.

U.S. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts remains in third place with 15 percent, a gain of 1 percentage point from July. The poll has a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points.

So Gephardt might have support as high as 31.4%. Or perhaps as low as 22 and change. Dean’s real support ranges from 15.6 to 24.4%. And, as the story eventually explains, Gephardt’s supporters are less certain than Dean’s.

In other words, the latest greatest poll is more an exercise in revealed ignorance than it is a snapshot of the Iowa electorate. Which is pretty typical for any poll which isn’t done consistantly, over a period of weeks (or even months).

We’ll know for sure come January 20.


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