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Election 2008: New Hampshire Primary Impact

Dean Lacy
Professor of Government, Dartmouth College
Wednesday, January 9, 2008 10:00 AM

Dartmouth College government professor Dean Lacy, who researches electoral behavior and public opinion, was online Wednesday, Jan. 9 at 10 a.m. ET to explain why the New Hampshire Primary turned out as it did and examine what the results mean for the candidates as the move on to Michigan, Nevada and South Carolina.

The transcript follows.

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Dean Lacy: Good morning from New Hampshire on the day after the primary. After all of the attention we received yesterday, all of the candidates and poll-workers and media, today the state feels quiet. This is Dean Lacy from Dartmouth College.

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Fairfax, Va.: Why is Clinton's victory in NH considered a dramatic "comeback"? Isn't it instead a reflection of polls that were way off, and media that were way, way off? (I wouldn't consider crowds at events an effective measure -- do you?)

Dean Lacy: It is surprising that New Hampshire provides "comebacks" during the nomination season, given that the only thing to comeback from is a defeat in Iowa. Clinton was able to slow the dramatic Obama bounce after his unexpected Iowa victory. The polls were a bit off--only Clinton's vote share was higher than the polls predicted -- but those one-day, pre-election polls rarely contact many of the people they call.

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King of Prussia, Pa.: Professor, what do you make of how Clinton's win will now influence the caucus is Nevada, and the primary in South Carolina? Will the Culinary Workers Union in Nevada still announce an Obama endorsement? Thank you and please tell all the idiots, oops, I mean political pundits, to shut up from now on and let everyone vote before they declare a winner!

Dean Lacy: Amen to the punditry shutting up before a winner is declared, especially this year when the races in both parties are too close to call! Nevada is unlikely to mean much to either Clinton or Obama but could give Edwards a boost. All eyes are now in South Carolina. Each of the Dems has to win there to get a surge heading into Super Tuesday, Feb 5.

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Arlington, Va.: What happened to the pollsters? How could they have all been so completely wrong on the Democratic side?

Dean Lacy: The pollsters had support for the Republicans, Edwards and Richardson just about right. The polls missed Clinton vs. Obama. But those polls had one- or two-day field periods without sufficient call-backs to phone numbers they didn't reach initially. Don't put much stock in polls with one- or two-day field periods, as almost all media tracking polls now use.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: While the press is stating that the majority of independents voted for Obama in the New Hampshire Democratic Primary, I wonder if there any major shift in the independents had been detected since the Iowa Caucuses. I recall hearing of a poll that stated that a sizable number of independents leaning towards Clinton were undecided about which party's primary they would vote in, and that if Clinton won the Iowa Caucus they would vote in the Republican Primary but if Obama won Iowa they would vote for Clinton in the Democratic Primary. I wonder if this in fact happened and if it was a sizable factor or not.

Dean Lacy: The polls for the past several months indicated that New Hampshire's sizeable independent block of voters would split two-to-one in choosing a Democratic ballot, unlike in 2000 (when McCain beat Bush), where they chose Republican. Obama and McCain won the Independents and late-deciders in each party. There simply weren't enough of those for Obama to overcome Clinton's support among the base. Plus, many of the independents and late-deciders are younger voters, who are less reliable in showing up at the polls than the older voters.

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London: Exactly why did female and democratic voters come out in support of Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire?

Dean Lacy: Many women, including Republicans, support a woman as president and like Hillary Clinton, perhaps especially as she is the target of the media and the other candidates. Clinton also made greater efforts in New Hampshire than in Iowa to appeal to younger women. Clinton has the support of many strong Democrats: the elderly, less-educated and lower-income individuals, single mothers, and many others. Obama's support has been coming from higher-income voters with more education who are less worried about the economy.

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Takoma Park, Md.: I have met two very different kinds of Edwards voters. One kind is toe-the-line on a wide constellation of traditional liberal issues. The other kind sincerely believes that (not to mince words) it is best to vote for a white man to be sure that a Democrat will be elected. If Edwards loses momentum, where will each of these two groups turn? Note that the second group will have a particularly difficult choice: a black male Democrat or a white female Democrat ... are these folks going to put their money on gender as a pivotal turn-off, or race?

Dean Lacy: I see the same two groups you describe in New Hampshire, but most Edwards voters are anti-establishment, and therefore anti-Clinton. I would expect Edwards voters to split three-to-one or higher in favor of Obama over Clinton. Obama would like Edwards out of the race before Super Tuesday; Clinton probably does better with him in through Super Tuesday.

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Arlington, Va.: Was any of the discrepancy in predicted output once again because of the unpredictability of the young voter (ether in terms of whether they show up or how they vote)?

Dean Lacy: Yes on both counts. And on the unreliability of one- to two-day media tracking polls.

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Bloomington, Ind.: Did Obama win in New Hampshire's college towns as predicted, and if so, what were the margins?

Dean Lacy: Yes, Obama won Hanover (Dartmouth College) by 58 percent to Clinton's 26 percent and Edwards's 10 percent. McCain won more than 50 percent here as well, which I think surprised Ron Paul supporters.

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Dryden, N.Y.: Another great New Hampshire primary! Thanks for offering your insights. What role did the incredible New Hampshire Democratic machine forged during the Shaheen-Sullivan-Clemons years of party leadership play in Clinton's victory? Their field work operation must have been incredible.

Dean Lacy: Clinton's groundwork was very strong in the cities: Manchester, Concord, Nashua. Obama had an incredible machine working the college towns. Edwards did very well, too. For Democrats, the good news is that all of the candidates are running excellent campaigns at the ground level.

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Anonymous: Do you think that Obama's numbers may have been disappointing (for him) because his supporters gave too much credence to the polls? I'm thinking specifically of the collegiate/youth vote. Perhaps those (relatively) flaky voters just decided to stay at home because they figured he already had it in the bag.

Dean Lacy: The polls certainly fueled high expectations, but Obama's Iowa victory did as well. For both parties, New Hampshire only muddled the race, making it now very wide-open -- and, for many of us, very exciting.

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Dallas: So if Obama and Clinton split the number of delegates, how is this a decisive victory for Clinton, when in the grand scheme of things it's a tie?

Dean Lacy: It's all about momentum. A Clinton loss here, even by a point, would have deflated her candidacy heading into South Carolina. Now the momentum is essentially even between Clinton and Obama. Momentum equals media attention and money.

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Hampton, Va.: In the harsh spotlight of public voting, Iowa caucuses went to Obama in droves. But in the privacy of the voting booth, New Hampshire primary voters swung back to Hillary. With all the talk of Republican racists voting against Obama in a general election, is it just possible that the Democrats are the ones who aren't comfortable with a president with a brown skin?

Dean Lacy: I'm not sure I would draw that conclusion. The Iowa and New Hampshire electorates are very different. New Hampshire Democrats tend to be more moderate on economic issues, which helped both Clintons (Bill in '92, Hillary yesterday).

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Arlington, Va.: Now that Hillary has won New Hampshire, I think we should be very careful in how we view the Democratic race now -- because objectively, Hillary's win does not make her re-emerge as the front-runner. The only thing it does mean is that she now is in a tie with Obama, as he won Iowa. I think that if New Hampshire has shown us anything, it's that the Democratic race is a dead heat between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, so the next several weeks should be very interesting and very telling. In other words, we still have a long way to go, and I think the media should be very hesitant to start running victory parades yet for one candidate over another. Why so much credence is given to Iowa and New Hampshire is truly beyond me, though.

Dean Lacy: Yes, I agree. But Iowa shows a candidate's support among the rank-and-file; New Hampshire among independents. Lessons can be learned from both states, and the candidates will use these lessons to tune-up their campaigns for Super Tuesday.

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Boston: Present company excluded of course, but why should people listen to anything the pundits and pollsters have to say? My neck still hurts from whiplash watching CNN pundits ripping both Clintons early in the afternoon and predicting a huge defeat, only to fall over themselves saying the very things they had ripped earlier had helped her win New Hampshire. Mind you, CNN didn't call the election until after Obama went onstage to concede. It's not just CNN but the print media and online voices as well. You would think these people would learn some humility in making predictions/attributions of cause and effect after being so wrong on multiple occasions.

Dean Lacy: Agreed. Especially this year. But, the pundits do get attention, especially the more "certain" their predictions. CNN was right to wait until the college towns posted their numbers last night.

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Arlington, Va.: Is there anything to be read in the fact that of the total votes cast, 57 percent were cast for Democrats in a state where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats?

Dean Lacy: Independents voted Democratic by a two-to-one margin, we think. Plus, more Democratic ballots were cast here than in any previous election (280,000 vs 221,000 in 2004), but fewer Republican ballots were cast than in 2000, when McCain beat Bush. That points to an energized Democratic electorate, anti-status quo independents, and an underwhelmed group of Republicans. Not only does this foretell potentially high turnout in the November election, it also suggests that many House and Senate incumbents, especially Republicans, may be in trouble on Election Day.

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Baltimore: I saw reports yesterday saying that there was unprecedented turnout. What was the final percentage of the electorate that voted?

Dean Lacy: A little more than 50 percent. Compare that to about 40 percent who voted in 2004, and 42 percent who voted in the 2006 congressional elections, when we had close races in both congressional districts. Amazingly high turnout for a primary. More so for the Democrats than the Republicans.

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Alpharetta, Ga.: I couldn't help but notice something that David Brooks said on PBS last week. He talked about how it was a mistake for Obama to sort of discuss New Hampshire as another domino to capturing the White House. In retrospect, I think it was right. I think all of the "movement" stuff may have distracted from sufficiently addressing the real concerns people have in their lives and about policy.

Dean Lacy: Obama's talking about change in the wind or another domino falling were good gambles. Had he won New Hampshire, his momentum into South Carolina and Super Tuesday would have been incredible. The "movement" analogy energizes voters, especially late-deciders. Obama did not really lose last night when you consider that Clinton had a 15-point lead less than a month ago. So, perhaps his "movement" talk is working.

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Fairfax, Va.: Do you think you can make any comparisons between 2000 and 2008 in New Hampshire? Chuck Todd talked about the possibility of Clinton winning as the "true Democrat." When they did the dial session in the ABC debate, they found that Democrats stuck with her during the "angry moment" and independents were turned off. The exit poll seems to show loyalty from groups like women, low-income voters and Democrats.

Dean Lacy: Clinton is doing well among traditional Democrats, but she does not want to be known as the "establishment" Democrat in this season of unhappy voters. I sense that Democrats and independents are more angry and energized this year than in 2000.

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Bethesda, Md.: Why is Clinton's 3 percent win described in the press as her "edging out" Obama while McCain's 5 percent over Romney is considered a major beating?

Dean Lacy: You're right, that is "spin" -- but Romney was expected to do well here given his years of free media coverage in the Boston media market as Massachusetts governor. McCain's upset of Romney would have been less expected a month ago than the close race between Clinton and Obama.

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Knoxville, Tenn.: Even if a candidate has support among college students, why does it necessarily follow that he or she will win in college towns? When I went to college way back when, most of my fellow students were registered to vote "back home," not in the college town where they lived. Have things changed?

Dean Lacy: It's all about same-day registration. The lines to register to vote on Election Day yesterday were very long. Only a few elections ago, students had to register at least 30 days before the election.

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Mt. Lebanon, Pa.: Well, Michigan is a non-starter for Dems as the Obergruppenfuehrers at the DNC have said "no delegates for you!" Does Nevada hold any charm for Dems, as it's a Red state? Harry Potter may be the Senate Majority Leader, but the state isn't warm to other Dems, is it? And do you see any traction that Clinton could acquire by winning in South Carolina? I can't see her finishing even second there. Florida has the same problem as Michigan -- no delegates for you Democrats. So where do the Dems go for their next ground war? Thanks much.

Dean Lacy: Nevada could give Edwards a boost with a second-place or better. A loss by either Obama or Clinton will be brushed off. South Carolina is close, and all three consider a strong showing absolutely essential before Super Tuesday. With all of the states (and 40 percent of all delegates) in play on Super Tuesday, it will be tough to campaign without momentum and attention and money after South Carolina. This race could still be three-way in both parties after Super Tuesday.

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Boston: So did the Obama campaign know the college town results before "the best political team on television"? Why would the candidate take more of a risk in conceding at that time than the media?

Dean Lacy: Obama simply may have wanted to call it a day after an exhausting few weeks. He had nothing to lose by conceding if he later emerged the winner. Polls had closed, so he was not turning off potential voters. It was fairly clear before CNN called the race that the college town vote would not make up a 5,000 vote deficit, but it could have come close.

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Arlington, Va.: Why do we only hear about Michigan for the Republicans and not the Democrats? How would Clinton and Obama fare there? And why isn't anyone talking about Florida -- they have a January primary too!

Dean Lacy: The Democratic National Committee stripped Michigan and Florida of their delegates for moving up their primaries. The Democrats are not really contesting either one, though Edwards would not mind a win in Michigan (David Bonior, former Michigan congressman, is his campaign chair). Clinton is the only major Dem running in Florida.

On the Republican side, the Republican National Committee stripped Michigan and Florida of only half of their delegates.

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New York: You argue that Iowa illustrates support among rank-and-file, and New Hampshire illustrates support among independents. But Obama actually won independents in New Hampshire.

Dean Lacy: Yes, which is why Obama made up a 15-point deficit from a month ago. Both states confirm Obama has support among independents. The Iowa-New Hampshire contrast does more to separate the Republicans (Huckabee from McCain).

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New York: New Hampshire is an amazingly white state. What do you make of the so-called "Bradley/Wilder Effect"?

Dean Lacy: To the extent that I have heard voters express reservations about Obama in New Hampshire, it has been in the context of worrying about his electability in some important swing states in the general election. I think people who like Obama will vote for Obama everywhere, regardless of his race, so I see less of a Bradley/Wilder effect this year.

If Obama has to worry about his race having an effect, his worry will be just as great in South Carolina, where he is pulling in smaller percentages of African-American voters than one might expect. Why? That's hard to tell.

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Avon Park, Fla.: With Hillary Clinton now with momentum, is this race seen as a toss-up, or definitely Clinton's to lose? Will there be pressure on Barack Obama to drop out because expectations were so high for him?

Dean Lacy: I don't see pressure being put on Obama to drop out. The Obama-Clinton race is essentially a toss-up now. The candidate who may face pressure to drop out is Edwards, but he has said he is in this to the convention.

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Berkeley, Calif.: I just wondered if the results in New Hampshire (and Iowa too, really) demonstrate how inaccurate polls are, and suggest that the media should focus more on the issues and policies put forward by the candidates and less time (if any time at all, since it seems so much of a waste) on who is winning according to these bogus measurements?

Dean Lacy: Yes, I agree. But the poll results draw public attention and certainly "sell" coverage.

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Arlington, Va.: Why is Rudy Giuliani being written off so quickly? He still leads in the states where a majority of delegates will be given out in the next month or so, namely California, Florida, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. People aren't going to not vote for him just because two tiny states that are 98 percent white voted for other people -- including a guy who doesn't believe in evolution. There's a whole big wide world out there other than these two states. It makes me sad every four years that the races are "shaped" by what the homogeneous populations of Iowa and New Hampshire think.

Dean Lacy: In defense of New Hampshire, I'm not sure where else I would want to see the first primary. Certainly not a large state that already provides most of the money to candidates and has many electoral votes (California, Texas, New York). Nor would I want the early primaries in a swing state (Ohio, Florida). Given the 50 percent turnout here yesterday, it is clear people in New Hampshire enjoy this activity. On issues, New Hampshire is much more representative of the general population than most states, but demographically it clearly is not.

Giuliani is in good shape. His strategy has been to contest the big Super Tuesday states. That is looking like a good strategy, compared to Mitt Romney's strategy to pour resources into Iowa and New Hampshire.

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Bethesda, Md.: It's only 10 a.m. and I'm already sick of hearing the word "comeback." How can anyone make a "comeback" after just two states have spoken? Granted, if Obama and Huckabee had been leading for the first four or five primaries and then the tables started to turn for Clinton and McCain, I'd be impressed. But Clinton has been leading in the "polls" all along. So she unexpectedly loses Iowa and then wins New Hampshire. Why is everyone so surprised?

Dean Lacy: Agreed. The only thing to comeback from in New Hampshire is a poor showing in Iowa. But, "comeback" makes for a good campaign speech.

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Not a political junkie: Is the big national impact of the Democratic New Hampshire primary that Clinton won or that it was a tight race between Clinton and Obama? Put another way, would the boost for Clinton still have been significant had she narrowly lost a tight race when polls indicated a much wider margin? News stories, upon a quick glance, seem to place tremendous value on Clinton winning first. Yet aside from New Hampshire's delegates, I find it surprising to see that much difference in the national campaign from just a few thousand votes in this one state. Thanks for your thoughts.

Dean Lacy: A close loss for Clinton would have been spun as an end to her momentum, giving Obama a much better starting point in South Carolina and Super Tuesday. The results yesterday simply muddled the race, making it wide open for both parties.

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Colchester, Vt.: What's happened to Giuliani? My understanding is he spent around $3 million on New Hampshire, and he barely beat Ron Paul. I know he thinks he can push ahead in big states like Florida, but is he even trying?

Dean Lacy: Giuliani did not devote much effort to New Hampshire. His strategy is to do well enough in Florida to springboard to California and New York and the other states on Super Tuesday.

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Washington: The "movement" analogy energizes voters, especially late-deciders. But according to MSNBC, the late deciders split evenly between Clinton and Obama?

Dean Lacy: That's right. Clinton worked hard to appeal to undecided women, particularly Independents.

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Pacific Palisades, Calif.: Why were polls closed one hour early in some areas of New Hampshire? Who made the decision? Who gained from it? As for the ballot itself, who decided the lineup?

Dean Lacy: I have no idea about the early poll closings. I'll into to that.

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Dean Lacy: Thanks for your many good questions and comments, too many for me to respond to all of them. It has been a pleasure, and stay tuned for a very exciting election season!

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