edwards soaring in the hawkeye state

So well is John Edwards doing in Iowa that a key staffer in Hillary Clinton’s campaign encouraged her to abandon this state altogether. A close look at polling data confirms that, indeed, Edwards is soaring in the hawkeye state.

Close inspection of polling data from www.davidwissing.com reveals something interesting about Edwards in Iowa. As the table below shows, there have been fourteen polls since January, and Edwards has bested other hopefuls in ten out of fourteen. (Click on the table)


In averaging these polls, we find that John Edwards has garnered 26 percent of Iowa voters, with Clinton a respectable second at 24 percent. What’s striking about Edward’s numbers is recent changes in his “standard deviation,” a very rudimentary statistical tool to measure volatility around an average. A decreasing standard deviation signals that a candidate’s base of support is firming up, which candidates desire.

The North Carolinian’s “standard deviation” over the five months since January is 3.3, meaning he polled somewhere between 22.7 percent and 29.3 percent, all the while averaging 26 percent over that long-haul. Edwards’ average has inched up to 27 percent since March 30, a benchmark roughly synonymous with the close of first quarter campaign finance reporting.

More importantly, his “standard deviation” went down dramatically from 3.3 to 1.5 — which is good for him. Edwards polled somewhere between 25.5 percent and 28.5 percent, all the while averaging 27 percent over that short-haul from March 30 to May 31.

“So what?” you might ask. Well, think about it this way. Most elections are won not on the margins but by identifying and then pitching a winning message to a core voter base and getting that base to actually vote, as well as convincing undecideds (including voters who tepidly support the other side) that your opponents are radioactive. Sound familiar? It’s the “bottom-up” approach that, time and time again, Karl Rove had executed to perfection. So, Edwards leads in Iowa, and, as important, he’s got a message that’s garnering a strong base the strength of which is increasing even more at a time when you’d think voters would still be in candidate-shopping mode.

To her credit, Clinton’s standard deviation also decreased from 6.6 to 5.1. In fact, Clinton’s average polling figure since March 30 suggests she’s in striking distance of Edwards, at 23 points versus 27 points. She has also bested Edwards in two out of the five polls in May. But Clinton’s problem is that her volatility index at 5.1 is still somewhat too high, even if it has trended downward. Decent polling numbers for now but soft (although somewhat improving) base of support in Iowa.

Thus, we find that even as they give her decent polling figures for now Iowa voters are fickle about Clinton, whereas Edwards is firming up his support among voters there. Voters are even more fickle about Obama as his standard deviation actually increases — but the slight increase in his polling average from 19 percent between January-May to 20 percent between March 30-May 31 hints at maybe something positive.

Clinton might also be sailing into a figurative perfect storm favoring Edwards. From what I can tell, Clinton seems to be running a standard Democratic presidential campaign — the “big stage” “top-down” campaign where you start by gathering as much big name endorsers as possible, then drill down by bringing them and their constituents together for a big bash (or a series of big bashes) involving the general public and media (maybe even a celebrity or two), topped-off with a positive stay-above-the-fray message about unity, our future, universal healthcare, etc., etc.

That’s well and good. But if Edwards runs a Karl Rove campaign (without the extreme hateful venom, of course) in which he uses Iraq to identify, firm-up, and get out his base, and, at the same time, somehow make Clinton and Obama radioactive, I think he has a strong chance of winning decisively in Iowa, assuming lack of counter-measures by the two Senators and the rest of the field. My hunch is that Edwards has to win decisively because Clinton coming in a close enough second could, I think, take the wind out of Edward’s sail, since his overall campaign strategy depends so much on Iowa.

In summary, analysts and pundits typically track presidential politics like a horse race, comparing poll numbers at a given point in time to say “so and so” is leading “such and such” and the lead is commanding (or not) because it beats the margin of error. In applying a rudimentary tool like “standard deviation” to a pool of data, you can obtain other equally important insights, particularly on whether support for a candidate is hardening or softening.

(On a final note, apologies to statisticians and economists as I recognize that there may be some methodological qualms with averaging and calculating standard deviations for a bunch of different polls. Something about apples and oranges. Using the dataset made available by the davidwissing.com, I’ve done this to predict the Kerry-Bush 2004 election in key battleground states and key 2006 US Senate races to great success.)

(By the way . . . Bush-Kerry battle for New Mexico was a high-point of my methodology — as was the Corker-Ford Tennessee and Allen-Webb Virginia races. Here’s what I wrote three weeks before Kerry-Bush New Mexico battle: “Summary: Kerry is leading, but he’s losing ground, while Bush is trailing,but he’s picking up speed.Can Kerry hold on? Answer: Kerry leads in average poll numbers but his poll fluctuations around the average, when comparing last four fluctuations against overall fluctuations, has increased. In other words, Kerry leads, but his lead is subject to greater variability, for better or for worse. Bush trails, but he has a firm base of voters, as indicated by the decrease in voter fluctuation, i.e. standard deviation, from 1.6 overall to 1.3 in last four polls. Moreover, Kerry’s fluctuations around his average polling of 46.2, at 2.9 to 3.3, are relatively greater than Bush’s (1.6 to 1.3), meaning that Kerry’s voters are really fickle. Bush won’t lose his voters and he stands to gain by swiping away votes from Kerry, since Kerry’s voters are still making up their minds. Kerry can’t swipe into Bush and Kerry must figure out a way to harden the resolve of voters who are supposedly for him. Assessment: Kerry leads but is declining, and Bush is coming on strong. I believe fickle voters eventually play it “safe” by staying with the incumbent. This is one of my surprise picks: BUSH)


2 Responses to “edwards soaring in the hawkeye state”

  1. Liberal Democratic party USA Says:

    As a Liberal, I plan to vote for Edwards in the NY primary. I will only vote for Hillary if she gets the nomination, which means that the Republiklan party within the Democratic party will have sterred our party once again towards the right.

  2. tony_daysog Says:

    Hello, LDP USA! Thank you for your response. You’re from New York? Wow. I was just there this weekend past. My girl-friend and I went on another one of our quick frugal trips, this time to your neck of the woods. There, went walking all around Manhattan on Sunday. Absolutely loved it. We parked near the Empire State Bldg, walked up 5th Avenue to Central Park – along the way saw folks preparing for the gay-lesbian-transgender parade. Walked through the park circled around from the westside to the eastside (or was it it westide to eastside?) and walked down columbus avenue to Lincoln Center (which was smaller than I thought — it looks so big on TV) then down to Times Square and then Greenwhich Village. From there to Chinatown for a late afternoon lunch, and then onto WTC area. We finished with a stop at the ferry terminal for the free ride to Staten Island. I loved how clean NYC is — last time I was there about 15 years ago it was a bit grungy everywhere. Guess Guiliani and Bloomberg did a great job. The next day we went driving all around Long Island. THANK GAWD for that “Road D”. Jeesh! People have to pay to get to the nice beaches in the Hamptons, if they don’t use Road D. How unfair! How sad, too, that so much of Fire Island costs so much money to access. After all, it was public money that paid for all that. I know to many Robert Moses is a NYC hero legend — and I agree he built so much great things — but places like Jones Beach or Fire Island should be more accessible to people with very little means.

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