Obama Surge? Or Polling Error?

Chris Sillizza believes Barack Obama “received a real New Hampshire boost from his win in Thursday’s Iowa caucuses.” His evidence for the surge:

In a new CNN/WMUR poll, Obama leads Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) 39 percent to 29 percent, a major change from the 33 percent tie that the same survey showed yesterday. A new USA Today/Gallup poll confirms the Obama bounce, putting him 13 points ahead of Clinton. A new Franklin Pierce/WBZ survey showed a more modest gain for Obama. He led Clinton 34 percent to 31 percent in the latest poll; four days ago he trailed Clinton 32 percent to 28 percent.

Most of these fluctuations are within the margin of sampling error in these polls. Remember, in a poll with a margin of +/-3 percent, 33 percent is really just a shorthand for a range of 30-36.

The outlyer is the CNN/WMUR poll. But I’m rather dubious of a shaft shift that dramatic in one day. If one looks at the poll results themselves, though, we see that they are using very small samples and tracking daily, resulting in a margin of +/-5 for the Democrats and +/-6 for the Republicans. And that’s with a confidence level of 95%, meaning one poll in 20 is likely to be a complete anomaly.

If one looks at more polls, though, and the trends over time, we see a pretty steady movement towards Obama that started well before Iowa voted.

Here are the most recent polls tracking Democrats, all of which screen for likely primary voters:

Democrats Poll New Hampshire Primaries

And here are the longer term trends:

Democrats Poll New Hampshire Primaries Trends

So, yes, there has been an Obama surge and it has come mostly at the expense of Hillary Clinton. But, no, it doesn’t seem to be a reaction to the Iowa Caucuses.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, Public Opinion Polls, , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Tano says:

    “If one looks at more polls, though, and the trends over time, we see a pretty steady movement towards Obama that started well before Iowa voted.”

    But all the polls you list start on 1/4, the day after Iowa. And that uptick in the green line seems to be from right around Iowa (though it is hard to pick out the exact day on that graph).

    Are there other data that might actually support your point?

  2. Well, looking at the line graph, Obama has had a positive trend going since September.

  3. And James: my initial response to the double-digit lead for Obama was skepticism/that it was an anomaly, yet it seems to be showing up in all the polls at this point.

    I noted several here and here.

    Zogby has a new one this morning with the same basic result.

  4. James Joyner says:

    that uptick in the green line seems to be from right around Iowa (though it is hard to pick out the exact day on that graph).

    But it’s only an uptick because it follows what appears to be a one-day anomaly wherein Obama plummets and Clinton surges. Otherwise, as Steven notes, it’s been a steady trend since September.

  5. Hal says:

    Sorry, but I just couldn’t resist pointing out this humorous typo in your post:

    But I’m rather dubious of a shaft that dramatic in one day

    Just gave me a chuckle while I’m here waiting in the airport lounge…

    Heh. Fixed. -jhj

  6. James Joyner says:

    my initial response to the double-digit lead for Obama was skepticism/that it was an anomaly, yet it seems to be showing up in all the polls at this point.

    Yup, my sense as well. He’s leading big in most of the polls in the RCP chart, which are all in the last couple of days.