- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 10, 2008

Embarrassed pollsters were still trying to figure out yesterday why their polls, showing Barack Obama beating Hillary Rodham Clinton, were way off the mark in New Hampshire’s Democratic primary.

Some of the biggest names in measuring and predicting public opinion, from Gallup to Zogby, were alternately contrite, confused and candid about what went wrong in their assessments for New Hampshire’s Democratic vote. It turned out they were off by five to 13 points or more.

In the days leading up to the first-in-the-nation primary, the senator from New York was losing to Mr. Obama by 28 percent to 41 percent in a USA Today-Gallup poll, 30 percent to 39 percent in a CNN-WMUR-University of New Hampshire poll and 28 percent to 32 percent in a Fox News poll. But on Tuesday, Mrs. Clinton won over Mr. Obama by 39 percent to 37 percent.

All of the pollsters had explanations — from the unusually large number of voters who didn’t decide until primary day to the emotional reaction from women to Mrs. Clinton’s teary moment at a campaign event a day earlier. But some said they just blew it.

“It looks like we all missed the mark on the Democratic side,” John Zogby said in a six-point mea culpa on his company’s Web site. His polls showed Mrs. Clinton ahead by two points Sunday night, but his methodology called for a three-day rolling average that gave Mr. Obama of Illinois a 12-point lead that did not exist.

Lee Miringoff, who heads the Marist College poll, blamed polling organizations that turned “poll watchers in the wrong direction suggesting Senator Barack Obama was positioned to win.” With few exceptions, he added, “most polls were accurate in measuring Obama’s level of support in the state. … But the polls missed the magnitude of the support for Clinton.”

Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup Poll, said the venerable polling company has been reviewing its data carefully to see whether “there was a flaw in the polling methodology, but we do not see any evidence of that.”

“There were a number of independent polls conducted in New Hampshire all saying the same thing. To my knowledge, I haven’t seen a single poll of Hillary Clinton winning,” he said.

A chief explanation by pollsters focused on the huge number of voters — 18 percent, according to press exit polls — who said they did not make up their minds until Tuesday.

“That is just an unprecedented number,” Mr. Zogby said.

Mr. Newport pointed to “the Hillary Clinton video showing her choking up. That was extremely widely distributed, and it is possible that could have on Monday affected some voters.” Others pointed to Saturday’s Democratic debate in which Mrs. Clinton appealed to women by saying her election would represent a historic change for the nation.

Mr. Obama won the female vote in Iowa, but New Hampshire women turned out in larger than expected numbers for Mrs. Clinton, giving her 46 percent of their vote compared with 34 percent for her chief rival.

However, she fared poorly with men, losing their vote 29 percent to Mr. Obama’s 40 percent.

Several pollsters said their inordinate focus on Mr. Obama’s support among other voter blocs may have blinded them to the wave of women who turned out at the polls.

“We were focusing on Obama’s massive lead among younger and independent voters. We seem to have missed the huge turnout of older women that apparently put Clinton over the top,” Mr. Zogby said.

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