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NYT front page story, February 28th, 1984

"Hart leads Mondale 38-31"
CBS NYT Poll, March 5th -8th 1984

I have been following politics for over 25 years.  In that time I have been consistently amazed at how few people actually understand how the nomination process works.   What this diary is going to demonstrate is that National Polls are mostly meaningless.  It's going to do this by reviewing the last 30 years of primary history.  

And at the end of this diary you should ask why people get paid to write detailed analysis of meaningless national polls

The first table summarizes the impact of the New Hampshire Results on National Polling.  I did this by comparing the last national poll before Iowa and the first National Poll after New Hampshire.   Since 1980 there have been four races with more than two candidates: 1984, 1988, 1992 and 2004.   In those four races the winner of the New Hampshire Primary has received a 25 point bounce in the week after the New Hampshire Primary.

The numbers in this table were arrived at by comparing the last National Poll before Iowa with the first National Poll after New Hampshire.  For example, in 1984 Hart won NH, and went up 36 points (from 2% before New Hampshire to 38% after New Hampshire.  What I am trying to show is the combined effect Iowa and New Hampshire have on the National Race.

To some extent, though, this table fails to highlight the impact on front runners.  So the table below shows the impact on front runners of New Hampshire.  On average New Hampshire causes a 33 point swing between the top-two candidates!!!  For example, going into Iowa, Dean was the front runner.  After the results in New Hampshire, he lost 11 points in the National Race while Kerry went up by 37 points.

What this data also shows is the folly of states moving close to New Hampshire.  Given the speed of the effect that NH has on National polling, states following New Hampshire closely will do little more than ratify the NH result.

It is possible using this data to predict what the impact would be of one of the current candidates winning.  This table shows what the national polls will look like given a certain order of finish:

For people in interested in the data, I have posted it here:

The data for 1984, 1992 and 2004 are post below:

Originally posted to fladem on Mon Aug 20, 2007 at 10:51 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Hopefully (8+ / 0-)

    This make people stop paying so much attention to National Polls.

  •  Anyone Polling of the Early Primary States? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Up thru Feb let's say.

    I'd think that would be much more informative than either NH/IA or else full-national.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Mon Aug 20, 2007 at 11:14:10 AM PDT

  •  But will this info move the Kos poll? (0+ / 0-)

    Hillary may be up as much as a half dozen points in new Hampshire, thought she was tied there within the last two polls too.  Iowa would be even harder to call for the "inevitable" big leader in the national polls.  Should she drop either...well, Katy bar the door.  her inch deep bandwagon supporters will start dropping away like Wall Mart applicant's asking if Hillary's old board ever got around to offering it's employees a health plan.

    As for the real dynamics of what will drive the race - Hill just can't conatain her Goldwater roots long enough to get through the primaries.  Maybe there is a big hankering in New Hampshire tonuke Islamabad at the drop of a hat.  If not Hillary may have been digging the wrong way lately.  Maybe Iowans want to outsource their jobs as Ms Clinton has a record of doingto her own rotten borough. But I really think her capacity to triangulate like a limbo dancer down for the basest element of the electorate - defense contractors who only employ off shore - will catch up with her before she can get down with the conservatives in the general.

    Conventional wisdom is most usualy an oxymoron.

    by SmithsLastWord on Mon Aug 20, 2007 at 11:18:31 AM PDT

  •  My theory - FWIW (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    fladem, cosbo

     is that despite this compelling historical insight (i.e. that there are hazards to being a frontrunner - because it makes subsequent setbacks seem much more significant) that candidates still seek frontrunner status,  As best as I can tell the strategery is to try and dry up funding and endorsements from rivals - the inevitability strategery:  "I am inevitable - so you better give me money and support or risk being frozen out when my Administration begins."

     However - as history shows - once the voting starts it is better to have momentum and the appearance of Secretariat stumbling out of the gate but now flying on the inside rail to sweep past faltering opponents.  It may be that there is no reality change - only the way it is reported.  

     IMHO that is what is happening in '08 - but we shall see

  •  My husband works (7+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    fladem, vlajos, cosbo, soros, oibme, Shahryar, viralvoice

    in polling and both market research and political. He's a number cruncher, statistician. He also also agrees with your assumption that early polling is really useless. He also finds political polling to be the most problematic in it's formating and demographics and dicy analysis. His main dismissal of early polls is based on name recognition. which for instance Hillary has in spades both as a former First Lady who as was a full partner with Bill and her high profile as a senator. As the campaign is progressing we see Obama's profile emerging and people are starting to look at him.

    What worries me and the National Polls are used for this is that the nominating process seems highly undemocratic. I live on the west coast and by the time we have a primary it's a done deal. This time around I feel that it's little more then a dog and pony show,  with the results feed by polls, inevitable.    

    "And if my thought-dreams could be seen They'd probably put my head in a guillotine" Bob Dylan

    by shaharazade on Mon Aug 20, 2007 at 11:36:45 AM PDT

  •  I had guessed (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    just from the diary title that this would be a "Dump on the Other Candidate" diary.

    I was so pleased to find this instead.

    "Just for the record: you were right, I'm an idiot, and God bless you." -- Xander, BTVS

    by prodigal on Mon Aug 20, 2007 at 11:41:54 AM PDT

  •  It could get more complicated ... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    fladem, cosbo, DigDug

    When you factor in the subtleties of media spin, not to mention the utterly unknown and hard-to-predict effects of the compressed and pushed-up schedule.

    Upsets have the biggest effect, as in 2004.  Going into Iowa, Dean looked ready to lock it up, while Kerry was lying face down on the mat.  Between Kerry's unexpected win and Dean's unexpected washout - amplified by 10,000 TV replays of The Scream - Kerry surged and Dean collapsed; Clark was also swept away in the undertow, while Edwards got only limited traction from a strong 2nd place in Iowa.  

    In 1992, Clinton spun a 3rd or 4th place finish in NH into "Comeback Kid," completely sandbagging the actual winner, Tsongas.

    This time around?  The compressed schedule could amplify the early results, giving non-winners in Iowa and NH no time to recover.  On the other hand, especially if Iowa gets pushed right up to New Year's - or even into December - its results may get buried by the holidaze.

    Another X factor is that - love her or hate her - Hillary is better known to the electorate than any candidate except maybe Gore in 2000.  Mondale didn't have all that high a public profile as Carter's VP, and the best-known candidate in 1992, Cuomo, took a bye on the race.  So it's by no means a given that her support will collapse unless she really washes out in the opening rounds.

    Edwards isn't all that well known (VP nom on a losing ticket just isn't that high profile), and Obama - like Dean in 2004 - is nearly an abstraction, not well known at all.  So even narrow losses in the early rounds will likely do them more damage.

    Generally, the less well-known the candidate, the bigger the effects of the opening rounds.  Their national polls going in mean almost nothing, reflecting only buzz.  The more familiar the candidate - in this case Hillary - the more likely that pre-primary national polls actually have some (if still limited) solidity.

    •  Great analysis (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      vlajos, soros

      Which I completely agree with.  

      The hardest thing to gauge is the impact to Hillary of a loss in New Hampshire - she might take a bigger hit than Mondale or Dean.

      •  It could depend on ... (0+ / 0-)

        The point spread, and the predictions going in.

        Dean had already taken his hit in Iowa; NH just ratified it.  And Dean faced the worst-case scenario.  His active core of supporters really liked him, but the rest of his pre-Iowa national lead was froth:  People were moving toward him because he was getting the buzz, and people heard he was leading.

        Mondale wasn't all that well known either.  I seem to recall that he played a substantive role under Carter (in fact, was the first VP to have a substantive role), but not that much of a media profile.  

        Hillary is far better known, and an uncertain but probably substantial fraction of her current national polling reflects actual support, not mere trend-following.  That's an upside for her.  The corresponding downside is that she has zero option to cherry pick - I bet her people would rather have passed on Iowa, but it was not an option.

        The best analogy to a Hillary loss in NH is - unfortunately for analysis - a conterfactual: what might have happened to Gore if Bradley had got past him there in 2000. Remember that while Gore has godlike powers now, he was in some ways the Hillary of 2000:  Going in, there were a lot of people who didn't much like him; that's why Bradley ever had a prospect.

  •  Rec'd because... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    ...this ought to be required reading for anyone diarying or commenting on poll results on the presidential race.

    You really did a great job with this. You put into words supported by hard data what some know from experience but so many others, among them the loudest talkers, don't "get." I'm going to bookmark it. And cite it from time to time.

    This diary ought to already be on the recommended menu, but the disinterest in how the dynamics of the primary campaigns really function is so dominant as to make me worry for the chances in November. That is to say, if vocal enthusiasts for this candidate or that one don't grasp the most basic of campaign dynamics, what hope is there for the Democrat in '08, whoever that may be? The base, too, needs to educate itself. And you've provided an excellent primer. Maybe some enterprising front page editor will FP it? Because it would be great to have the discussions we're having about campaigns among a larger group of folks that start with the basic premise you've done so well to explain.

    Nobody has died as a result of this comment.

    by viralvoice on Mon Aug 20, 2007 at 12:07:54 PM PDT

    •  The good news (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cosbo, soros

      is that voters in Iowa and New Hampshire don't care about the National Press, and even people like Richardson have more than enough money to compete in the early primaries.

      So the National Media writes stupid things: but the voters who make the choices in the early states aren't listening.

  •  Great work. (0+ / 0-)

    I'm thinking about the 2007 elections, I hope some people remember that too.

    NJ & VA vote on their entire State Houses. Most states elect a portion of their State House.

    Once I get thru the holidays, I'll think about going up to NH.

    FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

    by Roger Fox on Mon Aug 20, 2007 at 02:52:35 PM PDT

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