Iowa Poll Spotlights Importance Of Turnout

By Dan Balz and Jon Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York remain deadlocked in Iowa, with former senator John Edwards of North Carolina trailing, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll that underscores the importance of the massive efforts the Democratic candidates have set in motion to turn out supporters on Jan. 3.

In a race that could hinge on a campaign's ability to motivate voters to brave wintry conditions and spend hours attending caucuses, each of the leading contenders appears to enjoy distinct advantages. More of Obama's backers said they are certain to participate than did those who have gotten behind Clinton. But Clinton's supporters are the most committed and enthusiastic, and Edwards counts among his supporters experienced caucus attendees who are more likely to turn out again.

Enthusiasm for a candidate and familiarity with the process are critical components in the caucuses, in which voting takes place in public after speeches on behalf of each of the candidates, and complex rules dictate the allocation of delegates.

The three front-runners are pouring resources into the state, viewing the caucuses as potentially decisive in the battle for the Democratic nomination.

Obama has gained ground on Clinton on the question of which Democrat is seen as most electable in November 2008, which had been one of her early calling cards in wooing voters. Clinton retains a significant advantage as the candidate with the best experience to be president.

Overall, 33 percent of likely caucusgoers support Obama, 29 percent Clinton and 20 percent Edwards. A month ago, four percentage points also separated Obama and Clinton at the top (30 percent to 26 percent).

The other Democrats campaigning actively in Iowa remain far behind. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson registered 8 percent in the new poll, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware 4 percent and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut 1 percent.

Iowa's caucuses put a premium on organization, and all the campaigns are engaged in unprecedented efforts to identify supporters and get them to one of the 1,781 precinct caucuses.

Here the poll offers good news for each of the leading candidates. More than seven in 10 of Obama's supporters said they are certain to participate in the caucuses, compared with 59 percent of Clinton's backers.

Clinton's supporters, however, are the most firmly behind her. Seventy percent said they will definitely caucus for her in two weeks, while Edwards's and Obama's supporters were more apt to say there is a good chance they might change their minds. Moreover, 59 percent of Clinton's backers said they are very enthusiastic about supporting her, compared with 49 percent of Obama's supporters.

Solid support for both Clinton and Edwards rose over the past month, while Obama's remained stable. The level of excitement among Clinton's and Edwards's supporters also increased in that time, but did not change among Obama's.

Adding to the challenge for Clinton and Obama is that they are relying more heavily than Edwards on potential first-time caucus participants. More than half the supporters of Clinton and Obama have never caucused, while two-thirds of Edwards's backers have done so. Edwards is hoping to draw on the network he built in Iowa four years ago when he finished second to Sen. John F. Kerry, the eventual Democratic nominee.

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