Within the next 24 hours, the nation will be looking closely at the Granite State to see the outcome of the first Democratic primary. And while several polls released Monday showed Mass. Sen. John Kerry leading former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean by 11 to 21 points, the polls were not indicative of last week’s caucuses in Iowa.
There, Kerry and North Carolina Senator John Edwards placed first and second respectively, leaving Dean, the frontrunner in most of the polls leading up to the caucuses, in third.
Susan MacManus, USF political science professor and analyst, said she is interested to see if the polls are wrong two weeks in a row.
“It will be pretty embarrassing (if the polls are wrong),” MacManus said. “The polls will be doing a bad service to the people.”
MacManus believes that right now, most voters, including those in New Hampshire, are relying on the polls to find the candidate who appears to have the best chance of beating George W. Bush, and not necessarily the candidate with whom they find themselves most aligned philosophically.
“Everything is jumbled right now and causing mixed images,” she said.
The events leading up to last week’s caucuses show that right now the polls may not be as clear or as predictable as they should be and that being the frontrunner in one or several polls may be an incomplete analysis of a candidate’s record.
According to a New York Times article on Sunday, the polls may be off the mark based on the track record the primaries had four years ago in the 2000 election. The article states that the polls in 2000 had John McCain with a slight lead over George W. Bush in the Republican primary in New Hampshire. In fact, McCain won, but it wasn’t as close as the polls showed (48 percent to 30 percent).
On the Democratic side in 2000, polls had Al Gore in double-digits over Bill Bradley in New Hampshire, but in the end Gore only won by 50 percent to 46 percent.
In the case of this year’s New Hampshire primary, there are two reasons the polls may again turn out to be wrong. For one, it is hard to predict voter turnout, and according to state law, registered Independent voters in New Hampshire can change their party the minute they walk in the precinct.
Unlike Iowa, New Hampshire voters will be voting on ballots, and registered Democrats, Independents and undeclared voters can vote today.
MacManus said she agrees that the polls aren’t showing any voter turnout rates and that the New Hampshire Democratic primary voters are more white, liberal and upper class than other primary states, which will, in the end, show a result of demographics not comparable to the nation.
Under state law, Independents are permitted to switch to Democrats at the polls, vote, and then go back to being an Independent by just signing a card. In 2000, the New York Times article states, about 10 percent of the 690, 159 registered Independent voters did just that.
“In this race the polls have not predicted turn out and not have made an (overall) prediction, which is not good,” MacManus said.
In addition, MacManus said in New Hampshire, Independents will be playing a key role as swing votes.
So what is the result of the polls and the perception that they are giving Americans on “Who is electable?”
Well, it isn’t exactly clear. If Kerry is upset tonight in New Hampshire, though, it would appear that the race is up for grabs again. It would also appear to prove that polls don’t pick candidates.