What Happened in New Hampshire?

After Obama’s impressive victory in Iowa many pundits, including those in Clinton’s own campaign, were expecting a double digit victory for Obama in New Hampshire. The polls coming out over the weekend also suggested this. The question today is why the pundits and polls got it wrong.

To begin with, the polls might not have gotten it wrong. Polls are a snap shot of where the race is at any moment, and as I’ve noted many times voters in primaries make up their minds at the last minute. While a smaller number of voters are likely to switch from party to party, the differences between candidates in a primary are not as great. The exit polls showed that 39% of those who voted for Clinton decided to do so in the final day. It is quite possible that if the primary was held on Sunday Obama would have won as predicted by the polls.

If the polls did get it wrong, it might have been due to the Bradley affect. The theory is that some white voters might tell pollsters that they would vote for the black candidate but actually vote for the white candidate when in the privacy of a polling booth. The Bradley effect would not be seen in Iowa where voting is open.

What most likely happened is that it took far less than many of us anticipated for votes to shift at the last minute and Hillary Clinton’s reverse Muskie moment could have worked to her advantage, especially among women voters who thought that this humanized her. Saturday’s debate might have also helped Clinton, with women voters objecting to seeing the two male candidates both ganging up on her.

There are also a number of other factors which could have affected the vote. These include buyer’s remorse as some second guessed their choice, and perhaps preferred that the race did not end so soon. Some may have decided to vote for the underdog, or to vote against the candidate that was supposed to win based upon the conventional wisdom and polls.The fortunes of two other candidates could have also influenced the vote. Independents might have felt confident that Obama would win based upon the polls, and therefore decided their votes would have more impact in helping John McCain in the Republican primary.

The decline in support for Edwards could have also helped Clinton. The conventional wisdom is that Edwards and Obama split the “change” vote, but this oversimplifies the situation. There are different groups of voters who view the candidates based upon different criteria. Many lower income voters who supported Edwards may have went to Clinton. Should Edwards collapse further we might then see him lose the support of additional types of voters who are more anti-Clinton.

After being surprised by last night’s results, many of us will be more gun shy in making predictions. (I sure can’t keep trying to get away with the Ron Paul defense and claim the predictions were written by someone else without my knowledge.) From the perspective of a blogger, this could be a good thing as we now have wide open races in both parties. We’ve never had a situation such as this when we have had four different winners between the two parties in Iowa and New Hampshire. This could also be helpful to the candidates. Yet another possible reason that Obama didn’t do as well as anticipated is that he appeared to be playing it safe at the end while Clinton was being more open in speaking to the voters. This could be a valuable lesson for the general election campaign.

Arguments could be made as to who is now in a better position. A few weeks ago if you said that Obama would win in Iowa and narrow the gap to under three percent in New Hampshire, the impression might have been that Obama would be the one with the momentum to become front runner. However, after appearing to be down by double digits at the last minute, Clinton sure looks like the comeback gal.

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  1. 1
    The Charters Of Dreams says:

    What Happened in New Hampshire is not good for those of us wanting smaller government:

    “Clinton calls herself a ‘government junkie.’ She says, ‘There is no such thing as other people’s children’ and promises to work on ‘redefining who we are as human beings in the post-modern age.’

    She also is not at a lost for how to futher use the power of the federal government. Indeed, she says, ‘I have a million ideas. The country can’t afford them all.’

    McCain, on the other hand . . . well, actually, on the other side of the same exact coin, has an overall militaristic viewpoint of citizenship. … In order to have a fully profound life as an American you have to sacrifice yourself for the greater good of American exceptionalism. What that means in practice is that we are going to have to greatly expand our military, greatly expand national service amongst civilians and have a greater sense of patriotic, even enforced patriotic duty.

    I don’t know much about Obama (I should start learning more) — and Ron Paul? Well, Ron Paul has shown poor judgement of late, but he still doesn’t scare me they way Hillary and McCain do . . . not that it matters: Ron Paul has a greater chance of winning the Miss America Beauty Pageant than he has the Presidency.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    Regarding Obama, he does have the support (or at least is considered the lesser of many evils) by a number of libertarians and small-government conservatives. This is not because any of us are under the illusion that he is one, but because he at least has some understanding of the viewpoint and is willing to take this into consideration. He’s been exposed to views beyond the liberal orthodoxy at places like the University of Chicago.

    One example can be seen in the controversy over health care plans. Obama personally prefers a single payer system, but also understands (as many liberals do not) the objections from individuals (and not just insurance companies). Compared to Clinton he he also understands how mandates would be perceived and has left them out of his plan.

    I’m sure that if elected Obama would do a lot I disagreed with, Bill Clinton is correct that it is a gamble. I think it is a gamble worth taking compared to the alternatives who actually have a shot at getting elected. Obama, while not perfect, is on the right side of many of the issues which now count. He’s the only viable candidate running who opposed the war from the start. As a former professor of Constitutional law he has shown better understanding than many of the other candidates of the violations of civil liberties and break down of the separation of powers. While I’m sometimes bothered by the amount of religious references in his campaign, he has also spoken out on the importance of separation of church and state. This is especially important as, besides the war and related abuses of civil liberties, the greatest threat we now face to liberty comes from the religious right.

  3. 3
    The Charters Of Dreams says:

    Good Post. I’ll have to think more about Obama.

    You’re right about the religious right — they’re complete and utter nutcases more at home in the 5th century rather than the 21st, and (it may come as a surprise), the GOP elites HATE the evangelicals . . . but sadly and not surprisingly, that hasn’t yet stopped them from pandering to the evangelicals:


  4. 4
    Ron Chusid says:

    What matters is that they do pander. Pre-Bush there was a stronger case to be made that the Republicans would pander to them around elections and then ignore them. Bush has given them far more with the erosion of the Republican Party they are now too large a constituency in whats left of the party for candidates to ignore.

    This puts the Republican elites in a jam. They are one of their strongest basis of support, but the more they pander to them, the more they become unable to attract the support of others, ultimately shrinking the party.

  5. 5
    William Hallowell says:

    Interesting post. Indeed, many people have been up in arms over this matter. And, of course, the pollsters are taking heat for miscalculating. Predicting elections is one of the most difficult challenges in survey work. Generally speaking, election surveys actually do work fairly well (it’s worth remembering that the polling on the Republican side in New Hampshire was pretty accurate). See what we had to say about this at Public Agenda http://www.publicagenda.org/headlines/headlines_blog.cfm

  6. 6
    The Charters Of Dreams says:

    Polls and political “experts” — their predictions are about as realiable as the weather man. Why the pundits and polls got it wrong is a great question — THAT they got it wrong should surprise no one:

    From The Forontal Cortex:

    Nobody should be surprised. In 1984, the Berkeley psychologist Philip Tetlock began an epic research project: He picked two hundred and eighty-four people who made their living “commenting or offering advice on political and economic trends” – they were professional pundits – and began asking them to make predictions about future events. He had a long list of pertinent questions. Would George Bush be re-elected? Would there be a peaceful end to apartheid in South Africa? Would Quebec secede from Canada? Would the dot-com bubble burst? In each case, the experts were asked to rate the probability of several different possible outcomes. Tetlock then interrogated the experts about their thought process, so that he could better understand how they made up their mind. By the end of the study, Tetlock had quantified 82,361 different predictions.

    After Tetlock tallied up the data, the predictive failures of most experts became painfully obvious. When asked to forecast the probability of a specific event happening, pundits tended to perform worse than random chance. A dart throwing chimp would have beaten the majority of well-informed experts. Tetlock also found that academic specialists – say, an expert in Middle Eastern affairs or a specialist on the New Hampshire primary – weren’t any better than the-man-on-the-street at predicting the future. “We reach the point of diminishing marginal predictive returns for knowledge disconcertingly quickly,” Tetlock writes in Expert Political Judgment. “There is no reason for supposing that contributors to top journals–distinguished political scientists, area study specialists, economists, and so on–are any better than journalists or attentive readers of The New York Times in ‘reading’ emerging situations.” Furthermore, the most famous experts in Tetlock’s study tended to be the least accurate, consistently churning out overblown and overconfident forecasts. Eminence was a handicap.

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