Here's One Number You Should Be Looking At In 2020 Primary Polls

Ariel Edwards-Levy

There’s no shortage of attention-grabbing numbers to be found in the latest round of primary polls. Among the latest: a new Iowa poll from Monmouth that found South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg surging into the state’s already crowded top tier of candidates, garnering a predictably excitable spate of headlines.

But right now, there’s another type of poll result that’s at least as informative as whom voters are supporting ― how firmly they’ve made up their minds. While polls don’t necessarily agree on who’s leading, they’re generally in consensus here. Across the country, recent surveys find, many voters are still very far from settling on their decisions.

That same Iowa Monmouth poll, for instance, found just 28% of likely caucusgoers reporting they were “firmly decided” on their choice of candidate, with another 8% saying there was only a low possibility that they’d change their minds. The majority said that there was at least a moderate chance that they’d decide on a different candidate.

(Photo: adamkaz via Getty Images)
(Photo: adamkaz via Getty Images)

That suggests Democrats are less settled now than they were at a similar point during the last presidential race, although they’re still not as scattered as the GOP electorate of that cycle. In response to a slightly different question posed in late October 2015, 40% of Democratic caucusgoers in Iowa said they had “completely decided” on a candidate, but just 19% of Republican caucusgoers in the state said the same.

“Iowa caucusgoers are used to changing their minds up to the last minute,” Monmouth pollster Patrick Murray wrote in the wake of the latest poll. “In fact, some probably even look forward to waiting until caucus night to settle on a candidate. This all translates to a race that is extremely fluid and will probably stay that way up to February 3rd.”

In New Hampshire, a Quinnipiac poll found that only about a third of likely voters said their minds were made up on which candidate they’d vote for. About half had picked a candidate, but said they might change their minds, with the rest completely unsure. In a CNN poll of the state conducted by the University of New Hampshire last month, just 23% of likely voters reported that they’d “definitely decided” whom they’d vote for, with 21% saying they were leaning toward a candidate, and a 57% majority that they were still trying to decide.

In Nevada, according to a survey conducted for the Nevada Independent, only 44% of voters who’d chosen a candidate described themselves as being “pretty certain” about their choice, and another 9% were totally undecided.

And nationally, according to The Washington Post and ABC, slightly less than half of the voters who expressed a preference for one candidate said they’d definitely support that person as long as they remained in the race.

Compared to general elections, where many voters will end up deciding along partisan lines, primaries have the capacity to reshuffle quickly and unpredictably, with only glancing regard for demographic or ideological “lanes.”

“A reliable rule of thumb about nomination politics is that when voters are required to make an electoral choice among multiple candidates within the same party, their preferences will be relatively weak, unpredictable, based on limited information, and open to change up until the moment they cast their ballot,” political scientist David A. Hopkins wrote earlier this year.

That doesn’t mean that early primary polls have no predictive value: Per a FiveThirtyEight analysis dating back to 1972, national surveys taken the year before the primary served as “relatively good indicators” of candidates’ strength heading into the election.

But beyond gauging who’s ahead in a race, polls can also help quantify how much room there still is for those results to change. Right now, they suggest that even if “undecided” is no longer quite the party’s real frontrunner, “uncommitted” probably is.

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This article originally appeared on HuffPost.