Articles and Analysis


NH Election Day Thoughts

Topics: 2008 , Incumbent Rule , New Hampshire , The 2008 Race

I have few thoughts about New Hampshire in my mental "in-box" I want to try to blog this afternoon...

1) Break to Obama? - Reader "FlyOnTheWall," in a comment posted to my exit poll item this morning, noticed something important in the final round of polls on the Democratic race in New Hampshire:

I was struck by something this morning, looking at the final two days of tracking polls, and was hoping that you could illuminate the issue.

There have been 16 numbers released over the past two days, all conducted entirely since Iowa. Of these polls, 14 have pegged Hillary's support in a very narrow range of 28-31 percent. (The other two are from Suffolk, which has been a consistent outlier throughout primary season, but even Suffolk is only at 34.)

The Obama polls, by contrast, are all over the map. They put him anywhere from 32 to 42 percent, and are fairly evenly distributed over that range. In other words, everyone seems to agree on Hillary's level of support - but what determines the margin is the level of support for Obama.

What gives here?

Several readers have posted responses worth reviewing. Here is my quick take. "Fly" is right about the pattern in the data, as the following table shows. There is less variation in the Clinton percentage than for the other candidates, particularly Obama. But notice that Obama's support generally goes up as the percentage of undecided voters goes down.

01-08 final dems.png

That patterns suggests that as of the final snapshot, a lot of voters are leaning to Obama but not quite yet decided. That pattern is consistent with what we sometimes call the "incumbent rule." Obviously, Senator Clinton is not an incumbent, but much as they often do with incumbent candidates, voters may have largely made their decision about Clinton yet are still in the process of deciding to support her most prominent opponent. The final CNN/WMUR/UNH poll still has 21% of the likely Democratic voters saying they have "considered some candidates but are still trying to decide," including 18% of those who say they will "definitely vote" in the primary. Thus, some voters will carry their uncertainty all the way to their polling place, not making their final decision until they cast a ballot. This pattern usually suggests a "break" to the challenger (or in this case Obama), but as I learned the hard way in 2004, not always. We will know later tonight.

PS: MIckey Kaus and his readers noticed signs of the "incumbent rule" pattern in Iowa.

2) What is the Independent Mix? On First Read this morning, our friend Chuck Todd passed along the following:

Team Romney believes many of the tracking polls could be over-sampling independents. And if the indies move en masse to Obama, it could make for a more conservative GOP electorate, benefiting both Romney and (to a lesser extent) Huckabee.

This observation raises a good question. What is the percentage independent on the various tracking surveys. Unfortunately not all pollsters have included the relevant data in their releases, but the following table shows what I was able to gather from the final surveys:

01-11 nh ind.png

A few notes. First, not all surveys ask about party the same way. Most of the numbers cited above appear to be based on self-reported party identification (what do you "consider yourself?") and party registration ("how are you registered?"). The CBS/New York Times survey, for one, reported party ID results. Second, I certainly may have overlooked party numbers, so please email me or leave a comment if you can fill in party numbers missing above.

Note, the numbers above are not the "independent split" calculation that Noam Scheiber blogs about here, although obviously, those numbers are related. The CNN/WMUR/UNH survey reported a 60% to 40% split to the Democrats on their last survey, Fox reported a 55% to 45% split in the same direction.

Two more points about independents (or more correctly, those whose party registration is "undeclared"). Some data in the CNN/WMUR/UNH report makes it clear that the bigger the turnout, the greater the undeclared contribution in both party primaries. Not surprisingly, as the table below shows, the "definite" voters voters are more likely to be undeclared than those who say they "may vote" or that they plan to vote but not if an "emergency" comes up.

01-07 ind by turnout.png

One indirect measure to look for in the exit poll tabulations tonight is the percentage independent in each primary, and how it compares to what the pre-election polls were reporting.

Note: I want to apologize to those who continue to receive the "too many comments" error message when attempting to post a comment here. Suffice it to say, you have not posted too many comments to Pollster.com. We have been trying to squash this bug for months now (without success) and, unfortunately, the very heavy traffic we are experiencing today is aggravating the bug.


Blake Fry:

I'm not entirely certain the possibility of a late break of commitments to Obama is due to the incumbent rule. I believe it is instead a matter of voters deciding between McCain and Obama. The fact that voters are waiting until the last second to decide between two candidates with almost nothing in common on the issues besides their stances on the use of waterboarding and global warming is an example of the unique nature of this year's election. Some may simply choose to vote for McCain or Obama based on which race they believe will be closer.



Once again, in a sea of nonsense and spin, your analysis helps me understand what is happening and why it is happening. Perhaps if three democratic candidates stay in through the next many primaries, a data base will be developed that will help polling science for the next generation. That is, unless Democrats do the same thing they did in 04, annoint a candidate who led the field for a few weeks rather than months. Thanks.


Eva Cutler:

I am very excited about Obama's prospects. and I am rooting for him. However,after I recovered from last night's disappointment over his loss, after careful consideration I concluded that the outcome could not have been any more perfect,for it served to made both Hillary and Barack into more humble contenders.


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