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Examining New Hampshire's Surprise Shift to Clinton

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And as Mara just told us, conventional wisdom and all those polls we talk about all the time were just plain wrong. Pollsters and pundits are wondering where they missed the mark.

Here is NPR's Tovia Smith.

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TOVIA SMITH: If nothing else, the misleading polls made for some exciting TV.

(Soundbite of TV program bits)

Unintelligible Man #1: And Hillary Clintons win. What a stunner.

Unintelligible Woman: Well, I think everyone is surprised about yesterday's primary results.

Unintelligible Man #2: Lo and behold, she won. But why?

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SMITH: Pollsters and pundits are still trying to come up with ways to explain it. There's everything from Obama's place on the ballot, his name was printed 25 lines below Clintons, to, well, you know how women can change their minds at the last minute.

Ms. COURTNEY KELLY(ph) (New Hampshire Voter): Yesterday.

SMITH: You decided yesterday?

Ms. KELLY: Yes.

SMITH: Courtney Kelly is one of the nearly 20 percent of voters who woke up on primary day undecided. She had never really considered Clinton.

Ms. KELLY: I never was a fan of hers, really.

SMITH: But Kelly, a waitress in Manchester, says she started thinking about it after she saw Clinton's now famous Oprah-esque moment when the candidate seem to let her guard down at a local diner and reveal a more vulnerable side.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, presidential candidate): This is very personal for me. It's not just political. It's not just public. I see what's happening.

Ms. KELLY: She just seemed to come across softer. I always thought of her as very - I don't know, not that lovable. Stern-like, you know, but you'd like to know that there's a gentle side to her, too.

SMITH: For Kelly, the moment was as pivotal as it was poignant. She says she actually started to feel sorry for Clinton.

Ms. KELLY: I just feel bad for her, to be honest with you. Because being a woman, it's kind of hard, because you're going to get — you're always going to have these guys who are not going to vote for a woman no matter how good she is.

SMITH: So Kelly figured she would. And so, apparently, did many other women.

Ms. CELINDA LAKE (Democratic Pollster): Well, women always make up their minds later than men. What was unique here was that there were back and forth, and so many of them describe themselves as making last-minute snap decisions.

SMITH: Democratic pollster Celinda Lake attributes most of yesterday's shift to women. In Iowa, Obama won among women narrowly. In New Hampshire, as late as Sunday night, he was leading among women by four points. But the teary moment came after the last tracking poll. By the time votes were counted Tuesday night, Clinton was ahead with women by 12 points. In part, it was her well-tuned get out to vote machine. But, Lake says, it was also her retuned, softer, gentler pitch.

Ms. LAKE: I think what happened in New Hampshire is that Hillary Clinton became very comfortable with both a tough side and the soft side. She found comfort with the gender aspect of her campaign. And I think that appealed very much to women voters.

SMITH: Some voters here in the very white and Yankee state of New Hampshire think there may be racial element at work as well. Karen Danchick(ph) voted for Obama, but she suspects many others who claim to support him didn't really.

Ms. KAREN DANCHICK (New Hampshire Voter): Maybe they would like to feel that they're more willing to be accepting of all people than they really are. When it comes time to fill in the bubble, they're not quite as ready to be as color-blinded they might think that they are.

Dr. BETHANY ALBERTSON (Political Psychologist, University of Washington): I do think it's a problem.

SMITH: Political psychologist Bethany Albertson from the University of Washington predicted a month ago that support for Obama was being overstated. Her research found that voters' stated preferences didn't seem to match up with what she measured as their unconscious feelings.

DR. ALBERTSON: Even people who said that they supported Obama shows that they had an unconscious preference for Clinton or a bias against Obama.

SMITH: There has been a lot of academic debate about the role of race in political polling. But Albertson says in a presidential contest, in particular, race may still be one of the many dynamics that conspired to foil the pollsters trying to track yesterday's vote.

Tovia Smith, NPR News, Manchester, New Hampshire.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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