If you like politics you care about tracking polls

The Gazette and KCRG-TV9 have added to the opinion poll glut out there during this Republican presidential caucus campaign, joining Iowa State University political science and statistics researchers who are tracking candidate support. In conjuction with ISU, we released a report on the poll today, Thursday, Nov. 17, that shows Herman Cain with strong support in Iowa, even though he has been on the hot seat the past few weeks.

The poll also shows Ron Paul and Mitt Romney with strong support but Newt Gingrich, who fared well in a Bloomberg News Poll released the previous day, with relatively weak support.

Of course, this raises the question of whether the news media focus too much on the "horse race" aspect of the campaign. It is a common question, often raised by people who cannot help themselves from checking on the race but also by people frustrated when news outlets do not deliver enough information about candidates' political positions and how those positions may impact average folks.

I posed this question on TheGazette.com on Wednesday, Nov. 16:

Is the horse race reporting valuable to you during the presidential campaign?

The question attracted plenty of criticism.

You get no argument from me when making the point that simple "horse race" reporting, without context and explanations for numbers, is lazy. I agree, too, with the notion that the bombardment of polls can feel like overkill.

But reports with perspective on who leads a poll at a certain point in time have value. The ISU polling reported in The Gazette on Nov. 17 goes deeper than who has the most support among Republicans a little less than one year before we get to vote for president for real. It delves into the backgrounds of those supporting specific candidates seeking the GOP nomination, including economic status, education, Tea Party support, gender and religion.

The polling is producing data the ISU researchers will use to analyze how the race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination unfolds. But even before that analysis emerges with the benefit of information still to come, campaigns are using these kind of data every day to track how their candidates are doing with targeted groups. They use such data to help drive decisions you see played out by candidates in public.

In that sense, knowing what they know enhances political reporting. The information becomes public instead of privileged.

Besides, people care about who has the most support at a particular point in time because of the purpose for campaigning -- winning.


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