by Frank Schnittger
Tue Jan 8th, 2008 at 10:17:48 PM EST
To a European observer the most striking thing about the US party nominee elections is how volatile they are. In many European elections a 5% swing is regarded as very significant when it takes place over the course of an entire campaign and opinion polls are often accurate to well within their stated +- 3% points margin of error. In the US elections, however, opinion polls published on the same day by different companies can often differ by much more than this.
In the New Hampshire primary the final polls looked like this:
RealClearPolitics - Election 2008
To help overcome the variation between polls I have been using the average of all available polls but even that didn't seem to reduce the margin of error.
Iowa Final Actual New Hampshire
Polls Result Polls Result (with 96% [UPDATE} of precincts reporting)
Clinton 29 29 30 39
Obama 31 38 38 36
Edwards 26 30 18 17
Biden 5 1
Richardson 5 2 6 5
Huckabee 30 34 12 11
Romney 27 25 28 32
Thompson 12 13 2 1
McCain 12 13 32 37
Paul 7 10 8 8
Guilliani 6 4 9 9
In Iowa both the Obama, Edwards and Huckabee results were significantly outside the alleged 3% margin of error for a single poll, never mind the average of a whole number of them. In New Hampshire the Clinton and McCain surges were entirely unanticipated.
Pollsters will often try to explain this away by saying that any poll is only a snapshot of opinion on a given day and that a lot can change in 24 hours. If that is the case, why bother polling at all? It is hard to escape the conclusion that the polls are not really about trying to predict outcomes at all. They are there too try and influence the outcome, and to give the media something quasi scientific to talk about.
The other major factor influencing voter is of course the bandwagon or bounce effect. The Iowa result had a major impact on voter perceptions in New Hampshire and resulted in a Clinton lead of 7% in the polls prior to Iowa being turned into an Obama lead of up to 13% in polls taken after the Iowa result.
Even here the polls asking ET readers to predict the next POTUS changed dramatically after the Iowa result.
Iowa New Hampshire
Clinton 47% 22%
Obama 11% 48%
Edwards 29% 7%
Giulliani 0% 3%
Huckabee 5% 14%
Romney 5% 0%
McCain 0% 3%
. n= 17 27
Oh what a fickle bunch you are!
I said in my first Diary on European Tribune - Who is really going to win the US Election?
CONCLUSION: Its early days and all to play for, but my money (based on looking at the trends to date) is on a Clinton Huckabee contest with Clinton winning by a narrow majority. It's a bit like trying to predict the future by looking in the rear view mirror and we all know that big money and powerful vested interests are in the driving seat.
I made that very early and tentative prediction not because I was confident of calling the Iowa and New Hampshire results, but because Clinton had a 20% lead nationally which gave her a lot of downside resilience in the event of some early setbacks. That 20% lead in the National Polls went down to 8% after Iowa, so it was clear that another defeat in New Hampshire could have erased it altogether.
Obama and Edwards needed to to win in either Iowa or New Hampshire to have a chance, which Obama duly did in Iowa in very impressive fashion. Edwards is in now deep trouble and South Carolina is his last chance.
Giulliani's 3% lead in the national polls has evaporated and he is now behind both Huckabee and McCain by 3 and 2% respectively even before the New Hampshire vote. Huckabee and McCain needed to win either Iowa or New Hampshire, and having done so they will now move significantly ahead. Romney and Giulliani now badly need to win in Michigan and Nevada to stay in the race.
I don't want to give people here the heebee jeebees as we say in Ireland, but the national head to head polls indicate that a Clinton McCain national contest is the one combination of candidates that the Republicans would actually win!
OK Class, one more time...