The fact that Hillary Clinton won the New Hampshire primary isn’t nearly as interesting as the fact that so many people were surprised by this. And that surprise? Well, that’s due to the same thing that’s keeping this writer’s strike going despite millions of dollars in losses. [Yes, I know, I’m making this all about me. This is a blog, after all. But seriously, it’s about me. You’ll see…]
How could this happen? Sure, Hillary had a sizable lead in New Hampshire until last week, but Iowa changed all that. Obama was polling in double digit leads right up until moments before the voting started! Today, pollsters are flummoxed, as hinted at by such stories as “Pollsters flummoxed by New Hampshire primary.”
Pollsters flummoxed by New Hampshire primary
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Hillary Clinton’s victory in New Hampshire’s Democratic presidential nominating contest confounded pollsters, who found themselves trying to explain how opinion polls got it so wrong.
Chastened experts said on Wednesday they would have to closely analyze their forecasts against the results of the New Hampshire primaries to learn why they were so right about resurgent John McCain’s win on the Republican side but so wrong about Clinton’s win among the Democrats…
…”It’s really a case study in the limits of momentum,” said University of New Hampshire political analyst Dante Scala…
…John Zogby, who does the Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll, said the 18 percent of New Hampshire voters who reported making up their minds on Tuesday “is just an unprecedented number…”
…One issue making it hard for pollsters is that this is a history-making contest with no past parallels — Obama would become the first black U.S. president, and Clinton the first female U.S. president.
Herbst said the “public-private gap,” the difference between what voters say and do, has long been tough for pollsters to gauge…
Look at all those plausible explanations up there! The press is full of pundits taking a swing at crackin’ this case, most coming down on the side of sampling error, last-minute decision-making on the part of the voters, ol’ fashioned racism, and Hillary crying.
Oh, come on, guys. You know that’s not it. The reason’s simple: We wanted the story to be about Hillary losing.
Maybe it’s because she’s “calculating,” or too “inevitable,” or maybe some of us have Conservative Clinton Revulsion Syndrome (CCRS). Mostly, though, it was that the “story” had been the same for too damn long, and talking about a Seismic Shift and Failed Strategies and getting to write Hillary’s epitaph (or at least dust it off and submit it after adding today’s date) was easier and more fun than spending a few days informing the public (now that it was paying attention) about the substantive differences between the (now) two frontrunners.
Pundit and pollster alike, this frenzy had to do with feelings and an abdication of professional objectivity (ooh, yeah! That’s media trash-talk! Abdication of objectivity, yo!). ABC’s Gary Langer manages to drive by the truth when he calls some explanations “a convenient foil for pollsters who’d rather fault their respondents than own up to other possibilities - such as their own failings in sampling and likely voter modeling.” Stop the car. We’re there.
Voters model. Sometimes, that’ll even change what they do in the voting booth, which is the rationale behind some of the most effective push-polling. But you don’t have to work for any particular candidate to push-poll, kids, oh no - you can just close your eyes, wish what you want real hard, and then go ask your questions.
But even that extra-hard wishing wasn’t enough to change enough voters’ minds to get the story we all wanted really, really badly, the one where an angry Hillary stomps a hole into the ground and disappears into the core of the earth. Why wouldn’t the New Hampshire voters tell us THAT story? We practically begged for it! We TOLD them in a hundred ways that we wanted THAT. And they wouldn’t give it to us. They’re so mean.
And this is where we come back around to the writers’ strike. The writers have made that small cabal of moguls mad, and now they won’t come to the table and solve this because they don’t want to give us the satisfaction and reward us for being big stupid meanie-faces.
Seriously, I wish any of this was more complicated. But the heads of the giant media conglomerates would really rather petulantly piss away millions of dollars of their shareholders’ money than give the WGA the satisfaction of thinking that their tactics worked. And the coinage isn’t completely real to them anyway - they’re going to earn millions even if they get fired for slicing millions off their companies’ bottom lines. It’s the company’s money, and so by definition the investor’s money… you know, play money. The bright orange kind with cartoon locomotives on it. The kind you can afford to throw away on a brilliant business ploy known as “a snit.”
Same deal with the pollsters. And it wasn’t just loaded questions, either [as in Question #5 on yesterday’s Zogby tracking poll: “Does the Obama mania that’s sweeping the nation and capturing the imaginations of all the cool kids make you more likely to vote for our new Captain Terrific over that nasty Clinton bitch?”], it was also the effect of asking a question while wishing really hard. [And that oughta be the title of a forthcoming book on why polls often suck: “Asking a Question While Wishing Really Hard.”]
The scary thing here, to me, is not how wrong the polls got it in predicting Obama’s victory, no, it’s asking myself how much of Obama’s real bounce, the way he closed the gap between him and Hillary to just a couple of points by yesterday, really was pushed on the voters by a childish, frenzied media. I mean - yipes. But does the knowledge that we are almost certainly having a large, collective effect on voters make us more like to start reporting policy and closely monitor our rhetoric and conduct to make sure that we’re maintaining a professional, objective mien at all times?
Of course not. Just like with the AMPTP, if we all agree not to be grown-ups, nobody has to be. On to South Carolina - let’s see if we can hitch a ride on a strawberry-colored unicorn!