Man Without Qualities

Saturday, January 17, 2004

More On Those Iowa Polls And Caucuses

What, exactly, do polls try to estimate? "Raw vote."

What, exactly, do the Iowa caucuses determine? "Delegates."

Consider how the Iowa caucuses go from "raw vote" to "delegates," and then thank God that you aren't living in Iowa (unless you are):

You meet in a room with all the other registered Democrats in your precinct who decide to show up. ... Then the caucus chair asks everybody to express their preferences among the presidential candidates. She tells the Howard Dean people to stand in this corner, the Dick Gephardt people in that corner, the John Kerry people in the other corner, etc. There's also a corner for "uncommitted." ... The chair counts how many people are in each group. That's the raw vote. ...

The party has a "viability" rule: If [a] group doesn't add up to a sufficient percentage of the total vote in the room - at least 15 percent, but it can go higher, depending on various factors - the chair will declare your group nonviable. Now you have to choose which of the viable candidates you prefer as a second choice. ... The chair counts again. That's the realigned vote.

Next the chair translates this vote count into a delegate count. Every viable group gets at least one delegate. The bigger your group, the more delegates you can earn. But there are two catches. First, the number of delegates to be distributed in the room depends on how many Democrats voted in your precinct in the most recent gubernatorial and presidential elections. If you're new in town, and the turnout in your precinct was lousy four years ago, your vote effectively counts less than it would have if you'd moved to a high-turnout precinct. Second, if your group is bigger than another group in the room, that doesn't guarantee you'll get more delegates. Let's say the chair has six delegates to distribute, and there are four viable groups. That leaves two extra delegates, which will probably go to the two biggest groups. If you're in the third-biggest group, and you've got more people than the fourth group does, tough luck. You each get a delegate, and that's that.

The precinct chair phones the county Democratic Party and reports how many county delegates have been awarded to each candidate or to "uncommitted" in your precinct. ...

On caucus night, the Iowa Democratic Party will release the delegate count. Here's when the party will release the raw vote count and the realigned vote count: Never.

There! Wasn't that easy?

So, Mr. Zogby, please tell me how all of those mechanics, weird distorting procedures and inconsistent agendas are included in your polling numbers that you offer to the media every night?

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