Tuesday, January 15, 2008

New Hampshire Surprise Explanations

The results of last week’s Democratic primaries in New Hampshire have surprised not a few people.
The results of last week’s Democratic primaries in New Hampshire have surprised not a few people. Media figures displayed a mix of elation and astonishment. Polling companies rushed to produce explanation of why polls, right within the margin of error for every other candidate (Democrat or Republican), had failed so dramatically only for Sen. Clinton. Several election watchdog organizations cried foul. Others raised concerns. The public mostly yawned. And Congressman Kucinich asked for a recount (which NH officials granted). So what is the true story? Below are some theories: some interesting, some far-fetched, some patronizing, some intriguing. I report, you decide.

1) The "Undecided/undeclared voters were moved by Clinton's diner moment" Theory (see "Scenes From A Diner", below).

Interesting theory. Assumes that basically all undeclared/undecided chose Sen. Clinton on the spur of the "moment of humanity". Assumes that everyone gave said moment a "thumbs up". Assumes that polling companies, which have gotten everything else right, got Sen. Clinton’s numbers wrong. Assumes that most undecided or undeclared women, if not all, were swayed by Sen. Clinton’s teary-eyed moment. (Women represented the largest block of undecided/undeclared women. Notably, the woman who asked the question which prompted the Senator's outburst voted for Sen. Obama). Assuming, assuming, assuming. You know what assuming does...

2) The "People in New Hampshire did not want the Democratic race to be over so fast, so they swung to Sen. Clinton in droves" Theory.

Don’t remember where I heard this theory, but I bet it was one of the cable news channels. In any case, it is just too good to leave out. It assumes that New Hampshire voters who would otherwise voted for Senators Obama or Edwards voted, in spite of their best judgment, to prolong the nominating process for the benefit of… other voters? the media? Your guess is as good as mine. It also assumes that, had Sen. Obama won, the rest of the nation would have cancelled all other contests, bowing its will to that of Iowa and New Hampshire, and that people would have gladly returned to American Idol, which, coincidentally, starts today. In other words, it assumes that New Hampshire voters are as moronic as the brains that conceived this theory (I don't mean to slander, but I am thinking it might have been Chris Matthews). Anyway…

3) The "Triumph of experience over hope" Theory.

This is the explanation of Terry McAuliffe, manager of Sen. Clinton’s campaign, and others. On NPR, he said: "ultimately the voters in New Hampshire made the decision that Hillary has the most experience to deal with all the myriad issues that are going to face the next president of the United States." Yawn. Just as Sen. Obama says, experience is overrated. After all, no one can make the case that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld lacked experience. Good judgment, that's another matter.

4) The "Women, women, women…" Theory

This is Tim Russert’s explanation. At the start of the segment, Russert said that even people in Sen. Clinton’s camp thought they were going to lose; but then they saw the number of women that were turning out at the polls and "thought we have a chance". Which is when Matt Lauer, thank God, pointed out that the majority of women went for Obama in Iowa five days earlier, so what would have prompted Clinton’s camp to be excited about the number of women showing up at the polls in New Hampshire? Try answering that yourself. Your explanation of why women trended for Sen. Clinton is as good as Tim Russert ("a combination of factors, Matt, we don’t know." Just what you would expect from the senior political analyst on MSNBC.)

5) The "Obama's mean spirited smirk" Theory

This is the explanation of one Charles Krauthammer, Faux News contributor and Washington Post columnist. I quote, because I couldn’t possibly paraphrase and render justice to the inanity of his opinion:

Asked in the Saturday Democratic debate about her dearth of "likability," Clinton offered an answer both artful and sweet - first, demurely saying her feelings were hurt and mock-heroically adding that she would try to carry on regardless, then generously conceding that Obama is very likable and "I don't think I'm that bad."

At which point, Obama, yielding to some inexplicable impulse, gave the other memorable unscripted moment of the New Hampshire campaign - the gratuitous self-indicting aside: "You're likable enough, Hillary." He said it looking down and with not a smile but a smirk.

Rising rock star puts down struggling diva - an unkind cut, deeply ungracious, almost cruel, from a candidate who had the country in a swoon over his campaign of grace and uplift. The media gave that moment little play, but millions saw it live, and I could surely not have been the only one who found it jarring.

Of course, the smirk must have done it. Next!

6) The " White folks stick it to Scary Black Man" Theory

This is Chuck Todd's theory. White folks tell pollsters one thing, then do another in the privacy of the voting booth. Fascinating. This is supposedly a time-tested theory. Except for two very easy objections: it did not happen in Iowa; and, Obama got the same percentage of votes that polls had predicted. Todd countered the first objection with the caucus explanation: caucuses are public affairs, where you do not hide behind a curtain. True. Also, unconvincing. Pollsters do not follow voters into caucuses to make sure they vote as they have polled, so nothing forces a person to vote for the same person he gave his poll preference to. Todd had no explanation for the second objection. You would think that you would have to pass muster to become a network’s political director. Not at NBC.

7) The "No polls after Clinton’s diner tears" Theory

This is Zogby's explanation. If there polls had been conducted AFTER Clinton shed her tears, polls might have accounted for a shift in her direction. Lame. See 1).

And, finally…

8) The "Another stolen election" Theory

This is by and large the favorite theory in the blogosphere. This theory examines discrepancies in actual results vs. polls, and analyzes discrepancies by voting method (for example, paper ballot vs. electronic vote).

For an example of this theory, see Bradblog, a site largely devoted to election matters. This theory was quickly dismissed by the mainstream media as the work of the usual conspiracy theorists and crazy bloggers. Except that data justifies some doubts. Detractors of this theory nonchalantly explain away the discrepancy between actual and forecast results with the failure of polls to account for unanticipated factors: much as the large turnout of Evangelicals and "value voters" has been used to explain Bush's 2004 upset of John Kerry, an unanticipated influx of women voters, moved by Sen. Clinton's Monday afternoon tears, explains why Obama was upset in New Hampshire. Of course, detractors choose to ignore the flaws of electronic election systems, as well as bunches of suspect statistical data.

As I said, I report, you decide. But allow me one more theory: my own.

9) The "Cry me… a stolen election" Theory

This theory combines Hillary’s distressingly strained outburst in a New Hampshire diner with the stolen election theory. In other words: Hillary cries on Monday afternoon, too late for polls to account for her outburst, but just in time to supply a plausible—if somewhat laughable—explanation of her upset victory. Premier Election Solutions machines (formerly known as Diebold Election System) do the rest. If you are ready to dismiss this theory as the lunacy of conspiracy theorists, consider this: in precincts where manual ballots where used, Obama won, on average, by seven percentage points; where electronic voting machines where used (which account for 80% of voters in New Hampshire) Hillary Clinton won by 5% (on average). See EDA’s statistics here.

Note that the swing in undecided voters to Sen. Clinton could have not adequately supported had the networks and cable media not spent the whole day Monday and Tuesday replaying the images of her emotional moment over and over and over again, and conjecturing on the potential effects of Clinton’s moment of humanity. Then again, cui prodest? Who benefits the most from a nomination process where a clear candidate does not emerge until late in the game?

Thankfully, Rep. Kucinich (D-OH) asked for a recount in New Hampshire, and the recount was granted. Stand by to learn more.

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