Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 9, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

HOW DID HILLARY WIN?....So what happened last night? How could the polls have been so far off, predicting an Obama landslide only to have Hillary Clinton pull off a narrow victory?

The first answer is: primary polling is historically difficult. For a variety of reasons, especially in an open-primary state like New Hampshire, it's really hard to get reliable results. Being off by double digits isn't exactly common, but it's not all that rare either.

That said, last night's results really were at the high end of unusual, and none of the obvious possibilities seem to explain it. For what it's worth, Time's Jay Carney, via "a social scientist friend of a colleague" who did some comparisons of polls vs. actual turnout, seems to have the most plausible explanation:

What he found...is that a certain percentage of Democratic voters in the last days of polling presumed Biden (especially) and (to a lesser degree) Dodd hadn't dropped out. By and large, come election day, those Biden and Dodd supporters ended up casting ballots for Hillary. Also, of the 5 percent or so who were still undecideds in the last polls, almost all broke for Hillary.

This makes sense to me. None of the "big" explanations seem to pan out, so it's most likely a collection of little explanations: a few points from Biden supporters, a few points from Dodd supporters, a few points from undecideds, a little bit better turnout from women, and perhaps a bit of polling error in the post-Iowa polls. Add it all up and you get a 10-12 point swing. It's not a sexy explanation, but it seems like it's probably the right one.

Kevin Drum 2:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (54)

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Makes sense. Thanks.

Posted by: paxr55 on January 9, 2008 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

You had a 30 point swing -13 to + 17 among single women in 5 days, going from Iowa to NH.

That's not Biden and Dodd voters.

38 percent decided after Iowa--and they were in the polls showing the Obama surge, and had to include Biden and Dodd voters.

This was clearly a reaction to the full-court trashing of Clinton.

Posted by: jayackroyd on January 9, 2008 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

Somerby points out today that the polls got McCain vs. Bush in 2000 wrong by 18 points.

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement on January 9, 2008 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

I'll add another possibility to the list of small contributing factors -- the "stick it to the man" factor. I speak not of gender (well, not mostly), but of the way the media seemed to have decided for the little state of New Hampshire how it was going to vote and who was now the frontrunner.

I don't think you have to be a stereotypically ornery New Hampshirite to want to deny the network pundits a chance to show-off how right they always are. I hate these media dogpiles -- even when they back a candidate I prefer. (I'm pretty much going for Obama at this point.)

Posted by: Bob on January 9, 2008 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks, Kevin. You want to go tell this to Sully?

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on January 9, 2008 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

Agreed. When there are so many variables in play, it is infuriating the way the press always goes looking for one explanation.

See: gay marriage in Ohio.

Posted by: jacob on January 9, 2008 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

jayackroyd: I don't if the media trashing of Clinton was a factor or not, though I'm inclined to believe it was. But where did you get your 30-point swing among single women? I haven't seen that figure.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on January 9, 2008 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

Don't forget though--alphabetically Hillary's name was at the top of the ballot!!!! An advantage she NEVER would have had if she were still RRRROdham!

I'm impressed she planned that so far ahead of time, but it's the most plausible explanation of her victory AND her marriage. Occam's razor.

Posted by: Spyman on January 9, 2008 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK


Posted by: Econobuzz on January 9, 2008 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

McCain is a hot tempered azz and I believe that he would be worse than Bush, this we can not stand. He has already said that the American people could care less if we stayed in Iraq for decades, nothing could be farther from the truth, he is a war hawk just like Bush so if you want our troops in Iraq for a very long time then by all means vote for this Republican idiot another Bush wanna be. You have to pick the most reliable person for this position with some experience and I believe it is Hillary, she is not a war hawk like most of the Republican party, and there are some out there that believes a womans place is in the home or in the kitchen who should be seen but not heard, wake up people this is 2008 not 1908, GO HILLARY.

Posted by: Al on January 9, 2008 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

Bradblog asks the question that should be asked -every- time the polls don't match the results: were the votes counted accurately? Not implying anything, but we know voting machines are hackable...

Posted by: Robert on January 9, 2008 at 2:22 PM | PERMALINK

How could the polls have been so far off, predicting an Obama landslide only to have Hillary Clinton pull off a narrow victory?

Pretty simple Kevin. It's called the Bradley effect. I'm not surprised the party of Robert Byrd rejected a bright articulate African American man to be President of the United States. The Democratic Party and liberals have shown their true feelings about African Americans, and it is not pretty. Democrats were so ashamed of their racial prejudice, they couldn't admit it resulting in the Bradley effect and causing pollsters to misjudge who would win the primary. Even worse, Bill Clinton's last minute racist smear of Obama was the worst of the worst of concerted attack on the decent and humane Barack Obama. Barack Obama has reached his glass ceiling in the Democratic Part and Democrats are going to do everything possible to prevent him from going any higher.
The conclusion of last nights vote is loud and clear. There is no place for African Americans or colored people in the Democratic Party. If Barack Obama had run in the Republican Party, he would certainly have won because Republicans would've judged him based on the content of his character instead of the color of his skin. For those who still believe in hope over dispair, who still believe in new over old, who stil believe in change, there is only one place for you left and that is the Republican Party. Join us as we do everything possible to destroy the party of Robert Byrd as revenge for their humiliation of Barack Obama.

Posted by: Al on January 9, 2008 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

Econobuzz--Why doesn't the lots-of-little-things explanation make sense? What do you think it was?

Posted by: paxr55 on January 9, 2008 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

I can definitely see Biden voters going for Clinton, but Dodd voters? He's a netroots darling and it seems to me his votes would be far more likely to break for Obama. I'm wondering too if some of Clinton's edge might not have come from women planning to vote Edwards who got pissed at his (apparent) attempt to make hay over her "emotional moment" and gave him a little payback.

Posted by: jonas on January 9, 2008 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

OH Come on people,You know what this all says.The People want the Big Dog back in the Whitehouse granted he won't be the President but we all know he will have great influence the direction Hill will go.This also says Bush has f-ed up this country real bad and we know Bill Clinton will lead this counrty back from the brink.That is what all this means stupid.

Posted by: john john on January 9, 2008 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

Good call. This win by increments makes the most sense. The large number of undecideds seems to be the story that all of the major media outlets are ignoring. The polling was deeply suspect given the number of people not expressing a preference right up to the end.

Posted by: Colin on January 9, 2008 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

This begs the question. Why did those Dodd and Biden voters flock to Hillary at such high rates, even as the electorate as a whole was trending strongly the other direction?

This explanation also ignores the major shifts among women. Were Biden and Dodd overwhelmingly supported by women? Of course not - it's doubtful that more than 55% of their supporters were women, if that. So what happened to the men supporting Biden and Dodd? Either they split for Obama and Edwards - a clear gender gap, compared to the women who went to Hillary - or they all went to Hillary. But if the Biden and Dodd men also went to Hillary, then where did her surge in women come from?


An NPR interviewee this morning described it as her "epiphany": the realization that she had a chance to vote for a woman for president, for the first time in her life. That realization turned the entire election on it's head for the woman: now, she asked, why SHOULDN'T she vote for Hillary? And she had no good reason.

This is a huge phenomenon. It was hidden by the public votes of the Iowa caucuses, where women might feel intimidated when making personal choices in front of neighbors, husbands, boyfriends, and strangers. But in a private voting booth, on a secret ballot.... this will be huge.

Posted by: EthanJ on January 9, 2008 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK


cry me a river... over katrina... uggh... i thought Obama was going to move us beyond this stuff. not a good look by jesse jackson jr.

Posted by: anthony cromartie on January 9, 2008 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

You mean we don't get to blame Diebold?

Posted by: Brian on January 9, 2008 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

Nice try, Al. Really. If Obama had won, you'd have said they were all sexists and if Hillary had been a Republican...okay, I guess even you wouldn't say that. However, it shows how stupid most Republicans are that they hate Hillary with such intensity. Any intelligent conservative (I think there are three left) should be able to recognize just how little the first Clinton Administration did to roll back 12 years of Reagan Bush and should breathe a sign of relief if she's nominated.

She's the best GOP shot at winning and, if she gets in, the least dangerous to your agenda.

Posted by: Bob on January 9, 2008 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

Where is the Black canidate for the Gop AL.

Posted by: john john on January 9, 2008 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK


Sure. Clinton as the nominee is the most likely to lose the general election, thus Republicans rigged the primary to ensure she is the nominee.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on January 9, 2008 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin: you explain how, but not WHY.

Why did the Biden/Dodd/undecided voters all go to Hillary? What caused a small but significant increase in turnout from women? Last minute deciders: why did they decide for Hillary?

My hunch: when a voter waits until the last minute (for whatever reason), when it gets to "gut-check" time, it is the language of emotion that they pay attention to.

Hillary was speaking that language loud and clear ... and those voters listened and acted accordingly.

Posted by: Ara on January 9, 2008 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

Not sure how much stock I put in this, but a Stanford professor thinks that the placement of the candidates names might have played a role in the outcome:

Posted by: Mike P on January 9, 2008 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

HOW DID HILLARY WIN?....So what happened last night? How could the polls have been so far off, predicting an Obama landslide only to have Hillary Clinton pull off a narrow victory?

Something that's been bugging me about the whole nomination system is that, technically, Hillary didn't win. Sure, she received more votes, but at the end of the day, both Hillary and Obama received the same number of delegates.

I think that's the problem with the press coverage of the nomination. The initial caucuses/primaries are thought of as individual units of equal weight (u.e., "wins"), rather than how many delegates each candidate receives. As a result, people who jump on the bandwagon (so they can say they supported the winner) only look at who wins, which then results in skewed weight towards these early primaries/caucuses.

If the press framed the whole race around the delegate count, I think we'd see longer battles into the nomination season, because people would realize how little of the total number of delegates Iowa and NH represent, and also because those jumping on the bandwagon would have to wait a little longer before they could guess who would win.

Posted by: mitch on January 9, 2008 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK



Posted by: trakmaster on January 9, 2008 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK

There's a lot of discussion today about why, exactly, the polls were wrong, but there's very little discussion about why that should matter.

It shouldn't.

I understand why campaigns use polls. They want to know what voters care about and how best to calibrate their messages. And if the media used polling to do something similar -- figure out what the heck voters care about and calibrate their coverage accordingly, well good. I suspect that happens to an extent.

But polling about support for candidates seems to add a lot of noise and little of substance to the national discussion. Who is up? Who is down? It contributes to all of that horserace coverage that detracts from looking at what the candidacies are all about.

I know: Horse races are fun. I'm not suggesting a ban on these kinds of polls in the media -- not going to happen anyway -- but reflecting on their outsize roll in steering our elections.

I guess the jury's out on whether there's a "bandwagon effect" from polling, but it's clear there's some kind of effect. Otherwise, why would the Clinton campaign rebut the final Des Moines Register poll before the Iowa caucus? For the same reason that networks try not to call election winners before voting places close; because an early announcement of numbers is believed to affect the actions of people who haven't decided, or haven't yet voted.

None of this is going to change. And candidates who talk dismissively about the polls are (usually rightly) seen as being a bit sour-grapish. But that doesn't mean they're wrong.

Posted by: Joel on January 9, 2008 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

Did it occur to anyone that HRC is the best candidate and Obama is just a flash and reasonable people figured this out. The Iowa caucasas are obsurd anyways. She is the strongest Dem around with experience, money and brains. Obama is cute and a good speaker but not much beyond that.

Posted by: ml on January 9, 2008 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, I see. The seven people who were voting for Joe Biden and Chris Dodd shifted to Hillary. They probably drove to the polls in one car.

Posted by: Pat on January 9, 2008 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

Why should we care why the polls were wrong, or about the polls at all? To use a sports analogy that Kevin can appreciate, you play the game to find out who wins, you don't rely on stats, or predictions or the Vegas line.

What matters is the vote count or the final score, not the blather of predictions, polls or computer rankings. Other than campaign and media insiders, who gives a rip about polls?

Maybe without the breathless, minute-by-minute poll results - she's up! he's down! momentum shift! - we could put the candidates and the process in better perspective.

Posted by: jrw on January 9, 2008 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

Wow... so it's not because of all those people who voted out of sympathy after her being persecuted by the media?!

But TPM has first hand reports from people who like Obama, but just wanted to stick it to the media for being sexist! Lots of them!

Kos said the only way you can "lash back" against the media is by voting for Hillary! (Because giving fifty bucks out of pity/sympathy is out of the question.. you must screw your first choice candidate in order to screw the media.)

Thank god someone finally broke from that meme. It's bad when the bloggers' meme is as shallow and annoying as the babble spewing forth from Chris Matthews.

Posted by: bubba on January 9, 2008 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK


Many thanks! I feel better already.

Posted by: Brian on January 9, 2008 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

It could also be that, maybe, the last-minute polls were wrong? That Obama's momentum from Iowa couldn't, in five days, overcome a decided Clinton advantage in what she had essentially turned into her backyard?

Posted by: Doug H. on January 9, 2008 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

I changed my mind - I think the Bradley effect had little to do with this..(not least of which is Al putting forth that theory).. several months ago, Hillary had a double digit lead. Then when she faltered a bit in the debates, and the Obama "idea" started gaining momentum, many Hillary supporters went back to the "undecided" column. But she performed well in the most recent debate, (esp. the "that hurt my feelings" line), she regained some of her previous form, and those undecided NH voters bolted back to the Hillary camp. Couple that with the large pro-Hillary female turnout, Hillary gets her victory.

Posted by: Andy on January 9, 2008 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

Bob - I don't think anyone seriously casts a vote just to spite the media. Al #1 - Hillary HAS been a war hawk... when she has thought it suited her. Al #2 - I don't think race had anything to do with it. I think Obama's candidacy has a real shot, and race is not a factor; it's personality.

Posted by: Daydream Believer on January 9, 2008 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

Maureen Dowd says (so it must be true) it was older women who voted for Hillary after everyone jumped on the crying episode.

A Ron Paul website says that hand-counted ballots show Obama winning - http://ronrox.com/paulstats.php?party=DEMOCRATS - Anyone have any idea if this is a valid idea?

Posted by: JMouser on January 9, 2008 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

None of the "big" explanations seems to pan out, so it's most likely a collection of little explanations: a few points from Biden supporters, a few points from Dodd supporters, a few points from undecideds, a little bit better turnout from women, and perhaps a bit of polling error in the post-Iowa polls.

You mean the ranking of politicians in an election doesn't fit into a grand narrative that explains the past and predicts the future and fathoms the will of the people?

Posted by: bellumregio on January 9, 2008 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

And also, Obama is Black, and liberulz don't want to admit to pollsters that they are also racists.

Posted by: BombIranForChrist on January 9, 2008 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

I think the explanation is simple: THE AVERAGE AMERICAN IS DUMBER THAN A STUMP.

Real simple. Look at the jackass that is in the White House currently. After last night, I see Hillary winning the Democratic nomination after a bruising battle and so many on the left are disenchanted (particularly young voters) that they don't bother to vote in November.

Hello President McCain, endless war and the collapse of the American economy....

[Screw it - I'm moving to Sweden]

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on January 9, 2008 at 3:27 PM | PERMALINK

This explanation is ridiculous on its face. The most coherent explanation when a candidate as unpopular as Hillary suddenly inspires the masses is malfeasance. Lost in this story is that New Hampshire uses the hackable voting machines. I was hoping for her speedy exit, but I think many in the GOP love having her viable. There is a plethora of GOP states ahead. Sigh. I was beginning to feel empowered and energized again. Hillary is a Buzzkill. How does she have any progressive support?

Posted by: Sparko on January 9, 2008 at 3:32 PM | PERMALINK


I looked at it. The results they report look accurate, but they only discuss the vote totals being different from precincts that use machine tabulation vs those precincts that hand count. There may be significant demographic differences between such precincts. Fraud in this case is very unlikely to make a significant contribution.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on January 9, 2008 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK


Seriously, how much additional support could previous Dodd and Biden supporters make?

Posted by: Yancey Ward on January 9, 2008 at 3:47 PM | PERMALINK

Yancy: the machine tabulators are the method of choice used to switch votes. So that is a huge story. If Obama wins in hand counts, but loses in the mysterious voting tabulator, it is clearly a foul. Another fact: Obama drew much larger crowds. so the known facts of the situation only raise more questions. I note Kevin has assumed the mantle of "nothing more to see here." Weak tea indeed.

Posted by: Sparko on January 9, 2008 at 4:09 PM | PERMALINK

The Iraq Occupation meant less to New Hampshiroids thant to Iowanites, which also partly explains McCain's win.

Posted by: Brojo on January 9, 2008 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

Conservative Deflator: good point! Hillary is not going to inspire the youth vote at all, that you can take to the bank. Have fun in Sweden, nice country, but a bit chilly. :)

Posted by: CB on January 9, 2008 at 4:33 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe a lot of women just decided that she would be a good nominee. Maybe they got tired of the hype about 'change.' Sticking it to the press was just the icing on the cake.

Obama has a real chance at the nomination, but he will have to work for it. I saw him interviewed this morning, and I think that he understands that perfectly. He will be a better candidate, I think, if he has to earn the nomination. After all, the Republicans aren't going to be nice to him.

Posted by: Susan on January 9, 2008 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK


So recount the votes. They are still there. Otherwise relax. There is NO way an extremely progressive candidate will get elected, and if my a miracle he/she did then he/she'd be stalemated by the Congress.

Incremental change may suck but that's the way politics works and we need to make the best of it.

Posted by: Tripp on January 9, 2008 at 5:06 PM | PERMALINK

I'm an Obama supporter and what worries me is the composition of Hillary's win in NH - she won the woman vote by 10 points, and enjoyed similar margins among older voters (50-and over) and non college educated/working class voters. That's a powerful coalition for a Democrat.

By contrast Obama did well among younger voters, idependents, and higher educated/high income voters but I don't think it's a big enough coalition. If Obama is going to win he's going to need to cut into the woman vote and convince older, risk-averse voters that they aren't "rolling the dice" by voting for him.

Posted by: David68 on January 9, 2008 at 5:08 PM | PERMALINK

Well, looks like we may be just about ready to enter the ugliest food fight in Democratic politics.

Jesse Jackson Jr who is Obama's national campaign co-chair, has basically gone on record sneering at Hillary's tears. The idea is that she was tearing up over her appearance when she would tear up over, to use his example, Katrina.

Now Jackson is of course using Katrina here as a symbol to African-Americans of their neglect.

In short, he's pitting the feelings of women against those of African-Americans. There's no other way to parse it that I can see.

This is really, really going to marginalize the Obama campaign. You don't trash the sentiments of women just so that you can appeal to African-Americans without losing just about any election or nomination process.

And the sheer ugliness of an internecine battle over who deserves greater sympathy, women or African Americans, cannot end well.

And it will be suicide for the Obama campaign.

Posted by: frankly0 on January 9, 2008 at 5:15 PM | PERMALINK

a few points from Biden supporters, a few points from Dodd supporters...

In New Years polls pre-Iowa, Biden plus Dodd garnered 3 Percent.

Even if all that broke for Hillary it is pretty little, even in a "every little bit helps" theory.

Undecideds were 6-8% - why they all broke for Hillary, defying the conventional "undecideds break against the (quasi) incumbent" rule is a mystery.

Posted by: Tom Maguire on January 9, 2008 at 5:31 PM | PERMALINK

Iowa votes its heart. New Hampshire votes its head. The Democratic establishment does not want an Obama victory. It has issues with Obama beyond race such as his perceived liberal voting record and a perception that he has not paid his dues. The establishment empire always strike back as it did when Mondale vs. Hart and Bush vs. McCain.

Posted by: aline on January 9, 2008 at 8:04 PM | PERMALINK

How did Hillary win? nepeta, on another thread, raised the possibility of voter fraud, the Diebold thing again. The story is being followed on The Brad Blog. We can spin ad hoc theories by the hour, but this possibility is something that seems to me to be important to investigate and rule out. The leadership keeps saying that it couldn't possibly be true--why would Diebold cheat?--but the question is empirical.

Here's nepeta in his or her own words:

"Here's your local conspiracy theorist back again... I'm sorry to be a pest, but heck, it's possible, isn't it? Our memories can't be so short. Obama undoubtably has this info and chooses not to make a fuss.

2008 New Hampshire Democratic Primary Results --Total Democratic Votes: 286,139 - Machine vs Hand (RonRox.com) 09 Jan 2008

Hillary Clinton, Diebold Accuvote optical scan: 39.618%
Clinton, Hand Counted Paper Ballots: 34.908%

Barack Obama, Diebold Accuvote optical scan: 36.309%
Obama, Hand Counted Paper Ballots: 38.617%

Machine vs Hand:
Clinton: 4.709% (13,475 votes)
Obama: -2.308% (-6,604 votes)

Posted by: PTate in MN on January 10, 2008 at 8:34 AM | PERMALINK

      The media was so concerned with what went wrong with the polling in NH, as if the credibility of the media was on the line.  Nothing went wrong.  The statistics didn't lie either; it is the nature of factual questions that fail to engage one's inner passion.  The American phenomenon is how people poll with their brains, but vote with their hearts.  This race is anything goes because the American people believe anyone can be President.  That is especially true for the first open election in 80 years.  (Personally, I am still holding out for someone to come on the scene who has the answers.)  After we get to know Obama better than he knows himself, and Rahm Emanuel's words come back to haunt Hillary, then Edwards will be picked out of spite.  As for the GOP, Huckabee is tripping over Woodrow Wilson while preaching on the way how we must endorse the League of Nations, McCain is tripping over Iraq and Immigration, and when Giuliani tripped no one noticed.  When us Dems come up short for a lack of a unified plan, my guess is Edwards will join forces with a yet unnamed business-strategist at nomination time to defeat turnaround specialist Romney.  However, without the full backing of all the major contenders as co-presidents, Edwards will look silly scolding Americans for the poverty-stricken among us when the Kondratieff Economic Winter comes to demoralize its homeowners and SUV owners.  Romney may flop like a fish, but he is the farthest upstream come November.  Tell Rahm to start making some phone calls and invite some bears to go fishing.

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