Articles and Analysis


Re: ARG's South Dakota Poll

Topics: 2008 , Associated Press , Barack Obama , Dick Bennett , Divergent Polls , Hillary Clinton , SurveyUSA

A quick follow-up to my discussion yesterday of the poll from the American Research Group (ARG) in South Dakota.

ARG had the winners right in South Dakota and Montana, but that was about it. If we compare the margin between the top two finishers on the poll to the margin in the vote count (with 100% of the precincts reporting according to AP this morning), ARG had errors of 11 points on the margin in Montana and 14 points in South Dakota. Those were not ARG's worst misses of the primary season -- their final polls were off by more in Connecticut, Iowa, Illinois and South Carolina -- but these last two polls were a bit worse than their average (9) for the Democratic primaries.

Looking at all the polls in both Democratic and Republican primary contests, a SurveyUSA report card compiled in early May showed ARG with a median error of 7.0, ranking them 26 on the list of all 41 pollsters, and dead last among the nine organizations that polled in 10 or more contests this year (remember due to "regression to the mean," average errors can be much larger or smaller when a pollster does only a handful of surveys -- as the number of polls averaged goes up, the error should go down).

The most striking aspect of ARG's difficulties during this primary season was the way their surveys tended to err in Hillary Clinton's favor. We first noticed this pattern in their surveys of Iowa last summer. While not totally consistent, the ARG polls tended to show Clinton doing a few points better in Iowa than other pollsters, although at the time the pattern looked like a consistent difference, but not necessarily an error. After the final ARG poll showed Clinton leading Obama by nine percentage points (she finished third), ARG pollster Dick Bennett lashed out at critics and the "deeply flawed" Des Moines Register poll (that had correctly forecast an Obama win).

Bennett might have done better to examine his own methods, because in the primaries that followed, ARG's final poll erred in Clinton's favor in 19 of 27 contests, averaging 6.8 percentage of error on the margin in Clinton's favor. The odds of that happening by chance alone are extremely remote.

Only Bennett is in a position to explain why his surveys were further off the actual result than those of other pollsters, and why his surveys tended to err in Clinton's favor. To be clear: I am not suggesting that Bennett had a pro-Clinton agenda. Rather, I think the answer has something to do with some aspect of ARG's methodology. Unfortunately, since ARG, like all too many public pollsters, tells us so little about their methods, we can only guess.



Would somebody with a Clinton agenda overestimate Clinton anyway? The myth of invincible Clintons may be gone (actually Bill lost his second gubernatorial race), but the Clinton campaign is exceptional at managing expectations. Clinton's south dakota win would have been far more surprising had it been... a surprise.

Also the role of polling in defeating Clinton is probably underestimated in this race. Why? For most of the race Clinton was ahead everywhere, didn't know who her ultimate challenger would be, and so had no metric by which to distribute scarce resources and build a network.

By contrast, Obama knew that if he was to win, he needed South Carolina and another early primary. Moreover, he knew it would not be a quick knockout. Clinton adopted an Iowa knockout punch because it was (at the time) the best use of her resources (a win there would have crippled Obama AND Edwards).

Before Super Tuesday, Bill Clinton was doing last minute campaigning in Illinois - the speed of Obama's rise prohibited the building of the good infrastructure to beat him. Moreover, it created the false hope of "firewalls" in the future.

Once the pace of the campaign slowed down, the Clintons did quite well in a longer campaign, despite constant calls for them to drop out (admittedly demographics were also on their side in the later races).



Only anti-Clinton people believe the "myth" about the inevitability of the Clintons. (Notably, Bill Clinton ran for Governor again after learning his lessons on why he lost, won, and served ten years before next winning the Presidency.)

Obama managed to win his state legislature seat by running unopposed. And he lost his try for U.S. Congressman. He won his Senate seat almost running unopposed until Alan Keyes stepped in (even though he resided in another state) so I guess Obama essentially still ran unopposed. It is true that Hillary was his first competitive context that he has won... by the closest margins. What lessons are Obama learning to be competitive against McCain? That is the big question.

Back to the polls... Too bad PPP did not have a South Dakota poll because their polls in recent months seemed biased toward Obama. Then we could have split the difference between ARG and PPP.

It should also be disturbing for the Obama campaign that he lost by such a large margin in South Dakota. The Obama campaign previously indicated that the race was "tightening" but not that Hillary was going to win.



One thing to consider about the "buyer's remorse" argument: while Clinton has done well in the later states, national democratic polls consistently show Obama attracting more support than he did in February. This is true in polls from both Rasmussen and Gallup.



Senator Clinton's speech last night was a justifiably proud recitation of her accomplishments over the course of this campaign, but it did not end right. She didn't do what she should have done. As hard and as painful as it might have been, she should have conceded, congratulated, endorsed and committed to Barack Obama. Therefore the next 48 hours are now as important to the future reputation of Hillary Clinton as the last year and a half have been.

I am disappointed. As a long time Hillary Clinton supporter and more importantly, an admirer, I am sad that this historic effort has ended with such a narrow loss for her. There will be the appropriate "if onlys" for a long time to come. If only the staff shakeup happened earlier; if only the planning in caucus states had more focus; if only Hillary had let loose with the authentic human and connecting voice she found in the last three months of the campaign. If only. If only. I have written many times on this site about the talents of Hillary Clinton and why I thought she'd make a great President.

After last night's final primary, she was only about pledged 100 delegates behind him. Ironic that after not wanting to make the decision for so long, it was in fact, the superdelegates who made the decision. But I guess they did so for another reason. It just isn't her time. It is his time. It's a new day that offers a freshness to our party that many have longed for. We felt the rush of new voices and a new energy in the Congressional sweep of 2006 and the sweep continues. It has been an organic shift. And a healthy one.

The life's work of Bill and Hillary Clinton in partnering with so many African Americans uniting our purpose and promoting our mutual issues is as responsible for Barack Obama's success as our first African American nominee as anyone. And yet, that joy is being denied for them by themselves. It is so sad.

So, I am also so very disappointed at how she has handled this last week. I know she is exhausted and she had pledged to finish the primaries and let every state vote before any final action. But by the time she got on that podium last night, she knew it was over and that she had lost. I am sure I was not alone in privately urging the campaign over the last two weeks to use the moment to take her due, pass the torch and cement her grace. She had an opportunity to soar and unite. She had a chance to surprise her party and the nation after the day-long denials about expecting any concession and send Obama off on the campaign trail of the general election with the best possible platform. I wrote before how she had a chance for her "Al Gore moment." And if she had done so, the whole country ALL would be talking today about how great she is and give her her due.

Instead she left her supporters empty, Obama's angry, and party leaders trashing her. She said she was stepping back to think about her options. She is waiting to figure out how she would "use" her 18 million voters.

But not my vote. I will enthusiastically support Barack Obama's campaign. Because I am not a bargaining chip. I am a Democrat.



Why do so many people expect Hillary to become submissive last night and play "loser" when she won South Dakota and surpassed 18 million votes? Obama chose to announce himself as presumptive candidate last night and not today... probably a buffer knowing that they would lose South Dakota. It was the Obama campaign that orchestrated the superdelegates to endorse him before the polls closed yesterday. It was politically manipulative/strategic... and then too many whine (including the MSM) when Hillary does not fall in lockstep with the Obama Rules.

Hillary very rightly is playing by her own rules. This primary gave her significant political power, and it is only right that she take a few days to contemplate her next move... even including how she wants to acknowledge Obama. So many just want her to release her delegates to Obama, without looking at a political strategy, which needs to include how not to disappoint her supporters. If Obama people want Hillary voters, then let Hillary figure out the best strategy to deliver them.

Also remember, today is the 89th birthday of Hillary's mom... who was born one year before the amendment was ratified giving women the right to vote.

It is all relative.



@onelightonevoice: Yesterday when I heard the speech I was surprised. I honestly expected Hillary to do the "right thing" and endorse Obama. Then, when the speech ended (I saw the end of MSNBC), I heard one of the clowns (Oberman?) there say: "They're in the subbasement so they don't get blackberry reception to know that it's over". I kept hearing the "food taster" joke about her being a VP. Later on I read what was written about her, and I am now convinced that she did the right thing.

Say all you want, Obama was the story in these elections and his "leadership of change" or whatnot was pushed by the dynasties (Kennedy, Heinz-Kerry), by the media, and by many in the party. That is legitimate. Nothing like a new shiny car. But the fact is that the myth of "party unity" was used all the time to try and get her out of the race; in part after Iowa, and certainly since super Tuesday. In a way it was a self-fulfilling prophecy, as more and more supers moved not because it was "the right thing", but for party unity. She would probably have lost anyway, but this was used to paint her badly and set her up as a scapegoat for a potential GE loss.

Party unity is one of those strange American election BS myths that go along with playing nicely, no slandering, race doesn't matter, no negativity, every loves each other and so on. Can work in a make-believe barbie land but doesn't happen anywhere else in the world. Every party has factions, everyone's on edge all the time. If Hillary had actually endorsed Obama yesterday, would anyone have believed her? Obviously not, or they wouldn't be making food taster jokes.

So if I'm Hillary, I'd think the following:
1) I lost. I know it, everyone knows it, he got the exact numbers of delegates. True, he needed superdelegates for that (first primary when pledged are not enough, I think), but once he hit the number. It's done. I can acknowledge that, and she did.

2) Whether or not I endorse Obama, nobody is going to believe that. Even if all my voters vote for Obama and give him money for his campaign, if he loses, I'm the scapegoat.

2) There is nothing that the rest of the party would like more than to see me disappear. Nobodies like Dean and Pelosi, the change-maker who couldn't get anywhere and the first female majority leader to be more useless than the men. People who jumped on the bandwagon and do anything to distance themselves from me. People like the Kennedies and Kerry and so on. Would their resentment towards me truly disappear? Of course not. I will never be as liked as Gore because I actually wanted to be president, unlike him. If I bow out gracefully now, I'll disappear in an instant anyway. IT's not like I have a chance in the senate.

3) I understand my supporters and I see their hurt. It's kind of difficult to really see and understand your supporters in those giant stadium rallies. I know that if I just conceded and disappeared, they'd feel stepped on just like they have their entire life because I'm a symbol for them. I am about empowerment, not for being stepped on. I want them to thrive and insist whenever they hit that glass ceiling.

4) Female power is about getting what you want, not waiting for somebody to do you a favour by handing it to you. If I get the VP, I need to show that it's by forcing my way into it, not by getting the old men of the party to do me a favour.

5) Obama is an arrogant megalomaniac (even Obama supporters have to admit that, just look at his speech last night). A little humility on this historic night wouldn't be bad for him.

Or in other words, what else does she have to lose? :)


I would like to point out something that may be amiss.

"Onelightonevoice" posted the exact same comment he posted here on my humble little blog today, but called himself "onelight123." Same comment. Verbatim. Including the lines "if only Hillary had let loose with the authentic human and connecting voice she found in the last three months of the campaign. If only. If only. I have written many times on this site about the talents of Hillary Clinton and why I thought she'd make a great President."

This same person also posted several vituperative, expletive laden comments on my blog, today, all at roughly the same time, including, "I'm sorry your deeply flawed, unscrupulous, despicable candidate lost. Ok, I'm not really sorry, as she is an insane sociopath."

Something fishy is going on. Mark, if this is out of line, please delete, no explanation necessary.


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