Wednesday, January 9, 2008

You Go, Girl

I was all set to call this post "You Gone, Girl" -- that is, if Hillary Clinton had lost New Hampshire. But she didn't.

I will proudly point you to last Tuesday's post, where I boldly predicted that the winners in New Hampshire would be Hillary Clinton and John McCain (you can ignore Monday's post, when I hedged my bets by saying okay, maybe Obama would beat Hillary in New Hampshire after all). But I have to admit, I am as stunned as anyone that Clinton derailed the Big O Mo' Mentum Express last night (I think the New York Post headline should be: "NO MO' O-MENTUM")

Here are the final vote totals from the Granite State:

Hillary Clinton 39%
Barack Obama 37%
John Edwards 17%
Bill Richardson 5%

John McCain 37%
Mitt Romney 32%
Mike Huckabee 11%
Rudy Giuliani 9%
Ron Paul 8%
Fred Thompson 1%

By the way, I am a little miffed at all those networks - including my own - which keep saying things like "a surprisingly easy win for McCain" and "it wasn't even close, McCain coasted to victory." Five points is pretty damn close in my book.

Anyway, how did Hillary do it?

Well, there are some conspiracists out there who think there may have been some hanky-panky with the Diebold machines in New Hampshire, but I see some pretty logical explanations in the exit polling data, which by the way, look far more accurate than all the polls leading up to the primary. CBS is part of the Exit Polling Consortium (along with the AP and the other big nets), so I get the data emailed to me, and the numbers are pretty consistent with the actual results.

Four factors leap out at me: women, youth, first-timers, and independents.

In Iowa, Obama surprised Hillary by taking 35% of the female voters, to 30% for Clinton. In retrospect, that shouldn't be so surprising. Did you know Iowa is one of only two states that has never elected a woman as governor or U.S. Senator? (Mississippi, that bastion of enlightenment, being the other - although it did produce my hero, Brett Favre, so it can't be all bad). But in New Hampshire, which often elects women to higher office, there was a huge turnout of women. Fifty-seven percent of the people who voted in the Democratic primary were women - and they broke for Hillary, 46% to 34%. The folks at Emily's List, who mounted a last-minute, full court press to get those women to the polls, must be turning cartwheels.

I asked campaign strategists for both Obama and Clinton this week, whether Obama would be able to replicate the huge youth turnout in New Hampshire, and beyond. They all thought he would. I have to tell you, I have met many young, enthusiastic Obama-niks in California, who spent their Christmas break in Iowa volunteering for his campaign. Very few of them continued on to New Hampshire. Either it was too far, or they had to get back to school or work. Coincidence or not, Obama did NOT get the young turnout in NH that he got in Iowa. There were far fewer young voters, far fewer first-timers, and those were the people who put Obama over the top in the Hawkeye Cauci.

Finally, in New Hampshire, independents can decide on Election Day to vote in either the Democratic or Republican primary (out here in California, independents are only able to vote in the Demo primary; the state Republican Party does not allow them). And they had two very appealing choices: one-time maverick, indy darling John McCain - or enchanting newbie Barack Obama. So, unlike Iowa, where Obama had the lion's share of the independents all to himself, he had to share them with McCain in New Hampshire. Obama did very well with the independents, but he lost enough of them to McCain to make a difference. One of the reasons some pundits thought McCain might lose to Romney, is that they theorized Obama would drain away the independent voters he needed to win. But he didn't. Hence, McCain DID win...and Obama didn't.

One other thing I notice in the exit polling: 56% of the people who voted for Hillary Clinton say they would rather vote for her husband! If Bill had been on the ballot, he would have beaten her, too.

Hillary's teary-eyed sprint to the finish may have helped put her over the top, too. Real or not, it humanized her a bit, especially in the eyes of women. Many male voters reacted cynically to her show of emotion, but women seem to have found it genuine and appealing, and they showed their empathy by marking their ballot for her.

All of this fuss is over a paltry number of delegates: Obama and Clinton picked up nine more each in New Hampshire, and McCain got seven to Romney's four. By contrast, there are almost 500 at stake in California's February 5 primary. But again, this is about momentum, perception, energy, all far more valuable than that handful of delegates - they translate into money, volunteers, and votes in the bigger states that lie ahead.

Why were all the polls - even the Clinton campaign's own internal tracking polls - so wrong? Well, New Hampshire voters have a history of confounding the pollsters. I studied polling in both high school and college, and the Live Free or Die state is a notoriously difficult place to run a survey. People there really are fiercely independent - registered independents outnumber both Democrats and Republicans. There have been election upsets for years in New Hampshire- remember Eugene McCarthy's stunningly close second place in 1968, forcing LBJ out of the race? How about the past primary victories by John McCain and Pat Buchanan? Harold Stassen's shocker over Tom Dewey? (Okay, that's going WAY back). But voters there aren't always that forthcoming with the survey-takers, they often don't make up their minds until the end, and there's also the race factor to consider. Just as with Tom Bradley's gubernatorial losses here in California in the 1980s, the voters may simply have said publicly that they would back Obama - but then decided not to, in the privacy of the voting booth, something that wasn't available to them in the very public Iowa caucus meetings. And actually, if you look at the percentages, the only thing that was way off, was Hillary's vote total, which can be explained by that record turnout of women.

I'm kind of glad we still have such wide-open races on both sides. I can't remember a campaign like this, and I've been following presidential politics since 1972. This makes it fun, and interesting, especially for a reporter, and it guarantees continued voter engagement, at least for another month. That means the candidates will have to start answering more of our questions, and provide more details on their ideas and proposals. I know the Republicans want to see the Democrats beat each other up in a protracted fistfight, and the Democrats love the idea of the GOP contenders bleeding each other dry. But I don't want the nominations to be decided before I even get to vote next month.

That would be a crying shame.


Marndar said...

With the writers strike showing no signs of being settled anytime soon, do you think the major networks might put more political coverage in primetime this winter? They've had a few brief specials but not the wall-to-wall coverage you'd see on election night in November.

I was disappointed with the TV coverage on the cable networks last night. They knew they blew it with their early predictions but never really apologized for being so wrong on Obama. Also, as you said, McCain's margin of victory over Romney wasn't much bigger than Clinton's MOV at times but one race was too close to call the whole night and the other was quickly over???

It was interesting to see how Hillary's speech sounded mostly like a concession speech outside of the beginning part. She obviously put it together at the last moment because she had not memorized it at all (using her notes more than even McCain).

Anonymous said...

Great summary Doug. I will definitely admit that this race is far more interesting than any I can remember in the past. Despite my feelings on how the national media handles it, the pundits, and the general philosophy of the whole primary system... it really does make for great theater!

Anonymous said...

It's nice that California will mean something for once. Should be an interesting first Tuesday (and early Wednesday)in February.

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