How did pollsters turn into Miss Cleo?

How did pollsters turn into Miss Cleo?
Remember Miss Cleo, the goofy so-called "psychic" that would enter our homes nightly via those annoying television commercials?

Some people actually thought she could do what she claimed she could do – predict the future.

Naturally, you had to pay her to make a prediction. But Miss Cleo is not really a psychic, and it turns out she bilked hard-earned cash from a lot of unsuspecting people.


It took awhile for the FCC to finally realize this. When they finally determined she was really a crook, they shut her down.

The other night, while watching election returns come in, I began to wish Miss Cleo was still around.

I mean, even though she's been proven to be a fraud, it would be more fun than a John McCain acceptance speech to watch her predict the outcome of the 2008 presidential races.

Maybe we don't need Miss Cleo. The Web site www.neatorama.com, which, as its name suggests, is chock full of neat stuff, asks this burning question: Iowa Caucus vs. New Hampshire Primary: Which is the Better Predictor?

It goes on to "take a quick and dirty look at the numbers from 1976 to 2004." The results:

  • Percentage of Democratic candidates that win the Iowa Caucus and subsequently the party's nomination: 62.5 percent ( 5 out of 8 ).
  • Percentage of Democratic candidates that win the Iowa Caucus and subsequently win the election: 12.5 percent ( 1 out of 8 ).
  • Percentage of Democratic candidates that win the New Hampshire primary and subsequently the party's nomination: 75 percent ( 6 out of 8 ).
  • Percentage of Democratic candidates that win the New Hampshire primary and subsequently win the election: 25 percent. ( 2 out of 8 ).
  • Percentage of Republican candidates that win the New Hampshire primary and subsequently the party's nomination: 75 percent ( 6 out of 8 ).
  • Percentage of Republican candidates that win the New Hampshire primary and subsequently win the election: 50 percent ( 4 out of 8 ).

    It seems that the Iowa caucus is more effective in determining who the party nomination will be for Republicans than it is for Democrats (75 percent vs. 62.5 percent). The New Hampshire primary does a slightly better job determining the nomination from both parties.

    The New Hampshire primary seems to be a better predictor of the election winners for both Democrats and Republicans than the Iowa caucus. This is especially true for the Republicans, as they've won five out of the last eight elections.

    Another way to say it is: If a Republican won the presidential election, then it's more likely the candidate won the New Hampshire primary than the Iowa caucus.

    Steve Kornacki, writing in the New York Observer,

    notes that "Every Iowa 'winner' gets some kind of a boost in New Hampshire. But the type of boost varies dramatically, from staggering to inconsequential. The variable is the degree to which the Iowa outcome represents a surprise: the more the media is caught off-guard by the results, the more the media will hype those results and, thus, the bigger the bounce will be."

    Kornacki, it seems, is showing the same ability to predict the future as Miss Cleo. Everyone was expecting Obama to soar high from his bounce in Iowa. But maybe the media wasn't really caught off guard with Obama's win in Iowa.

    What did surprise them, after his strong showing in New Hampshire polling, was Hillary's win.

    You can bet pollsters are scratching their heads right now. Over the years, polls have gotten very accurate in predicting who will win elections. But obviously, pollsters were wrong – very wrong – in predicting result of the New Hampshire primaries.

    Nine individual polls (even Hillary's own poll) showed that Obama had a significant lead – some even had him with double-digits leads. So how did the pollsters got it so wrong?

    How did they suddenly turn into Miss Cleo?

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