The Real Story In New Hampshire

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) at a post-primary rally in Manchester, N.H.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) at a post-primary rally in Manchester, N.H. (By Neal Hamberg -- Bloomberg News)
By Andrew Cline
Saturday, January 19, 2008

The polls showed Illinois Sen. Barack Obama leading New York Sen. Hillary Clinton by big margins in the weeks before the New Hampshire primary. But on the day of the primary, Clinton won by three percentage points. Why the discrepancy? Why, New Hampshire voters must be racist, of course.

New Hampshire is 95 percent white, some have pointed out, so that explains Obama's loss. The data, however, show otherwise.

The sole explanation offered for the racism argument is that New Hampshire voters did not want their secret racism exposed, so they told pollsters they would vote for Obama. This is known as the Bradley effect. In 1982, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley ran for governor, and polls had him with a large lead. But on Election Day, Bradley, who was black, lost to his white opponent. It appeared that white voters had lied to the pollsters.

For the Bradley effect to have caused the New Hampshire Democratic primary results, however, New Hampshire voters would have to have decided on the weekend of Dec. 15-16 to begin hiding their latent racism by lying to pollsters. From Dec. 18, 2006, to Dec. 18, 2007, Hillary Clinton led in 53 of the 59 polls conducted in New Hampshire.

Beginning in mid-December, Democratic and Democratic-leaning independents began telling pollsters that they supported or were leaning toward Obama. It defies explanation to assert that white New Hampshire voters suddenly decided to start hiding their racism on that weekend after publicly supporting Clinton for a year.

Furthermore, the Bradley effect is defined by a big discrepancy between polled support for the black candidate and that candidate's actual support on Election Day. That didn't happen in New Hampshire. Obama averaged 38.3 percent in the polls and got 36.4 percent of the vote -- a difference of fewer than two percentage points and well within the margin of error. Obama's support in the exit polls was also the same as his support in the voting.

The discrepancy was in Clinton's support. She polled around 30 percent but got 39 percent of the vote. Obama's support was not so much overpolled as Clinton's was underpolled.

The Bradley effect did not happen in the New Hampshire Democratic primary. But two questions remain unanswered: Why did Obama surge in the polls in mid-December? And why did the polls not catch Clinton's surge on primary day?

The answer to the first question is easy: Oprah.

On Dec. 9, Oprah Winfrey stumped for Barack Obama in Manchester. She drew 8,500 people and made huge news for days. Two days later, Obama beat Clinton in a New Hampshire poll for the first time since July.

Until mid-December, women consistently said that they preferred Clinton to Obama by a big margin. By early January, that had shifted, and the polls showed Obama and Clinton statistically tied among women. Oprah drew the attention of New Hampshire women to Obama, they liked what they heard and some began telling pollsters that they were leaning toward him.

On primary day, however, almost half of all women who voted in the Democratic primary voted for Clinton.

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