by John McCormick
DES MOINES – It is one of the worst kept political secrets in this town: the last Iowa Poll before Thursday's Iowa caucuses is expected to be online this evening, before it is published Tuesday in The Des Moines Register.
As the most closely watched and respected measure of public opinion in the state, the poll will likely have significant influence on the media storyline in the final days of campaigning in the first-in-the-nation-caucus state.
The paper traditionally runs a tracking graphic that shows how support measured each night (typically at least two or three) that the telephone bank was dialing for poll participants.
Any positive trend from night to night in that graphic will likely be seized on by the media as a sign of "momentum" or a "surge" heading into caucus night.
With a significant number of voters still believed to be undecided in both the Democratic and Republican contests, the poll could give those people help in making their decision, if they want to go with a "winner."
The media is awash in polls of likely Iowa caucus participants, a difficult sample to find under the best of conditions, much less during a holiday week like the one we are in the middle of now.
A Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll released last week had Sen. Hillary Clinton leading in Iowa at 31 percent, followed by former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards at 25 percent and Sen. Barack Obama at 22 percent. The poll was conducted from Dec. 20-23 and Dec. 26-27.
A Reuters/C–SPAN/Zogby poll released over the weekend, meanwhile, also showed Clinton ahead in Iowa, also with 31 percent, followed by Obama at 27 percent and Edwards at 24 percent. On the Republican side, the poll showed a re-tightening race in Iowa between former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckebee and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
A McClatchy-MSNBC poll, also released over the weekend, showed Edwards at 24 percent, Clinton at 23 percent and Obama at 22 percent, while Romney was just ahead of Huckabee.
They are all different polls, with different results and different methodologies.
USA TODAY, a Gannett newspaper like the Register, jumped the gun just a bit on announcing the release of the Iowa Poll, when it reported in its Friday edition that the poll was "due in Sunday's editions" of the local paper.
It is possible that was the original intended publication date, but perhaps finding enough -- and the right mix -- of likely caucus participants is taking longer than expected this holiday week.
Watch the Swamp this evening for a posting on the Iowa Poll numbers.