In the week preceding the New Hampshire Republican primary, some polls showed Kansas Sen. Bob Dole in a dead heat with, even opening up a lead over, Vice President George Bush, for whom the state had been considered practically home turf.
But Tuesday night, it was Bush who was crowing, leaving some political seers to eat crow.
Times political analyst William Schneider said such polls, with their necessary reliance on speed and contacting "people easy to reach, the most casual voters," underestimated Bush's organizational strength.
"What the tracking polls suggested was (that there were) as many Dole supporters as Bush supporters, but Bush did a better job of getting his supporters to the polls," said Schneider.
"He pulled his people out to the polls in a way Dole didn't, which is to say there might have been as many Dole sympathizers as Bush sympathizers, but Bush had an organization to get them out and Dole didn't," said Schneider.
Part of the problem, one pollster suggested, was that fully a quarter of the state's Republican voters may not have settled on a candidate until the holiday weekend, or perhaps even until they went to vote.
"An enormous figure" of those answering a Los Angeles Times poll Tuesday "said they made up their minds over the weekend or today," said poll director I.A. Lewis. "You're getting someone who may have made up his mind since (the recent polls)."
While most surveys were practically on the money when it came to the final Democratic tallies, one Gallup poll of New Hampshire residents likely to vote showed Dole ahead of Bush by 8 percentage points, and two other surveys found the pair jockeying within only a few points of each other.
Richard Scammon, director of the Election Research Center in Washington, D.C., said that the small samplings of such tracking polls make them vulnerable. "Tracking polls, while they're interesting, are not big enough to escape margins of error" that the polls themselves noted.
"They (the tracking polls) are useful, particularly in terms of political management," like whether the polls prompted Bush to weigh in with former Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater at the last minute, Scammon said. But "in terms of final judgments of how you're going to vote, they're marginal."