Despite leading in just 1 of the last 41 public polls conducted of likely Democratic caucus attendees in Iowa since late August 2007, there is reason for John Edwards to be optimistic about his chances of winning the caucuses Thursday night.
First, Edwards' deficit in most of the recent polls has hovered between just 2 and 8 points. In short, he is at the very least on the heels of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
Secondly, if the three-way race is close, the redistribution of votes cast for caucus attendees' second choice will likely favor Edwards (this will come into play for those supporters of candidates who did not receive the minimum 15 percent in the first vote—probably supporters of Bill Richardson, Joe Biden, Dennis Kucinich, Chris Dodd, and Mike Gravel). Despite Kucinich's instructions that his votes go to Barack Obama if he does not reach 15 percent (Kucinich's support hovers around just 1 percent), nearly all public polls show Edwards winning the plurality of this 'recasting' of what could amount to 10 to 20 percent of the caucus vote. For example, CNN's latest poll found Edwards to have a 12-point lead for voters' second choice. In MSNBC/McClatchy's poll, Edwards had an 11-point advantage.
Thirdly, Edwards is polling particularly strong among people over the age of 50—those most likely to attend the caucuses. Obama is polling extremely strong among younger voters—the demographic that is most unreliable in coming out to vote.
Fourthly, Edwards is polling very strong among past caucus voters—another good sign for Edwards that his supporters are more likely to show up. Obama leads among those who have never previously attended a caucus.
Fifthly, Edwards consistently has the highest favorability rating in the Democratic field—people like him, even those that are not planning to vote for him. The latest MSNBC/McClatchy poll gives Edwards a 7-point advantage over Obama in terms of favorability (73 to 66 percent) and a 14-point advantage over Clinton (59 percent).
Sixthly, though unfortunately for Edwards most voters are not aware of this data, Edwards consistently performs the best among the Democratic field in matchups against GOP opponents. In short, he is currently the most electable Democrat.
Lastly, and this is not something captured scientifically in any polling data, but Obama and Clinton have so far been the beneficiaries of the 'celebrity factor;' Edwards has not. It is because Clinton and Obama are like rock stars, especially among the younger sect for Obama, that their polling numbers might be just a bit inflated. For those who plan to attend the caucus, but do not have a history of doing so, telling a pollster you will vote for Obama or Clinton sounds a lot cooler and more hip than saying you're going to vote for Edwards. In the end, Edwards may just pick up some 'soft support' of previously stated Clinton and Obama supporters once the veil of their celebrity is removed during the discussions on caucus night.