It's a pollster's worst nightmare. This year's Republican and Democratic Iowa caucuses have been forced to take place so early that not only will the Jan. 3 caucuses conclude the Christmas/New Year's holiday season, but they will also happen on the same day that one of the top Bowl Championship Series college football games airs on national TV.
Instead of the usual screening question of, "Are you likely to vote?" pollsters and politicians may be asking, "Are you likely to be in town?" or, "Given the choice, do you plan to go out in the freezing cold to the local community center and choose between candidates, or would you rather stay inside your warm house and watch the Orange Bowl on TV?"
Wow, what a mess.
This is why the polling of the Iowa caucuses is of little importance so far. Although it's still relevant for serious discussion, even hardcore political observers like Iowa talk-radio pundit Republican Jamie Johnson see their state's two caucuses as more of "a winnowing out" of weaker candidates than a crowning of a sure-thing nominee.
Of course, Iowa hasn't always been the dead-on indicator of eventual presidential nominees anyway. In fact, until the years of the Bush-Clinton dynasties, Iowa often proved to be a poor predictor.
Many forget that Iowa rejected Ronald Reagan in 1980, and instead chose George H.W. Bush. In 1988, the state GOP chose Bob Dole over the very same Bush who went on the win the presidency. And in 1996, eventual nominee Bob Dole came close to being knocked off in Iowa by Pat Buchanan.
It hasn't been much easier for past Democratic nominees in Iowa. Consider that Bill Clinton got just 3 percent of the vote in the 1992 Iowa caucus before going on to win the presidential election later that year. Four years before that, the Democrat's eventual nominee, Mike Dukakis, came in third place in Iowa.
Much of the national media are trying to convince us that the Iowa caucuses, because they're being held even earlier than usual this year, will be more important than ever in determining the nominees of the respective parties. That's probably the exact reverse of the real situation.
Iowa has been marginalized by being forced into the position of being neither a make nor a break, but more likely a bit of a potential flake. Florida's decision to move its huge primary up to Jan. 29 from March has inaugurated a march of other key states to move up their own primaries, too.