In Iowa and New Hampshire, where the first contests in the 2008 presidential election season will be held, voters are angry at government, but they are also less preoccupied with US policy in Iraq than in the recent past.
Meanwhile, Democratic voters in those two states are much more confident than are Republicans that their party will prevail in the '08 election.
Those are some conclusions from a new poll of likely caucusgoers in Iowa and likely primary voters in New Hampshire, released Wednesday by Zogby International, a polling and market-research firm based in Utica, NY.
In Iowa, both the Republican and Democratic races are essentially dead heats, said John Zogby, the firm's president and CEO, speaking Wednesday at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast for reporters. Candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards are bunched at the top of the Democratic field, the Zogby telephone survey found. In the GOP race, former Govs. Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee are neck and neck.
In New Hampshire, Senator Clinton has lost ground but still holds an 11-point lead. On the Republican side, Mr. Romney retains a narrow edge over Mr. Huckabee. (Full poll results, including information on its margin of error, can be found at www.zogby.com/news/ReadNews.dbm?ID=1395)
A key finding is that "the voters are extremely angry this year," Mr. Zogby said. "We see very high numbers there. [They are] angry at the political system. They are angry at Congress. They are angry at the president of the United States. That includes Democrats, sizable numbers of Democrats who are angry at Congress, and a sizable number of Republicans who are angry at the president."
Like other pollsters, Zogby is finding that voters have become somewhat less focused on the war in Iraq. A new USA Today-Gallup poll shows that the Iraq war still is the most frequently cited issue on voters' minds, but less so than in the past. Voters cite the Iraq war twice as often as they do the next issue. In April, they cited it three times more often than the second-place issue. The USA Today-Gallup poll found growing voter anxiety over the economy, healthcare, and immigration.
Zogby's research confirms that finding. "What we have seen since August, late August, is the beginnings of what I call Iraq fatigue," Zogby said. "Not because it is an unimportant issue, but because voters are confused on the resolution of the issue… Iraq used to be cited as top of mind by 56 to 60 percent… It is now [cited by] about 28 percent as the No. 1 issue."
As for each party's prospects for winning the White House, Democrats in the two early-voting states are the most optimistic. "We asked, 'Who do you think will win the presidency – a Democrat or a Republican?' " Zogby said. "In Iowa ... 88 percent of Democrats said a Democrat would win. Among Republicans, one-third said that a Democrat would win." As a result, Zogby notes, "whoever wins this nomination and goes through this process on the Republican side is going to have to convince his own base that the Republicans can win."
One wild card on the Democratic side, in both states, is whether and how Oprah Winfrey's support for Senator Obama will affect the vote. Ms. Winfrey has said she will campaign with Obama this weekend. The celebrity and the senator plan to be in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Saturday, and in Columbia, S.C., and Manchester, N.H., on Sunday.
Past polls have shown that celebrity endorsements don't usually affect presidential races, Zogby said. But "this is a different sort of thing with Oprah. She has a proven track record of getting people to buy books, giving to charities, changing behavior, changing their mind-set within a one-hour program. There is a 'come to Jesus' in the late afternoon every weekday in America because of Oprah and her show. In this sense, this one endorsement could matter because she bonds with the heart."
Tracking what voters think about Oprah and other topics is getting harder for pollsters. "The biggest challenge is ... that people aren't answering the telephones," Zogby said. "The national and statewide response rates are low – some as low as 16 to 17 percent… That is often what I get. Some [other pollsters] are reporting 6 or 7 percent response rates.... When I started in the business in 1984, it was 65 percent."
While the national "do not call" list does not apply to pollsters, Zogby said it has empowered those contacted by polling firms to refuse to answer questions. His poll was conducted Nov. 29 through Dec. 1 in Iowa, and Dec. 1-3 in New Hampshire.