TIME Poll: Edwards On Track in Iowa

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Kenneth Jarecke / Contact for TIME

John Edwards campaigns outside of the Hamburg Inn in Iowa City, Iowa on August 20, 2007.

John Edwards is betting that a strong showing in the Iowa caucuses will catapult him into national contention, and so far his strategy in the state is on track. A new TIME poll of likely Iowa caucus goers, taken a week after Edwards' seven-day, 31-stop bus tour of the state, gives Edwards 29% of the vote, five points ahead of Hillary Clinton and seven ahead of Barack Obama. This latest TIME Poll of 519 likely Iowa Democratic caucus goers finds that, among the so-called "second-tier" candidates, Bill Richardson has 11%, with Joe Biden at 5%, Dennis Kucinich with 2%, and Chris Dodd at 1%. (The Poll was conducted August 22 25, 2007. The margin of error is approximately +/- 5 percentage points.)

With the field limited to the top four candidates, Edwards's lead over Clinton widens, to 32% to 24%. Obama was at 22%, with Bill Richardson at 13%. Iowa polls can be unreliable, since only 5% to 10% of voters go to the caucuses; some other recent surveys have Edwards in a dead heat with Clinton and Obama. The race remains wide open, but Edwards's position remains strong.

For Edwards, the poll has some less welcome news as well. So far, at least, his attempts to portray himself as the real change agent in the race — the one who wants to slam the door on lobbyists and other "Washington insiders" — isn't paying off. Obama beats him by 35% to 25% on the question of who "will take on special interests in Washington." (Clinton trailed with 19%.) Iowa Democrats seem to like Edwards more for who he is than for what he says; they call him the "most likable" and the one who best understands their concerns, but his toss-out-the-insiders message hasn't stuck.

Iowa caucus goers see strengths and weaknesses in each candidate. Among the top four candidates:

* Likeability: Edwards (32%) and Obama (30%) lead as "most likeable." Clinton finishes last, at 12%, just below Bill Richardson (16%).

* Strongest Leadership: Clinton holds a commanding lead over Edwards and Obama, 36% - 23% - 20%. Richardson (9%) trails badly on leadership.

* Handling of Iraq: Clinton (27%) leads Obama (19%), Edwards (18%) and Richardson (16%).

* Protecting Against Terrorism: Clinton leads the field by a wide margin, picked by 27%, compared to Edwards, at 19%, Obama at 15%, and Richardson at 14%.

This TIME Magazine poll was conducted by telephone between August 22-26, 2007 among a random sample of 519 registered voters in Iowa, age 17 and older, likely to attend the 2008 Democratic caucuses. The sample source was a list of registered Democratic and Independent voters in Iowa provided by Voter Contact Services. These registered voters were screened to determine their likelihood of attending the 2008 Iowa Democratic caucuses. Likely voters included in the sample included those who said they were 100% certain that they would attend the Iowa caucuses, or probably going to attend and reported that they had attended a previous Iowa caucus.

The margin of error for the entire sample is approximately +/- 5 percentage points. The margin of error is higher for subgroups. Surveys are subject to other error sources as well, including sampling coverage error, recording error, and respondent error. Data were weighted to approximate the 2004 Iowa Democratic Caucus "Entrance Polls," conducted January 19, 2004.

Turnout in primary elections and caucuses tends to be low, with polls at this early stage generally overestimating attendance. The sample included cell phone numbers, which, to the extent SRBI was able to identify them, were dialed manually.