DES MOINES, Iowa – The Iowa Democratic Party (search), worried that caucus-goers could be swayed, asked a media consortium Wednesday to delay reporting entrance poll results the night of the Iowa caucuses.
In a letter to members of the National Election Pool (search), an exit poll consortium, Jean Hessburg, the state party's executive director, asked that reporting of entrance poll results be delayed at least 30 minutes after the caucuses are under way Monday night.
"Your plan to release the results of your entrance polls at 7 p.m. CST (8 p.m. EST) places the results at the most critical point in the precinct caucuses — the point where participants enter the first phase of alignment," Hessburg said in the letter. "We fear the premature release of your findings may jeopardize or handicap the outcome in the first-in-the-nation caucuses."
The caucuses start at 7:30 p.m. EST, but preference groups cannot begin forming until 8 p.m. NEP plans to interview 1,500 Iowans as they go into the caucus sites about their candidate preference and views on issues.
There is no official closing time for the caucuses, where voters try to persuade one another to support a particular candidate in discussions that can be lengthy.
By delaying the release of the results until at least 8:30 p.m., Hessburg said it would allow caucus-goers time to move into their candidate preference groups without being influenced by media reports of the entrance poll.
"Releasing your results just 30 minute later could make a huge difference in keeping our caucus night free from outside interference," she wrote.
Hessburg said early reporting of entrance polls results could affect the strategy of campaigns as they work to attract supporters. The results could easily be obtained via the Internet or by cell phone and influence the results, she said.
"Strategy can be determined by premature entrance polls, perhaps even more so at the caucus level than in a general election where there is an up or down vote — caucus-goers can change their mind at different times during the evening," Hessburg said in a telephone interview.
NEP is an exit poll consortium formed last February by The Associated Press and five television networks — NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN and FOX. Each partner uses the exit poll material as it sees fit.
"Entrance polling is not new to Iowa," said AP Vice President and Managing Editor Mike Silverman. "In the past, AP and the networks have generally characterized the results and the political parties have not complained about it.
"On Monday night, AP will scrutinize the polling results and decide how to proceed based on our best news judgment."
In a conference call Wednesday afternoon, other NEP partners indicated they would follow a similar course.