I have no idea what drives the question writers at the Des Moines Register/Selzer poll, but they seem to be speaking an entirely different language than the rest of the polling universe.
The poll released last night is the second consecutive Register 2016 presidential poll that doesn't ask the obvious question of likely caucus goers: who would you caucus for right now?
In September, Democrats got a bizarre choice between not names but "A candidate with decades of public service in the U.S. Senate and executive branch" and "A fresh face who will represent a new generation with new ideas." Republicans chose between "A candidate focused on civil liberties and a small government rooted in the U.S. Constitution," "A business-oriented fiscally conservative candidate, and "
A candidate who emphasizes Christian conservative values."
In the poll released yesterday, potential caucus goers were asked not who they would caucus for, but a multiple choice "likability" question.
I "like" Joe Biden. Who doesn't like Joe? You look up "likeable" and there's a picture of Joseph Likeable Biden Jr. right there. I also, despite my ongoing criticism, "like" Hillary Clinton. I don't "like" Dennis Kucinich even though on issues we're very close. Based on our brief conversations I "like" Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum and John McCain though I would never caucus or vote for them.
(Question: What do Iowa social conservatives do if BOTH the last two caucus winners, Huckabee and Santorum, run in 2016? Based on past experience-see the collapse of Sam Brownback and Michele Bachmann- my bet is they unite late behind one and win.)
"Like" doesn't tell me anything. Elections and caucuses aren't an approval voting system where you can vote yes or no on multiple choices. You only get one.
But the greater flaw on the Democratic side of the poll isn't the multiple choice. It's the menu itself.
The Register asked about four names: Clinton, Biden, and two others, ex-Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley. Half our central committee hasn't heard of the last two.
The buzz among those looking for a Clinton alternative isn't Schweitzer or O'Malley or even the vice president. It's Elizabeth Warren. Yeah, yeah, I know she's said she's not running. So did Senator Obama in 2005. That's just something you have to say, a non-optional social convention.
These Register polls tend to roll out additional numbers on various items for several days after the top-line release. Here's hoping that we see some concrete horse race numbers for the 2014 races this week.