A New Hampshire Poll and $1.25 Will Buy You a Cup of Coffee

This morning’s New York Times contains an on-the-mark piece filed from New Hampshire by David E. Rosenbaum, reminding us, first, that nearly a dozen or so polls in the papers and on television have Sen. John Kerry with a lead of 15 to 20 percentage points going into tomorrow’s primary — and, second, that based on the track record from the 2000 primary, those same polls may not be worth a bucket of warm spit.

Four years ago, most polls had John McCain with a narrow lead over George. W. Bush; McCain actually won New Hampshire in a landslide, 48 percent to 30 percent. Similarly, final polls by CBS and CNN gave Al Gore a double-digit lead over Bill Bradley — in the end, Gore barely squeaked by, 50 percent to 46 percent.

Rosenbaum cites half a dozen reasons New Hampshire is uncallable despite saturation polling, and they’re all convincing. He also cites research by Dartmouth College which revealed that, once in the voting booth, only 50 percent to 70 percent of voters voted the way they had said they would just one or two days earlier. Rosenbaum then notes dryly that “all this uncertainty has not discouraged the [indefatigable] pollsters from plying their trade.”

Nor, we might add, has it stopped the media, including Rosenbaum’s employer, from forking over big bucks to commission those dubious polls, or from rushing to print or broadcast the notoriously unreliable results.


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Steve Lovelady was editor of CJR Daily.