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Examining New Hampshire's Surprise Shift to Clinton

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Examining New Hampshire's Surprise Shift to Clinton

Election 2008

Examining New Hampshire's Surprise Shift to Clinton

Examining New Hampshire's Surprise Shift to Clinton

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

What happened? How did almost all of the pollsters and pundits miss the fact that Barack Obama's big move in New Hampshire had not really closed the sale? Or do those pollsters and pundits just not understand how voters think?


And as Mara just told us, conventional wisdom and all those polls we talk about all the time were just plain wrong. Pollsters and pundits are wondering where they missed the mark.

Here is NPR's Tovia Smith.

TOVIA SMITH: If nothing else, the misleading polls made for some exciting TV.

(Soundbite of TV program bits)

Unintelligible Man #1: And Hillary Clintons win. What a stunner.

Unintelligible Woman: Well, I think everyone is surprised about yesterday's primary results.

Unintelligible Man #2: Lo and behold, she won. But why?

SMITH: Pollsters and pundits are still trying to come up with ways to explain it. There's everything from Obama's place on the ballot, his name was printed 25 lines below Clintons, to, well, you know how women can change their minds at the last minute.

Ms. COURTNEY KELLY(ph) (New Hampshire Voter): Yesterday.

SMITH: You decided yesterday?

Ms. KELLY: Yes.

SMITH: Courtney Kelly is one of the nearly 20 percent of voters who woke up on primary day undecided. She had never really considered Clinton.

Ms. KELLY: I never was a fan of hers, really.

SMITH: But Kelly, a waitress in Manchester, says she started thinking about it after she saw Clinton's now famous Oprah-esque moment when the candidate seem to let her guard down at a local diner and reveal a more vulnerable side.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, presidential candidate): This is very personal for me. It's not just political. It's not just public. I see what's happening.

Ms. KELLY: She just seemed to come across softer. I always thought of her as very - I don't know, not that lovable. Stern-like, you know, but you'd like to know that there's a gentle side to her, too.

SMITH: For Kelly, the moment was as pivotal as it was poignant. She says she actually started to feel sorry for Clinton.

Ms. KELLY: I just feel bad for her, to be honest with you. Because being a woman, it's kind of hard, because you're going to get — you're always going to have these guys who are not going to vote for a woman no matter how good she is.

SMITH: So Kelly figured she would. And so, apparently, did many other women.

Ms. CELINDA LAKE (Democratic Pollster): Well, women always make up their minds later than men. What was unique here was that there were back and forth, and so many of them describe themselves as making last-minute snap decisions.

SMITH: Democratic pollster Celinda Lake attributes most of yesterday's shift to women. In Iowa, Obama won among women narrowly. In New Hampshire, as late as Sunday night, he was leading among women by four points. But the teary moment came after the last tracking poll. By the time votes were counted Tuesday night, Clinton was ahead with women by 12 points. In part, it was her well-tuned get out to vote machine. But, Lake says, it was also her retuned, softer, gentler pitch.

Ms. LAKE: I think what happened in New Hampshire is that Hillary Clinton became very comfortable with both a tough side and the soft side. She found comfort with the gender aspect of her campaign. And I think that appealed very much to women voters.

SMITH: Some voters here in the very white and Yankee state of New Hampshire think there may be racial element at work as well. Karen Danchick(ph) voted for Obama, but she suspects many others who claim to support him didn't really.

Ms. KAREN DANCHICK (New Hampshire Voter): Maybe they would like to feel that they're more willing to be accepting of all people than they really are. When it comes time to fill in the bubble, they're not quite as ready to be as color-blinded they might think that they are.

Dr. BETHANY ALBERTSON (Political Psychologist, University of Washington): I do think it's a problem.

SMITH: Political psychologist Bethany Albertson from the University of Washington predicted a month ago that support for Obama was being overstated. Her research found that voters' stated preferences didn't seem to match up with what she measured as their unconscious feelings.

DR. ALBERTSON: Even people who said that they supported Obama shows that they had an unconscious preference for Clinton or a bias against Obama.

SMITH: There has been a lot of academic debate about the role of race in political polling. But Albertson says in a presidential contest, in particular, race may still be one of the many dynamics that conspired to foil the pollsters trying to track yesterday's vote.

Tovia Smith, NPR News, Manchester, New Hampshire.


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Behind the Clinton and McCain Comebacks

A man marks his ballot in a voting booth in Manchester, during the record statewide voter turn-out for this year's New Hampshire primary. Chris Hondros/Getty Images hide caption

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Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Primer on the N.H. Primary

  • N.H. residents can register and vote on primary day.
  • Independent voters make up the single largest voting block of the N.H. electorate: 370,118 out of 827,701 voters.
  • Roughly 30 percent of N.H.'s eligible voters participated in the 2004 primary.
  • Independents can also vote in either the Democratic or Republican primary, whereas in Iowa, caucus goers can only participate if they're registered with a party.

Arizona Sen. John McCain largely owes his New Hampshire GOP primary win to the support of independent voters, moderate Republicans and New Hampshire residents dissatisfied with President Bush, according to exit polls.

New York Sen. Hillary Clinton received her New Hampshire boost from women, a group Clinton has long courted but who went, narrowly, for Illinois Sen. Barack Obama in the Iowa caucuses.

Preliminary exit polls also suggest this New Hampshire primary broke previous statewide voter turnout records, with roughly 500,000 New Hampshire residents flocking to the polls— that's 48 percent of the voting age population in the state.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who came in second in the GOP primary, received the support of conservatives and voters who approved of President Bush.

Obama overwhelmingly held a lead among independents and first-time voters, although the number of first-time primary goers was up only slightly from 2004. Obama also won the youth vote: the 18 percent of the New Hampshire electorate under 30, while Clinton won among voters age 45 and older.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, the GOP winner in Iowa, won the white evangelical vote: 18 percent of the New Hampshire Republican voters.

Among the issues strongly affecting the mindset of New Hampshire primary voters, the economy topped the list for both Republicans and Democrats. Only 14 percent of New Hampshire Democrats and 21 percent of the state's Republicans said they felt like they were "getting ahead" financially.

The Iraq war, healthcare, immigration and terrorism followed closely behind the economy as the top issues in voters' minds.

Republicans listed Iraq, immigration and terrorism as the top three issues. Those most worried about the war and terrorism supported McCain, while voters worried about immigration went with Romney.

Clinton outperformed Obama with poor, less-educated voters, while Obama won among affluent primary voters.

In the ever-present Democratic debate between "change" versus "experience," Obama won amongst those who sought reform. But among the 19 percent of voters who listed experience as their top priority, Clinton held the lead.