Tag Archives: Hillary Clinton 2016

Are Bernie and Hillary in a Dead Heat in New Hampshire?

As the political pundits parse last night’s Republican debate – a topic I will tackle later – I want to return to a story that attracted quite a bit of media play earlier this week. Three days ago New Hampshire television station WMUR in conjunction with CNN released a poll that showed Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in a “statistical tie” in New Hampshire. Not surprisingly, the poll generated quite a bit of media coverage, with The New York Times headline for its story on the poll proclaiming that Clinton and Sanders were in a “dead heat.”  Other news outlets, citing the same poll, made similar claims.  In fact, the survey, which was in the field during the last week of July, showed 42% percent of likely Democratic primary voters saying they will vote for Clinton, with 36% saying they are backing Sanders. How can the New Hampshire race be a “tied” when the poll shows Clinton with a 6% lead? The answer is that because the two candidates’ numbers fall within the poll’s sampling margin of error (a measure of how confident pollsters are in their results), one can’t discount the possibility that Sanders is actually tied, or perhaps even ahead, of Clinton. Remember, surveys are simply estimates of the sentiments of an underlying population – in this instance, likely Democratic primary voters in New Hampshire – and one’s confidence in the results depends in part on how many people are surveyed and what confidence level we are willing to accept in evaluating the results. In this case, the WMUR poll’s margin of error at the 95% confidence level for the Democratic nominating race is +/-5.9%. In describing the race as a “statistical tie”, then, the WMUR pollsters are acknowledging the possibility that despite Clinton’s 6% lead, Sanders’ actual support might be at the upper end of the margin of error, and Clinton’s at the lower end. (Of course, it’s possible their support lies outside the margin of error, but this is even more unlikely.) Hence, WMUR’s decision to label the race a “statistical tie.”

At the risk of nitpicking, however, I would argue that a “statistical tie” is not the equivalent of a “dead heat”, The Times’ headline notwithstanding. To understand why, one should also ask: what is the probability that a purely random sample of 274 likely Democratic voters (the size of the WMUR poll on the Democratic side) would show Clinton ahead by 6% if in fact there is no difference in polling support between Clinton and Sanders in the underlying population – that is, that they really are tied? It turns out that it is not very likely – in fact, a simple test of the difference in survey sample results suggests there is a less than 10% probability that the race is actually tied, given the survey findings showing Clinton ahead by 6% (and making certain other assumptions about how the WMUR poll was conducted.) So, it is true that we can’t be sure that Clinton is ahead, at least not using the conventional 95% uncertainty level. But it is much more likely, given these poll’s parameters, that she is leading Sanders than that they are in a true dead heat. My quibble with most of the media stories reporting the WMUR poll is that they don’t make the difference between a “statistical tie” and an actual tie very clear.

“Fine,” you respond. “At least I can take comfort in knowing that Bernie is closing the gap with Hillary.” And, in fact, the first line of The Times story notes that “Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont continues to tighten the race with Hillary Rodham Clinton in New Hampshire, according to a poll released on Tuesday.” As evidence, the author notes that a previous WMUR/CNN poll of likely Democratic voters that was in the field from June 18 to 24 found Clinton leading Sanders by 43%-35% (with a margin of error of +/- 5.2%).  Based on these two polls, then, it appears that Sanders has gained 2% on Clinton – evidence that, according to the Times, “Mr. Sanders continues to gain momentum after months of negative publicity about Mrs. Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state.”

Well, maybe. Again, it is useful to put this claim in proper context too. If you parse the polling numbers, the one-month change from a 43%-35% Clinton lead in early July to 42%-36% margin this week comes out to approximately a handful of respondents expressing a preference for Sanders rather than Clinton this month compared to last month. Now, this might reflect an actual change in the sentiments of the underlying population. Or, it might just be the result of picking up a couple more Bernie supporters in the random sampling process, even though there’s been no actual change in voter preferences. The bottom line is that we should be cautious about extrapolating that Sanders is gaining on Clinton based solely on a 2% change in the WMUR polling results across a one-month period.

This doesn’t mean Bernie hasn’t gained ground on Hillary in New Hampshire. As this Pollster.com poll aggregation shows, if we widen our time horizon it’s clear that Bernie has closed the polling gap, particularly when Elizabeth Warren’s name was dropped from the survey options.


But there hasn’t been a lot of recent polls in New Hampshire. A NBC poll in late July had Clinton up by a larger margin, at 47%-34%, while a recently-released Gravis poll has it 43%-39% in Clinton’s favor. (I haven’t looked closely at the internals of either poll.) Right now the aggregate Pollster polling has Clinton up 43.3%-38.8%. RealClearPolitics, which uses a slightly different aggregating algorithm, has Clinton with a more substantial lead over Bernie, at 44.8%-31.6%.

The bottom line is that rather than a “dead heat”, Clinton is probably leading Bernie in New Hampshire, and that it is not even clear, despite an abundance of recent negative news coverage for Clinton and Bernie’s well-attended campaign events, that he has gained all that much ground over the last month. Alas, for a media with a vested interest in seeing a competitive race for the Democratic nomination, that narrative is probably a lot less interesting, even if it is likely to be a bit more accurate.

There IS Something About Bernie – He’s Losing

As I’ve noted repeatedly in several posts during the current election cycle, the media loves them a horserace, and they are not above fabricating one if necessary to attract readership. This is particularly true when the clear front-runner is yesterday’s news – as is the case with Hillary Clinton. In newsrooms across the nation, nothing provokes more concern than the specter of writing stories month-after-month about how Clinton is crushing the competition. To forestall this, we’ve seen two narratives take root in the popular press this past week. The first is that Clinton’s support is softening. As evidence, journalists are citing the rise in her unfavorability ratings, as captured in this Gallup poll:


As the graph shows, Hillary’s favorable ratings have plummeted from the high 60% to the low 40%, while her unfavorable ratings have inched back up to where they were before she became Secretary of State.  Of course, no one expected Clinton to maintain those high ratings as she transitioned from Secretary of State to presidential candidate, but still…. . Similar stories are told in Iowa and New Hampshire, where Clinton’s favorables/unfavorables are also underwater.  Why is this bad news? Because, as Chris Cillizza reminds us, “Presidential politics tends to be dominated by personality and how people perceive their candidate choices.” The plain fact is that Clinton is not very likable.

Then there is the ongoing email saga. In the most recent development, the inspector general of the intelligence community found that some of the emails provided by Clinton included classified information, although there is some dispute regarding whether those items were classified at the time Clinton sent the emails. No matter – this latest tidbit fits nicely into the prevailing media narrative that the Clintons can’t be trusted because they see themselves as above the law. As a result, we have a spurt of recent news stories with headlines like “Is Clinton’s Tide Shifting?”,  “Worrying Numbers for Clinton In Last Week of Polling” and “Four Poll Numbers That Should Unnerve Hillary Clinton”.

To be fair, all these articles are laced with the usual caveats about how Clinton is still ahead in the polls, etc., but the undeniable message is the same: the Democratic race for the presidential nomination is closer than that it should be – and it could very well tighten some more. Of course, it takes two candidates to make a horserace. This is where Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders comes in. As Clinton’s political stock falls, at least in the prevailing media narrative, if not among voters, his goes up, the better to sustain the horserace narrative. In a fawning Atlantic piece that came out today Molly Ball gushes, “There’s something about Bernie.” She notes his huge crowds, his ability to draw campaign donations (in small bills!) despite not holding fundraisers and, not least, the fact that he possesses something Clinton does not: “An ideology.”

Her conclusion? “In the biggest surprise of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, this thoroughly implausible man, Bernie Sanders, is a sensation.” Yes, midway through the article Ball includes the usual hedges – Clinton is still leading in the polls, Bernie’s a longshot – but then there’s this: “Every Sanders crowd is full of die-hards like Bailey [a Bernie-supporter Ball interviewed], passionately committed to their unlikely hero. Every Clinton crowd, on the other hand, is full of lukewarm rank-and-file Democrats who will not hesitate to tell you they have some qualms about supporting her.” Ouch! To those on the Left, particularly those disappointed in what they see as Obama’s lukewarm embrace of progressive ideas, Bernie is a man whose time has come. As my colleague Bert Johnson points out, if you look at Bernie’s stump speeches from the early 1990’s you will find them interchangeable with what he is saying now about corporate power and economic inequality. What has changed is that Bernie’s message has now found a willing audience. Or so the prevailing media narrative would have one believe.

The problem with both these narratives is that they run up against stubborn facts. One is that candidate likability, Cillizza’s pronouncement notwithstanding, isn’t a very important influence on the vote, a point I’ve made multiple times before. Favorable/unfavorable ratings may be slight more indicative, but as Brendan Nyhan points out (see the chart above), her “favorable/unfavorable ratings at the national level have not changed as drastically as the coverage suggests. They averaged 47 percent favorable/45 percent unfavorable in January and are at 44 percent favorable/48 percent unfavorable now — a relatively modest shift given the onslaught of negative coverage” she has received of late.

Moreover, if you unpack the trajectory of Clinton’s favorable/unfavorable ratings, you will see that her rising negatives are almost entirely rooted among Republicans and independents. Among Democrats she is both better known and viewed more favorably than any other Democratic candidate, including Sanders.

On the other side of the narrative, Sanders may be a “sensation”, but he continues to trail Clinton in both Iowa and New Hampshire according to the polls – and these are the two states that seem demographically among the most favorably disposed toward him. (In a transparent bid to lower expectations, the Clinton campaign is openly suggesting Bernie could win both states.)  Once the campaign moves south, particularly on Super Tuesday, Bernie is going to be traversing decidedly less favorable terrain. As this chart from RealClearPolitics shows, many of the delegate-rich Super Tuesday primaries will be held in the South, in states with heavy African-American or Hispanic populations.  As I’ve discussed elsewhere, Bernie has, so far, elicited less-than-robust polling support among nonwhites.

Before my twitter and blog feed is inundated with negative comments from the #feelthebern crowd, let me remind my readers that I’m analyzing where the candidates stand right now, and not expressing a political preference regarding an outcome. As a longtime Bernie-watcher, I’m thoroughly enjoying his time, however brief, on the national stage, and I sincerely hope his run lasts beyond Iowa and New Hampshire if for no other reason than to see Bernie scowl one more time at another inane horserace question from Chuck Todd. Bernie is raising important issues – including concerns about the intersection of race and income inequality – that need to be discussed at the national level. But it is also the case that his “surge” in the polls is much more about pollsters dropping Elizabeth Warren’s name from their list of potential candidates as it is any discernible shift in support away from Clinton. It fits the media horserace narrative to speculate about the possibility, however improbable, that Clinton will stumble and Sanders will step in to steal the nomination.  As of today, however, the facts say that is not going to happen.  Bernie trails Clinton in all the important indicators; national polls, early state polls, fundraising and party endorsements.

Is there something about Bernie? Yes. Right now, he’s losing.

Hillary Clinton: Campaigning in Prose

“You campaign in poetry; you govern in prose,” former New Yorker Governor Mario Cuomo famously proclaimed. Hillary Clinton is likely to prove Cuomo wrong; her campaign rollout speech yesterday on New York’s Roosevelt Island suggests she is determined to campaign in prose as well. Indeed, it was about as prosaic a speech as one could image; with its litany of policy proposals and homage to constituency groups it felt more like a State of the Union address than a stirring call to campaign arms. Not surprisingly, reporters in the major newspapers struggled to fashion a lead to their stories that adequately captured a single overarching theme in the speech. Some emphasized its “populist” message, particularly her focus on reducing economic inequities. Others focused on her four “fights”, alluding to both her own political career as well as FDR’s “four freedoms” but focusing particularly on Clinton’s homage to the lessons she had learned from her mother who overcame a difficult upbringing.

What almost everyone agreed on was that the speech was big on broad themes – promoting inclusiveness and economic equality – and more concrete policy objectives – universal preschool, expanded family leave – but weak on the specifics regarding how to achieve those goals. And she largely stayed clear of the more controversial issues – the 12-nation Pacific trade pact, her tenure heading the State Department, or even how to deal with ISIS – that potentially divide the Democratic Party. The sprawling presentation was clearly designed to appeal to a litany of groups – women, labor unions, racial and ethnic minorities, the LGBT community, truckers, veterans, nurses, small business owners – and to tout a broad range of progressive policies presented as common-sense centrist ideas. In short, there was something for everyone, but little to provoke opposition.

Of course, this should not surprise anyone. Clinton is dominating the polls, and the money race as well, and it makes absolutely no sense for her to wade into areas of controversy, or to weigh herself down by embracing policy specifics that are sure to attract fire from opponents. Candidates may campaign in poetry (or, in Clinton’s case in prose), but they also do so in generalities. Details come later, after the election is over.

For me, three aspects of the speech stood out. The first was her self-deprecating reference to her age (if elected, Clinton would be the oldest person other than Ronald Reagan to take the oath of office) and her hair color – allusions that she then turned to her advantage by reminding her audience that she is running a historic campaign: “I may not be the youngest candidate in this race, but I will be the youngest woman president in the history of the United States.”

But she followed this with a rather awkward reference to a Beatles’ song, Yesterday, in a somewhat forced attempt to accuse the Republicans of peddling old ideas: “There may be some new voices in the presidential Republican choir. But they’re all singing the same old song. It’s a song called ‘Yesterday. They believe in yesterday.” Well, perhaps, but it was hard not to listen to that reference and wonder if it more appropriately describes her political career.

A second awkward moment occurred as she sought to flesh out her biography by discussing her mother Dorothy Rodham’s difficult upbringing; Rodham was abandoned by her parents and struggled to establish her own life. But in transitioning to describing how she learned from her mother’s experiences, Clinton’s recitation of her own efforts after graduating from Yale Law School to help the underprivileged seemed to fall flat. It’s not hard to imagine more than one listener contrasting Rodham’s difficult life with Hillary’s financially comfortable existence.

In the end, the speech (you can read it in full here) was unlikely to move voters much; those who support Hillary undoubtedly found much to like – it was a reminder that she has extensive political experience, embraces mainstream Democratic policies, and as a woman represents a bloc of voters who feel their representation in the White House is long overdue. On the other hand, those who view her as an opportunist who lacks strong convictions, who plays by her own rules and whose ties to the financial elite blinds her to the need of the middle class, aren’t likely to have been swayed to think any differently.

Can she win? She certainly has an audience; yesterday’s speech was very well attended, but it did not elicit roars of approval so much as polite cheers and applause at the appropriate moments. That response is a reminder that candidates running for a third successive presidential term for their party face a difficult challenge. They must simultaneously carve out their own political identity while not fully repudiating their predecessor’s record. Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, Gerald Ford, George H. W. Bush, Al Gore and John McCain all struggled with finding the appropriate balance of paying homage to the incumbent and his record but also achieving separation, and of these only the elder Bush was successful in securing his party’s third presidential term. For Clinton, the issue is further complicated by the dynastic element of her candidacy – a issue that was on full display Saturday, as these pictures by Middlebury’s Elsa Alvarado from the rally demonstrate. They remind us that when Hillary takes the political stage, her husband is invariably somewhere behind her – for better and for worse:

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