Why did the polls blow it in New Hampshire?

The final polls in New Hampshire – and there were plenty outfits issuing them – forecast a big win for Barack Obama, predicting he would win going away with a margin ranging from six to 13 points. Instead, Hillary Clinton won by three points. How could professional pollsters (and Jay Tea) get it so wrong?

Well, the morons at Daily Kos have a theory: there were Diebold machines counting some of the machine-readable ballots, and in those areas, Hillary won. Where there was hand-counting of ballots, Obama won. Of course, they never mention that the least accurate tabulation method is a hand count, but if morons made sense, they wouldn’t be morons, would they?

While most of the pollsters are hiding under their beds and not taking phone calls, Rasmussen Reports at least tries to answer the question:

It is hard to remember a time when the polling and expectations were so universally different from what really happened. At the same time, It is worth remembering that polling was generally on target for the Republican race. John McCain won, as expected, by splitting the Republican vote with Romney and winning big among Independents. Independents accounted for 37% of the Republican Primary voters, a bit higher than projected.

So what happened with the polling on the Democratic race? There are several possibilities.

First, there may truly have been very late changes in the race. Hillary’s tearing-up moment may have played a role (another powerful moment came in the debate on Saturday night where the only woman in the race reminded everyone that she embodies change). There is some evidence to support this theory, even if we only recognize it in hindsight.

In Rasmussen Reports polling, our final trend was in Clinton’s direction–our tracking poll showed Obama’s lead declining from 10-points following the Sunday interviews to seven points after the Monday night calls. Extrapolating that trend another day would have pointed to a much closer race. Additionally, the Rasmussen Reports surveys showed that Clinton supporters were somewhat more certain that they would stick with their candidate than supporters of Obama or Edwards. If this is the case, why didn’t the late trend get more notice? Perhaps because few other firms polled on Monday night. So, the last polls reported by many continued to show an uptick for Obama.

Further support for this theory comes from Exit Poll data showing that an astonishing 38% of voters made up their mind in the final three days of the race (after Iowa).

Read the rest at the link provided. Now, I salute Rasmussen for taking the bull by the horns and addressing the issue. But suppose for a moment they are completely correct: large numbers of the electorate made up or changed their minds in the final days, and none of the polling outfits either caught the change or alerted us that such a huge proportion was still in play.

So, then, what good are they?

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