Why was the polling wrong in NH?

Matt Dabrowski, a pollster and a reader, sent in a letter about what happened with the broken polling in New Hampshire

Just yesterday, some major media polls showed Barack Obama with a 10-point lead over Hillary Clinton. But Clinton won the New Hampshire primary by at least 3%. At the same time, John McCain posted a much stronger lead over Mitt Romney than polling predicated.

The polls were dead wrong tonight. (And so was I. I told many of you that Barack Obama would sail through New Hampshire on his way to the presidency.)

Why? In effect, the pollsters double-counted New Hampshire independents.

How does this work? In order to survey likely voters, pollsters ask a series of "screener" questions. Here is how one public pollster, American Research Group (ARG), asks their screener:

"Would you say that you definitely plan to vote in the 2008 Republican presidential primary, that you might vote in the 2008 Republican presidential primary, or that you will probably not vote in the 2008 Republican presidential primary?"

Typically, pollsters treat each party separately when conducting primary polls. One survey will poll the Republican primary (and all non-Republicans will be screened out), and a separate survey will poll the Democrats (and vice versa). This is the case for two reasons. First, most states don’t have open primaries, so cross-party voting isn’t a concern. Second is cost, doubly true in internal campaign polling. It would be a waste of money for, e.g., Chris Dodd to poll Republican primary voters.

Several well-regarded campaign pollsters will travel to South Carolina tomorrow to find themselves in hot water with their campaign managers.

So let’s think this through. Pollster X conducts his survey in the Republican primary. Independents are allowed into the poll, while Democrats are not. Then Pollster X conducts his survey among Democrats. Independents are allowed into the poll a second time, while Republicans are not.

This is the polling equivalent of being allowed to vote twice. You create a situation where a voter would say this: "Well, if you were asking me about the Republican primary, I’d vote for McCain. But since you’re asking me about the Democratic primary, I’ll vote for Obama." In fact, it creates the bizarre possibility that the same individual New Hampshire voter could be literally polled twice.

It comes down to what we call "sampling error." Since the same Independents were allowed into both surveys, the poll’s sample didn’t look like the actual primary electorate. The 10-point Obama lead was only a paper lead — those were actually McCain voters who were erroneously allowed into the Democratic primary polls.

Should pollsters have known this would happen? I’d argue yes. We knew that both Obama and McCain both had wide support among Independents. At first glance, none of the pollsters realized this and changed their models accordingly.

One proper way to screen would have been something like this:

"Q1. Would you say that you definitely plan to vote in the primary, that you might vote in the primary, or that you will probably not vote in the primary?

Q2. Do you plan to vote in the Republican presidential primary, or the Democratic presidential primary?"

Notice that every likely voter is allowed into the poll, and then pushed into the appropriate primary. No segment of the population has the possibility of entering both primaries.

We desperately need to re-think our turnout models in the future, or we will continue to struggle with open primaries, early voting, etc., etc…

What high turnout means: Organization doesn’t matter much

New Hampshire had the potential to be another passion versus organization fight. John McCain has had amazing events overflowing with people. Mitt Romney not so much, with some evidence of Massachusetts astroturf.

The polls seemed to settle on a 3-5 margin for McCain. Normally, I would have added another point or two to Romney’s numbers because Romney’s campaign is almost certainly doing better GOTV. But not today. Not with this turnout. Listening to one of the cable stations, one analyst said that the leading campaigns don’t really think that they need to do their own turnout. It is happening for them.

Returning to the numbers, Secretary of State Bill Gardner predicted 500k votes, substantially more than the 2006 general election numbers. The 2006 general election numbers, at least nationwide, suggested that hard GOP voters, which polls suggest Romney and McCain are splitting with, in some polls, a slight advantage to Romney. I remember the RNC’s spin that if they turnout 80% of the 2004 base in 2006, they would win the election. They achieved their goals, but the Dems did so much better. Left-leaning independents and Democrats turned out at record numbers.

I am trying to figure out where the rest of the turnout is coming from. One option is right-leaning independents, which would be a good sign for McCain. Are hard Republicans really expanding the universe? Are there really Democrats and lefty-independents who want to vote now who didn’t want to vote in 2006? I have trouble seeing how this isn’t good for McCain. The passion seen in his events may be replicated at the polls today. Check out this coverage from the Boston Globe:

"It has been steady heavy all day," said Herb Pence, a church volunteer who has worked on election day at least a dozen times. "It wasn’t intense like this before — on both sides, Republican and Democrat." …

The turnout in Manchester’s First Ward appeared to be especially high for those who have not participated before: while there was a significant line for "registered voters" in the church basement, the line for "new voters" was far longer, snaking around the stairs.

The only other theory than a boom for McCain is a boom for Ron Paul or Mike Huckabee. Many state party officials except Paul and Huckabee to place above Giuliani tonight.

Report from the polls

When I pulled into the Hooksett polling place around 6:30 AM, I came into a traffic jam. It was 15 minutes before I could get to a parking spot. Simply put, turnout was huge. The Union-Leader reports massive turnout. The Secretary of State has predicted a 500k turnout, and three or four campaigns are using this for their turnout model. Last night, talking to some state party officials, they pointed out that 417k people voted in the high-turnout 2006 general election. I am watching MSNBC right now and Chuck Todd semi-predicted even higher. If, as the Union-Leader reported, over 10% of the voters are new-registrants, it could be even higher.

At the polling places that I have seen, Obama, McCain, and Clinton have volunteers at polling places. No Romney or Rudy people. (although one place had a parked truck with a big Romney sign on it) Chatting with the Obama and Clinton people on the ground, they made it clear that they were rooting for Romney because they felt like they could beat him.

Watching the results tonight will be interesting.

Final NH debate

I think that Mitt Romney and John McCain did fine. Romney did much better than last night. McCain was more low-key and seemed dignified. Once again, Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson played interference.

I really doubt that this moved the ball too much.

Huckabee’s support more than Southern Evangelicals?

(cross-posted from Redstate)

I just finished a Mitt Romney townhall in Nashua, NH. He had around 400 people, according to the campaign. I had just come from a similar event in Windham, just down the road, where Mike Huckabee had over 600. The Huckabee event clearly had more energy than the Romney event.

One of the questions in this race is whether Mike Huckabee has a base of support beyond southern Evangelicals. Well, I found an Orthodox Jewish State Rep., Jason Bedrick. Watch Jason explain why he supports Huckabee. He also said that Huckabee could bring Reagan Democrats back to the party. Reagan did it by using cultural values and economic populism to cut into traditionally Democratic ethnic voting blocs … like culturally conservative northeastern Jews. Could Huckabee?

If this energy is indicative, Rudy Giuliani could be in trouble. One reporter described his events to me as "intimate."

McCain wins

The test of a debate is what is fixated in people’s heads. Those moments will be, almost certainly, the attacks on Mitt Romney.

John McCain just needed to tread water. Not only did he do that, but he looked dignified except for, perhaps, going a little too far on poking Romney once.

Fred Thompson ended up sounding like the conservative voice on the stage. If McCain wins on Tuesday, conservatives are going to need some place to go. Fred will compete for that. His goal tonight was to be that voice. He accomplished.

Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee sounded fine.

Romney cratered.

McCain’s Peterborogh Townhall: “The Mac is Back”

(Crossposted from Redstate)

From 2008-01, NH

I just got to a computer after John McCain’s most recent townhall in Peterborough in western New Hampshire. Peterborough was the location of McCain’s famous 2000 town hall meeting that become a cover-story in Time Magazine.

This year, it was McCain’s 100th town hall in New Hampshire. Apparently 750 showed up to standing-room only. 150 more were turned away by the fire marshall. Ramesh was there. So was Phil.

Read on.

So was CBN’s David Brody, who should have some great video. But here’s what he blogged:

I’m on the ground here at a John McCain town hall meeting in Peterborough, New Hampshire. Folks, he may be 71 years old but here in New Hampshire, he has the energy of a 21 year old. I have covered John McCain throughout 2007 and I must say, he’s never been so on fire and red hot as now. The crowd here is overflowing out the door. The McCain bus had a hard time getting up the street because of all the people flowing in. …

John McCain has always been at his best when he’s unplugged. Well, let me just confirm that he is not only unplugged, he is on fire. Romney needs to watch out. Huckabee needs to watch out. John McCain just may take this enthusiasm in New Hampshire and become the ultimate “Comeback Kid”.

There were questions (Iraq, global warming, health care, AIDS in Africa, etc.) But the real story was the energy. A lot of it.

It appears that something may be happening. The Concord Monitor has a new poll out with McCain up 6. If this energy continues the Mac may well be back.

With that, I go to NRO’s event and then the debate. Details will follow.

A Romney NH townhall

(Crossposted from Redstate)

Last night I attended a Mitt Romney townhall in Manchester, New Hampshire. The Politico’s Jonathan Martin has a report from the event.

Several things struck me getting to the event. First, it was packed. Probably 250 or so people. Given the time and place, downtown Manchester on a Friday night, this is good but not surprising. Second, unlike Rudy Giuliani and John McCain’s events, the audience was mostly upper middle class, which as Fred Barnes has noticed, seems to be Romney’s electoral base.

Read on after the jump.

As the event progressed it became clear that this is probably the "best organized" event. People with signs in all the right places. Well timed. Kevin Madden, the national press secretary, chatting up the reporters. Probably a better organized stump speech. Etc. Political theater at its technical finest. Romney was introduced by his wife who gave, of course, a glowing introduction about one of the 5 sons (Matt, I think) and 2 of his kids.

At that point Anne, Matt, and the two grandkids stepped over the velvet rope that surrounded Romney and sat down. In the picture above you can see the rope. This rope was a marked contrast with McCain and Giuliani who frequently offered their microphones to people in front row.

Romney’s stump speech hit all his new themes. Washington is the problem, not the President or the White House. That he can bring change. "It’s going to take someone there who knows how to change things."

Given the audience, he spent a lot of time on taxes. He talked about the previous administration (a Republican) raising taxes (is this true?) by $b, while he didn’t. Of course, he raised revenue $700m by raising fees. But….

A voter asked "the Mormon question." It wasn’t actually the mormon question so much as the "Baptist question" as she clarified later. She said that she was tempted to vote for Huckabee because she understands him and shares his values, while she sees that Romney is a strong candidate. Romney gave his typical answer to applause. (I would note Medved’s piece about the Mormon thing not really being a problem in Iowa)

Perhaps the most interesting quote form that was, "if we made differences based on religion, we would end up looking like Shia and Sunni." I thought that was a little excessive, but…

That’s an awful lot of money

(Crosspost from Redstate)

Byron York learned today:

I talked to a station official who told me that Mitt Romney was WHO’s second biggest advertiser in 2007. Second biggest – behind the number-one advertiser, Monsanto farm chemicals, and ahead of the number-three advertiser, Bayer farm chemicals. WHO is by far the biggest radio station in Iowa,

Compare to New Hampshire. The Granite Prof tells us that Mitt Romney has spent nearly $4m on WMUR, the main New Hampshire TV station. By contrast, that is slightly more than Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama combined. More than the entire GOP field combined, outspending his nearest opponent, John McCain nearly 4-1. I am in New Hampshire right now. In 5 days, I have seen exactly 2 positive ads by Romney, and about 20 negative.

A view on Iowa from New Hampshire

Cross-post from Redstate. I am posting there primarily, but I will try to cross-post here more.

Mike Huckabee’s stunning victory in Iowa will have a number of consequences in New Hampshire, where I am now. Last night John McCain flew from Iowa to New Hampshire for his caucus-watching party. At the same time, Rudy Giuliani left New Hampshire before the caucuses even began. It is not clear to me that he is coming back to New Hampshire.

Until a poll shows otherwise, this is still a John McCain versus Mitt Romney fight at the top, just like Iowa was a Romney versus Huckabee fight. Iowa’s results seem to help McCain and hurt Romney in NH. At the same time, it endangers Rudy.

Mitt Romney took a hit. Look at the opening paragraph of the AP story:

Republican Mitt Romney failed Thursday to pick up the first of two back-to-back wins he hoped would propel him toward his party’s presidential nomination, losing the Iowa caucuses five days before what is now for him a pivotal New Hampshire primary.

(That’s actually significantly toned down from the first story that hit the wire) The Romney campaign, already down, can expect much more negative coverage from the media, which already dislikes him. It is certainly possible that there will be falling turnout at his events and fewer volunteers. Already down 6-9 points to McCain, this just makes his life harder.

McCain is trying to turn this environment tactically against Romney. Excerpts from his statement:

Negative campaigns don’t work in IA and they don’t work here in NH. … 100th townhall tomorrow in NH. … We put the old lightening back in the bottle. … We will continue our positive campaigning…. Very confident of victory.

McCain is trying to remind the people of New Hampshire of his special relationship with them. The press is not reporting McCain’s placement, and in 2000 he placed even lower. Local reporters and pundits expect no negative impact of McCain’s showing.

The conclusion for the top-line race is this: McCain keeps his momentum, while Romney, his most likely challenger, will likely take a significant hit. Advantage McCain.

For the rest of the candidates, read on.

Huckabee faces a uniquely awkward environment, even if he has 9.5% in the RCP average. In Iowa, he posted 14% of non-evangelical vote, versus 50%-ish of the evangelical vote. But there are very, very few evangelicals in New Hampshire. His message here is about his record on taxes. It will be interesting to see where this climbs to and who it comes from. Any Huckabee succcess will be interpreted as proof that he can perform outside of evangelical voters.

Rudy Giuliani. Rudy has a problem here. He is gone, and people will notice. He got 1/3rd of the vote of Ron Paul in Iowa. If he repeats that, the fundamental logic of his candidacy disappears. (Incidentally, recent polling suggests that he has a similar problem in Michigan)

Fred Thompson. Fred’s game is not in New Hampshire. It is South Carolina. He has virtually no organization, and has only been here … twice? He might do a drive-by, but no one expects him to succeed here, and he is currently at the bottom of the big-5 here. It does not look like Fred’s 3d place Iowa showing is really being reported, so he is unlikely to get a real bounce here.

Ron Paul. He could do well here. There is a natural crusty libertarian base here that he appeals to. And there is plenty of evidence of a good grassroots organization. But his message appears limited here.

Today I am off to Romney, Huckabee, and McCain events to see what is going on here. If you have ideas for questions or observations, email me at soren.dayton-at-gmail.com.