Adventures in poorly-worded poll questions

If you want to know whether likely Iowa Democratic caucus-goers prefer former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden, or someone new as the next presidential nominee, it’s easy enough to ask that question.

Alternatively, if your goal is to show that the 2016 Iowa caucuses will be an exciting and unpredictable contest, you could play the game the Des Moines Register played in its latest Iowa poll.

Surveying 211 Iowa adults who identify as Democrats and 114 likely Iowa Democratic caucus-goers between September 22 and 25, Selzer & Co. asked the following question:

Regardless of your interest in attending a party caucus, what kind of Democratic candidate do you think stands the best chance of winning the presidency in the November 2016 election? (Rotate list.)

A candidate with decades of public service in the U.S. Senate and executive branch

A fresh face who will represent a new generation with new ideas

Not sure

Note that Selzer & Co didn’t ask respondents what kind of presidential candidate they preferred–only what kind of candidate would have the best chance of winning the general election.

Nevertheless, Register columnist Kathie Obradovich rushed to tell readers that neither Clinton nor Biden has the caucuses locked up.

Try this question. True or false: Iowa Democrats are looking for a familiar face with copious experience in the 2016 presidential race, like Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden?

Based on nearly all of my conversations with Democratic activists and leaders, I would say true. No question. Both Clinton and Biden have run before, both have served in the Senate and executive branches. Polls that mention these two by name tend to back that up.

But likely Iowa Democratic caucusgoers are split on the type of candidate they think can win. A “fresh face who will represent a new generation with new ideas” just edges out “a candidate with decades of public service in the U.S. Senate and executive branch,” 49 percent to 48 percent.

Reading Jennifer Jacobs’ write-up of the same poll, it’s obvious that this “fresh face” question says little about whether Iowa Democrats would support Clinton for president at the caucuses.

But when Iowa Democrats were asked what kind of candidate they think stands the best chance of winning the presidency, 50 percent said it would be a fresh face who will represent a new generation with new ideas.

Just 41 percent opted for the other choice: someone with decades of public service in the U.S. Senate and executive branch. […]

One Democratic poll respondent, Jo Schoening, a retired Wellmark insurance worker from Huxley, explained: “I just think it’s time for a change, rather than the same old people – and I’m old!” Still, Schoening, 67, said she wouldn’t be opposed to voting for Clinton. […]

If Clinton runs, her challenge could be, despite her vast experience, to position herself as a candidate who would mint fresh ideas. Indeed, one Iowan said she answered “fresh face” in the poll because she’s a strong Clinton fan, and, to her, a woman in the White House would be a fresh face.

Efforts to portray Hillary Clinton as “old news” are doomed to fail. As former Iowa Democratic Party Chair Sue Dvorsky told Obradovich, “I don’t know what could be a newer, fresher idea than a woman leader of this country.”

Take this to the bank: the only way Clinton won’t win the Iowa caucuses and the Democratic nomination in 2016 is if she doesn’t run for president again.

  • Don't you think John Kerry and Obama

    “excellent Syria adventure” reminded many dems that the old dlc dems including Hillary helped Bush perpetrate the Iraq War, particularly giving the fact that it was the Clintonistas in the Obama administration that pushed it?

    Don’t you think their unashamed cozyness with the Wall Street bankers they deregulated, such as Lloyd Blankfein, is going to be a liability for those of us old fashioned dems that are concerned about the economy?  At the recent Clinton Global Initiative Mr.  Blankfein thanked us for accepting the “new normal” of higher employment.…

    Sorry but I do judge people by their friends, and what they do for them.  Let’s just face the fact that Blankfein couldn’t have screwed us without Glass Steagall, and Clinton let it slide!  Instead of dissociating himself from Blankfein the Clinton’s give the guy a platform as a “poverty fighter!”  The Clinton are surely no friend of the poor or the middle class!  At best their charity only rescues a few form the mass poverty his friends created.  The Clinton’s are a complete fraud, as poverty fighters and so is their initiative.  

    The poll is badly worded and I couldn’t participate in it.  I like new ideas and new faces, but that has nothing to do with generations.  The generational warfare theme gave us Obama, a new face with the same old Clinton ideas.  I would like Warren, and old lady with genuinely new ideas.  That has to do with class interests, not generations.  I think the Clinton’s are corrupt and if they or any other dlcer wins I will vote green with no guilt!

    Young people are not going to be excited about her.  That I have no doubt about.  Young people are rejecting the centrist public private partnership con in droves.  Read “New New Left” by Peter Beinart!  Young people are not neoliberals or libertarians for that matter!…

    • you can't beat something with nothing

      and if Hillary Clinton runs for president, her competition in the Democratic primaries will be minimal. I don’t see a mass movement of young people nominating someone else, because neither Elizabeth Warren nor anyone else of her stature will run against Hillary. A group of disaffected people with no leader to carry the banner will end up nowhere, like the Occupy movement.

      I agree with your critique of Clinton and don’t plan to donate to her campaign or volunteer for her if she does run for president. I might even end up caucusing uncommitted again.

      • Welllllll, aren't you two just _speshulll_

        Standing on narrow pedestals is probably quite salving for the inner soul, but when the November ballots read Hillary and Ted Cruz (or any other of the crazies or theocrats) and you vote for some sort of Ralph Nader, your vote will be the equivalent of a spiteful self-immolation.

        • being republican on economics and foriegn policy

          in the way the Clinton’s are is selfimolation too.  At that point the distinction from Ted Cruze is mostly about cliques!

          • Get a clue

            That may be the most insane bit of self-rationalization since, well, since the last time I talked to someone who voted Nader and gave us W.

            No one paying a lick of attention and with two brain cells to rub together would suggest with a straight face that Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz are different only by what cliques they hang with.  You don’t have to look farther than this weekend, when the wingnuts demanded that employer sponsored insurance be able to drop birth control as a condition of not shutting down the government to see a key difference.  You think Clinton would support that?

            Obama’s AG Holder, arguably a DLC-ish type, announced yet another prosecution of a state engaging in racist vote suppression.  You think a Cruz administration files that suit?

            A Supreme Court opening arises.  Clinton appoints somwone pro-choice and pro-same sex marriage.  Cruz appoints another Scalia, Thomas or Alito – you see no difference there?

            A gun control or carbon constraint bill reaches their desks.  Are you honestly saying you think Presidents Clinton and Cruz make the same decisions on signing versus vetoing?

            You think Hillary,l who worked at Childrens Defense Fund, proposes and works to enact in cuts social safety net programs for kids and for Head Start?  You don’t realize Cruz and his ilk already are?  

            I could go on, but lets be clear: the worst Democrat among those realistically feasible is better than the best Republican that is actually feasible.  It isn’t close.  Your silly false equivilent is not just indulgent at best and woefully uninformed at worst, it is dangerous.  It hurts everything most of us here believe in.  It endangers the country,  It endagers the world.  The sooner “the petulent left” gets over itself and realizes it gave us both W and the 2010 elections and quits letting the perfect be the enemy of the good (and the best friend of thewingnuts) the better.  

            • If you were getting stung by a swarm of bees

              and someone gave you a choice between a hundred and and a hundred and one bee stings? Oh never mind!

              • The only way that analogy works

                is if you put no value on any of the things I listed.  Which seems hard to imagine.  

                • You exaggerate the extent to which dlcers are protective of

                  social security and head start.  In reality they have gone along with cuts to both these programs.   In edition democrats in congress fight republican Presidents who attack these programs harder than they fight dems who attack them.  That is well established.

                  Ted Cruze would be an improvement on foreign policy from my perspective since he comes from the antiwar libertarian wing.  More Wars of Choice are a terrible threat to our country.

                  I admit congressional dems are often worth voting for and truly different.  DLCers are not.  Either way whether it is a republican or a dlcer I have an opponent in the whitehouse on most issues which are important to me.

      • It is to my profound dissappointment that they aren't interested

        in cultivating candidates at the Presidential level.  Though they are cultivating them out the legislative and state levels.  I guess I will have to console myself with those for a couple of terms.  Anyway, Obama has been so damned ineffectual in comparison to many congress people Warren, and Cruze included maybe it doesn’t matter much.  The Presidency doesn’t make much of a difference at least when a modern democrat is running it.

        • Obama's done a few good things

          like the carbon emissions standards for new coal-fired plants. So I would’t say the presidency doesn’t make a difference, but I agree that Obama has been a disappointment on many levels, and I expect no better from Clinton.

  • Speaking of Elizabeth Warren

  • agree on Register's priority

    Desmoines Dem, I agree with you that the purpose of Register editor’s with this poll was to create an artificial need for a traditional caucus in 2015-2016.  

    This is a great lesson for us all about  change…we either adapt or whatever doesn’t adapt dies off.  This next caucus will be different from any we’ve seen to date…and that’s a good thing!  The Iowa Democratic Party Caucuses have changed over time based upon the candidates and the circumstances of the year. If any of us – whether it’s the Des Moines Register or party activists – try to grab and hold onto how it’s supposedly “always been done” then we’ll encounter more problems and greater likelihood of loss than if we remain open and adapt.  

    Remember 1992?  Harkin was running for president and it was a very different year from 1988. Just as 2008 was very different from all the year’s previous.  To be cliche (and maybe a bit humorous)we need to Be Calm and Caucus On.

  • Economic system

    People who believe that the country’s economic system is rotten to the core believe there is no real difference between Hillary Clinton and a Republican.

    Are we going to see any fundamental difference in income inequality levels under any new President?  No.  Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders won’t even punish the rich to the point that true leftists would want them to.  

    The people who are mad at Clinton and Obama have not likely been happy with a Presidential candidate since FDR.  And really those folks wouldn’t really be happy with FDR’s opinions either.  They give FDR credit for the ideas of Harry Hopkins.  I think FDR was a deficit hawk that feared inflation like most taxpayers do.  I think if FDR was running today, many of the same people that blast Obama or Paul Ryan, ever for that matter for throwing Grandma out of the wheelchair would be doing the same to FDR.  

    • Are you a Paul Ryan fan?


      • Ryan

        No, not necessarily. but I think his views have been grossly misrepresented on many blogs and news sources out there.  He’s a Jack Kemp/Bill Bennett/Bush 43 Republican who’s not really in step with the Ron/Rand Paul crowd that have a different agenda overall IMO.  I presume you may disagree with that, just stating an opinion.  Your sources may lead you to a different conclusion.

        I voted for Buddy Roemer as a write in in 2012 and I voted for Obama in 2008.  

        • I just find it ironic

          That socalled moderate or conservative dems will often vote for republicans like Reomer, Kemp or Ryan, but then will guilt trip anyone up that prefers greens to moderate dems!

          • My history

            Begins with my first ever vote in 1964, for Goldwater. I grew up at a dinner table that despised FDR and of course now I just flat can’t understand that attitude of my folks’.

            Next votes in order were for Nixon, McGovern, and then Demos all the way up to Dubya (but only his first time). Kerry, BO and BO.

            Obviously Nixon contributed to making me into a Demo.

            Only other Repub I ever voted for was Leach every time but his first.

            • Was born in 1967

              I voted for Dukakis, Clinton, Clinton, Gore, Obama, and Jill Stein!

              Since young people are no longer conservative I fail to see why the party still has to pander to former republicans, and socalled Reagan dems!

          • Very true

            I hope I don’t belittle any Greens.  The people who I vote for are all generally capitalistic, maybe crony capitalists in some cases.  Not the invisible hand of the market types.  That’s the way I see it anyway.

            I concede I am a status quo kind of guy.   In some ways the status quote can harm society though, no question about it.  

            I don’t think I’d vote for Paul Ryan under any forseeable circumstances.  

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