Daily Howler logo
WINDS OF CHANGE CHANGE! Has polling ever failed this badly? Try New Hampshire, way back in 2000: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 9, 2008

WINDS OF CHANGE CHANGE: The winds of change blew through New Hampshire. And then the winds of change changed course, and blew through New Hampshire again.

Why were New Hampshire’s polls so wrong? Last night, cable talkers were pimping “the [Tom] Bradley effect,” in which whites tell pollsters they plan to vote for black candidates even when they don’t. (For what it’s worth, this effect was not observed in the 2006 Tennessee and Maryland senate races.) Others said that Democratic voters, especially women, reacted to the trashing of Clinton by grave-dancing pundits in recent days.

A few basic observations:

Hard to poll: Does our side ever know any damn thing about our recent electoral history? Our once-brightest liberal says, today, that he knows of no recent election where polling failed as it did this week. That’s typical. In fact, the last time New Hampshire held a two-party primary, the polling failed by a larger margin! Here’s the Dean, in a Washington Post “news report,” one day before John McCain racked up his Granite State win over Bush during Campaign 2000:

BRODER (1/31/00): Vice President Gore shifted abruptly from a stance of lofty disdain and denounced the tactics of challenger Bill Bradley today as the New Hampshire primary campaign entered its final hours with polls showing tightening races in both parties.

On a day when the five Republican hopefuls and the two Democrats raced from television studios to town meetings before joining the rest of America in watching the Super Bowl, Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Arizona Sen. John McCain, deadlocked in the latest surveys of the GOP race, took heart from enthusiastic crowds and continued their polite sparring for advantage.

On January 31, Broder reported that Bush and McCain were “deadlocked in the latest surveys.” The next day, McCain won the race—by 18 points! But then, New Hampshire can be hard to poll, in part because of its large numbers of independents, who are free to vote in either party’s primary (more below).

At any rate, the polls were “wrong” by a larger margin the last time New Hampshire ran a two-party primary! Typically, our side hasn’t heard. But then, neither had our old pal Chuck Todd, who whiffed on this completely and totally on MSNBC last night. Maybe it’s time for Chuck, who’s superb, to hire us as expert staff. We’ll need Chris’ office, of course.

(Quick postscript: To appreciate the flavor of daily reporting from Campaign 2000, note Broder’s contemptuous opening sentence, in which he refers to Candidate Gore’s “stance of lofty disdain.” And yes, this was a front-page news report, not an op-ed column. It was written with—who else?—Ceci Connolly.)

Two parties: Why did the polling fail this week? Like you, we don’t know, but here’s one guess: In New Hampshire, independents jump parties depending on where the action is. In the past few days, pundits said the Democratic race would be a blow-out—that the action was on the Republican side. A guess: Some independents who polled for Obama jumped over to vote for McCain (or for Ron Paul; or for somebody else). In the last eight years, pundits have routinely said that the late surge to McCain in Campaign 2000 cost Bill Bradley a bunch of votes. Last night, as is so typical, this thought fled these same pundits’ heads.

Warm-weather friends: It’s often very cold when New Hampshire votes. Last evening, we called our sister in Portsmouth—and she said, with suitable amazement, that the temperature there was 61! We’ll promise you: Some of Clinton’s “older woman” voters would have stayed home on a colder day. (How many? We have no idea.) Inevitably, good weather boosts turn-out. This disfavors the campaign with more passion, which would have been Obama’s.

The [Tom] Bradley effect: Did some whites tell pollsters they were planning to vote for Obama, even though they knew they weren’t? Presumably, somebody did that in New Hampshire, although it’s a slightly odd approach in a two-party primary. (Again, this effect was not observed in Maryland or Tennessee, 2006.) In 1982, when the “Bradley effect” got its name, voters had only two choices when pollsters called—the Democrat Bradley, or the Republican Deukmejian. In New Hampshire, voters had all sorts of “politically correct” choices available aside from Obama.

By the way, the 1982 “Bradley effect” was more minor than this week’s poll swing—and some have attributed it, at least in part, to bungled polling. In 1982, Bradley’s lead had been shrinking for a month; he ended up losing by an eyelash. In 1989, Tom Rosenstiel analyzed the matter in the Los Angeles Times:

ROSENSTIEL (11/9/89): If the idea that voters lie to pollsters is unfounded or at least exaggerated, what happened in Tom Bradley's gubernatorial race in California in 1982?

Several polls, including The Los Angeles Times Poll, showed Bradley winning handily. With a week to go, Field's California Poll showed Bradley ahead by seven points.

One problem, which cropped up again Tuesday, was that pollsters overestimated minority turnout.

Field and others expected it to be about average, 20 percent. But since Bradley chose to run as a mainstream candidate, not mobilizing his base, minority turnout was only 15 percent.

Another factor was the failure to measure undecideds.

And when exit polls failed to predict George Deukmejian's victory over Bradley, that was partly because pollsters had not anticipated that relaxed restrictions on absentee voting would cause a rise in that segment of the vote, and that it would go 80 percent Republican.

Field now asks people in pre-election votes if they are voting absentee, and weights those figures into his exit polls.

Did the “Bradley effect” play a role in New Hampshire? Like the pundits you watched last night, we don’t have the slightest idea. But that didn’t stop the clowns from their clowning. In recent days, Chris Matthews had expressed his outrage at the (vastly embellished) claim that the Clinton campaign had accused Iowa voters of sexism. Last night, after roughly a ten-second delay, he began savaging Granite Staters for their disgraceful racism. Suddenly, Matthews was feeling the spirit. To him, Democrats are “sweaty, crazy, yelling” people (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/22/07). Last night, the disappointed talker seemed to say they were big racists too.

The winds of change blew through New Hampshire—and through the caverns of a sad talker’s mind. But readers, New Hampshire is hard to poll. Dead even with Bush, McCain won by 18. All four hopefuls were white guys that year—and the polling was way off then too.

Not that we liberals would ever attempt to learn from our recent elections.

ASTOUNDING: Obviously, there is nothing left to say about Maureen Dowd. On December 30, the nation’s most visible public crackpot wrote a deeply strange year-end column about having a faith healer come to her home to “clear” it of karmic disorder. (And no, she didn’t seem to be joking—click here.) This morning, she gives us a look at the giants among whom she works. Incredibly, her extra-long piece is headlined thus: “Can Hillary Cry Her Way to the White House?” Even we were startled:

DOWD (1/9/08): When I walked into the office Monday, people were clustering around a computer to watch what they thought they would never see: Hillary Clinton with the unmistakable look of tears in her eyes.

A woman gazing at the screen was grimacing, saying it was bad. Three guys watched it over and over, drawn to the ''humanized'' Hillary. One reporter who covers security issues cringed. ''We are at war,'' he said. ''Is this how she'll talk to Kim Jong-il?''

Another reporter joked: ''That crying really seemed genuine. I'll bet she spent hours thinking about it beforehand.'' He added dryly: ''Crying doesn't usually work in campaigns. Only in relationships.''

Bill Clinton was known for biting his lip, but here was Hillary doing the Muskie. Certainly it was impressive that she could choke up and stay on message.

There you see them, swapping quips in their small, cramped part of the palace.

Jesus, what a gang of losers! Clinton was “doing the Muskie,” Dowd says. Of course, as we recently noted, David Broder acknowledged, long ago, that Muskie quite likely didn’t “do the Muskie” himself (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/28/07), but people like Dowd never drop preferred stories. Indeed, she may be showing professional courtesy; “the Muskie” is one of the few confections about Major Hopefuls of the last half-century which she herself didn’t invent. (Al Gore said he inspired Love Story! And: George H. W. Bush asked for a splash of coffee! And: John Kerry said, Who among us doesn’t love NASCAR! The crackpot helped dream them all up.)

Beyond that, note the portrait Dowd provides of the people around whom she works. (It’s odd to think that she goes to an office to write about her ghost-busting.) A security expert thinks the next president will be chatting it up with Kim Jong-Il. Others offer hackneyed quips about the way Clinton was faking—although she obviously wasn’t. (If you don’t know that, you don’t understand why acting schools exist.) But the dopes who write our big newspapers instinctively rush to such speculations. (They did the same with Romney in the past few weeks.) Maybe the faith healer has a good friend who can freshen the air inside heads?

Dowd’s whole column today is appalling, even by her own bizarre standards. (Clearly, the Times has gone way past the point of embarrassment.) Her remarks about LBJ are utterly stupid. (“Living Democrats” know that Johnson was a giant of the civil rights movement, despite the tragedy of Vietnam. Dr. King also knew that.) She offers the standard non-analysis analysis of the Kyl-Lieberman vote. (Do you think she has any idea what the measure may have entailed?) She says Bill Clinton put Bush in the White House through his affair with Miss Lewinsky, who must appear in all such columns. (We agree with Dowd’s assessment. But did she herself put Bush in the White House when she invented the Love Story blather, months before we’d heard of Monica? When she wrote, from the soul of her spreading illness, that Candidate Gore “is so feminized...he’s practically lactating?”) And then too, inevitably, there’s feigned non-comprehension:

DOWD: [I]n the end, she had to fend off calamity by playing the female victim, both of Obama and of the press. Hillary has barely talked to the press throughout her race even though the Clintons this week whined mightily that the press prefers Obama.

Should Clinton engage the press more? It’s hard to say. But duh! Targeted pols avoid the press because they know they’re targets. To state the blindingly obvious, that’s why Gore had to stop talking to reporters after Dowd invented the Love Story claptrap—after it became abundantly clear that every trivial, accurate comment would now be used against him. Often, we liberals still don’t seem to understand these dynamics; we echo complaints like this by Dowd—and we haven’t yet come to understand that we have to defend all our leaders, even those whom we might not prefer. Of course, life-forms like Dowd will always pretend they don’t understand this game either.

There’s very little left to say about this gruesome figure. But we liberals still haven’t publicly defined Dowd’s cohort, whom we mock among ourselves as “the Villagers.” Average people still haven’t heard about their culture—this average person, for example:

LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (1/3/08): I have been a daily Times reader for nearly 40 years, beginning with my first subscription at my New England preparatory school in the 1960s.

The opinion section has always drawn me into thoughtful discussion, with distinguished columnists from William Safire to Maureen Dowd, and from Paul Krugman to David Brooks (about whom I still have doubts).

But surely something has gone wrong when The Times embraces William Kristol, one of the neocon architects of the Bush administration's failed first-strike Iraq strategy, and an unapologetic hawk on similar aggression against Iran.

Good God. This reader still thinks Dowd is a “distinguished columnist” offering “thoughtful discussions.” Liberals should flesh out our ideas about “the Village”—and make sure that such voters have heard them.

For decades, people like this have been told that the Dowds are driven by a vile “liberal bias.” They’ve heard it over and over again; indeed, they still seem to think that the press is “too liberal” when it covers elections (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/20/07). We mock Village morés—among ourselves. We need to do what conservatives did—we need to find ways to tell the public, not just ourselves, about this broken-souled clan.

TOMORROW: Kurtz spots liberal bias.