YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

On the Trail : INSIGHTS

What New Hampshire taught us

January 10, 2008

Lessons learned from the 2008 New Hampshire primary (and likely to continue to apply):

New Hampshirites prefer to ignore Iowans. That seemed in doubt after the 2004 Democratic primary in New Hampshire, in which voters simply rubber-stamped Iowa's results. But in this year's Democratic and Republican races, the Granite State returned to its tradition of playing contrarian to the Hawkeye State.

It pays to show a human side. Politicians -- especially the policy wonks -- may not want to admit it, but running for president of the United States has some similarities to running for student government president. It helps if you're popular, or at least can connect at a visceral level. Hillary Rodham Clinton's misty-eyed moment at a New Hampshire coffee shop Monday might have accomplished what friends and relatives testifying to her fine qualities could not -- making her seem real.

Big crowds are deceptive. The place to be last weekend in New Hampshire was a Barack Obama rally. The audiences awaiting him at stop after stop were huge. But such sound and fury can prove illusionary, especially in the face of a massive turnout on election day.

Polling is an imprecise science, sometimes egregiously so. Theories abounded Wednesday on why a plethora of surveys so badly miscalculated the Democratic primary. Did a wave for Clinton, stemming from the tears that welled in her eyes, occur too late for the polls to detect? Did a surge in turnout, especially among middle-aged and older women, render poll samples obsolete? Did some whites reverse their picks in the voting booth for racist reasons? There was no clear answer; only the contrast with the GOP race, which the polls got almost exactly right.

Ron Paul is not going to be president. Duh! Still, his hearty and not insignificant band of followers (he got 10% in Iowa and 8% in New Hampshire's GOP contest) bear watching. Will their passion push Paul into an independent run?

-- Don Frederick


Frederick is one of the writers of The Times' political blog, Top of the Ticket, at



Why did the polls get it wrong?

Shortly before Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, various polls found that Barack Obama, with a late surge, had overcome Hillary Rodham Clinton's once-commanding lead in the Democratic contest. Some gave the Illinois senator a double-digit advantage. Yet the New York senator beat him 39% to 36%. Why were the polls so off-target?

'One needs to understand that the campaign in New Hampshire was five days in length. The polling companies polled for a total of three of those days. In their mind, they said, we polled up to the end. The reality is that they only polled for 60% of that campaign. . . . For New Hampshire, the last 24 hours were the critical ones in the decision-making process. When Hillary Clinton "misted up," this was not some isolated event that was seen by a few people in a diner, but it was equivalent to the Howard Dean Scream of 2004 in Iowa -- it was replayed 10,000 times, and it moved 10,000 women.'

-- Peter D. Hart,

chairman of Peter D. Hart Research Associates


'New Hampshire has a tradition of voting for women. Democratic primary voters also like the Clintons. If the pollsters and media pundits erred, it was not in their weekend numbers but in not polling Monday and missing the impact of the unrelenting media coverage that characterized the Clintons as finished.'

-- Lee M. Miringoff and Barbara L. Carvalho, pollsters of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion


'Due to the new [compressed] primary schedule structure of 2008, and the fluid, transformational effects of the Internet in politics, it's a new day. Our political pollsters face challenges they had not dreamed of, and it is not clear at all that they can keep up with astounding changes. . . . Horse-race polling has hurt democracy over many decades, focusing on politics as an athletic competition and crushing more thoughtful, substantive political discussion in America. It is clear from these past few weeks, however, that the polls are finally getting the challenge they deserve.'

-- Susan Herbst, a professor of public policy, Georgia Institute of Technology

Los Angeles Times Articles