Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Reflecting on Hillary Clinton's Win in the New Hampshire Primary

It is a little over 12 hours since the cable news networks announced that Hillary Clinton had won, in stunning fashion, the New Hampshire primary. As I wrote last night, the win was as much or even more surprising than Brack Obama's triumph in Iowa, because nobody, even her own campaign, thought she could stay within single digits of the Illinois Senator, and instead, she won by just over three-percent. How could the polls be so wrong? How could so much change in 24 hours to turn a double-digit defeat into a victory? MSNBC's First read (a daily must-read) has some good thoughts:

One other question, as the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson raised on MSNBC last night: When you lose a lead like that, does anyone else think of what happened to Tom Bradley in California? Did race play a role in a double-digit or high single-digit lead evaporating over night? In fact, we can only think of three races in which the public polls and the final result were SO off, and they all involved African-American candidates: Bradley's '82 gubernatorial campaign in California, Doug Wilder's surprisingly narrow '89 victory for Virginia governor, and Harvey Gantt's surprise loss for North Carolina Senate. There is no poll question we can find that can truly measure this phenomenon. But African-Americans are thinking this, and the difference between Iowa and New Hampshire is a voting curtain: Democrats didn't have one in Iowa; they had one in New Hampshire.

So how did the polls get it so wrong? It's likely a confluence of events: 1) the emotional Clinton; 2) the ganging up factor from the debate; 3) the stubborn nature of NH voters to reject what Iowa recommends; 4) race; 5) more independents going to McCain; and 6) complacency among young voters. Could one of these factors erase a double-digit lead? Probably not. Could each of six cost two points each? Perhaps.

I think their analysis makes a lot of sense. I don't think you can discount the "Bradley Effect" (as discussed above, it reflects white voters telling pollsters they plan to vote for a minority candidate, in an effort not to sound prejudiced, but then using the secrecy of the ballot to vote for another candidate) because it wouldn't take a lot of voters, when combined with the other last second momentum Clinton silently gained to turn this election. Race has not been talked about a lot in this campaign (aside from mentions about the demographics of given states like Iowa and New Hampshire's 95% white population, or the heavy Hispanic population in Nevada and African American population in South Carolina) in large part for two reasons. The first is because people are uncomfortable talking about it, and that leads into the second point, that nobody, including the media, wants to admit that there still may be a racial element in our country that does not want to see an African American (or any minority for that matter) become President.

Hillary Clinton talks about breaking the ultimate glass ceiling by becoming the first woman to be elected President, and there's no doubt that would be a tremendous event, but Barack Obama is a trailblazer too. And sometimes people say "The US isn't ready for a black President" or "the US would never elect a black President" and you want to dismiss that, you want to say this is 2008 and while certainly racial inequities and racial discrimination has not disappeared, that we are a better country than that. So we ignore Obama's race, at least as far as it being a negative factor (we mention how it will help him attract votes in South Carolina, but we don't mention how it may hurt in all white states like New Hampshire) but should we? I've embedded a video of a discussion on race from Morning Joe this morning with Chris Matthews, where he says Obama can't complain about this "Bradley Effect" because it will hurt him more than help him (which I agree with) but that he should practically discount all polls which show him ahead. That's a pretty sad statement if Matthews predicate is accurate, but based on what we saw in New Hampshire, maybe it is. It's easy to sound tolerant in a poll and in a public caucus, but behind the secrecy of the voting booth, maybe some people vote differently. Ben Smith over at has an interesting post up on the Bradley Effect and what role (if any, he thinks it may have been minimal here) it played yesterday.

And as I said, combined with some of the other factors the MSNBC post above talked about, it wouldn't even need to be a large number of voters who feel and act this way. But in such a close primary election, they may swing the entire thing. They certainly could have in New Hampshire. And there were other factors too. Independents voting for John McCain (even more so may have because they saw Obama with such a big lead, they figured McCain needed their support more -- and if enough thought that way, Obama could have lost a lot of support quickly) and the influx of women voters to Clinton's camp in the past 24-48 hours. I've also read a great point somewhere that said that the increased turnout and great weather that New Hampshire had yesterday, which many theorized would help Obama, actually hurt him in the end. New Hampshire has one of the oldest populations in the country, and older voters are overwhelmingly Clinton supporters. While a big snowstorm or bad weather may have made it impossible for them to leave the house and get to the polls, with the nice weather, they had no problem voting, and voting in large numbers for Hillary.

This race is certainly not over. Nevada next week and South Carolina will be huge, and if Obama can win both, he'd have a lot of momentum going into February 5th and Super Tuesday. And he gave another great speech last night (another reason why I'm embedding the video of Morning Joe below because it showed part of his speech and his 'Yes We Can!' refrain which if it doesn't touch and inspire voters, nothing will) and if he does pick up the endorsement of the Culinary Union, that would be big.

One thing is for sure though. There will be no confidence in any of the opinion polls heading into the elections in the next few weeks.
1:30 Update:According to ABC News, Barack Obama has received the endorsement of the Culinary Workers Union, which is a huge boost to his campaign, and should help to soothe the sting of last night's loss. The "conventional wisdom" of the mainstream media, at least in the past few days, was that the endorsement of the Culinary Workers Union could decide the Nevada caucus, so this is no small endorsement, and not only that, but it should get a good amount of publicity, and help Obama stop any momentum Clinton has after Iowa. I also found an embeddable video of the full version of Obama's speech from last night, it's worth watching. Just as good as his Iowa victory speech, if not a bit better because of the "Yes We Can" refrain.

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Nance said...

i respect your opinion; it's hard to stay anything close to neutral when you believe strongly in a candidate. i'm a hillary supporter and have talked a little about the race issue in my new blog. if you have any comments, i'd be interested in hearing them.


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