Published January 10, 2012
All of the evidence points to Mitt Romney winning comfortably in New Hampshire Tuesday night.
Watch Fox News Channel's coverage of the New Hampshire Primary results with Bret Baier and Megyn Kelly beginning at 8 p.m. ET.
But of course, next Saturday, we will all be watching Tom Brady compete against Tim Tebow, not Ben Roethlisberger.
Or just like Barack Obama was set to crush Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire back in January of 2008. Yet when the votes were counted, Hillary Clinton narrowly edged out the future president by two percentage points, 39%-37%.
This was a shock, since a CNN poll taken the weekend before the 2008 New Hampshire Primary showed then Senator Obama with a comfortable 10 point lead. CNN was not alone. A USA/Today Gallup poll, taken during the same period, had an even broader split, with Clinton trailing Obama by 13 points.
Curiously enough, the latest poll from Suffolk University (a poll that, in fairness, called the Obama vs. Clinton race neck in neck in 2008) shows Romney ahead by the same 13 point margin that Obama enjoyed in the final USA Today Gallup poll in 2008.
To find out whether we can expect another surprise tonight, it is instructive to look at what actually happened in 2008.
As Charles Franklin, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin Madison, correctly observed back in 2008, the New Hampshire polls were wrong not because they overestimated Obama’s support; rather, the polls consistently underestimated how many voters would cast their ballots for Hillary Clinton. In fact, the polls were only wrong about the former first lady.
The CNN poll, for example, showed the following:
If you add up the percentages, you get 91%. Therefore, 9% of those polled were not committed to any candidate.
The actual results were:
Edwards (and presumably Kucinich) did a bit better than predicted, while Richardson underperformed. It is interesting to see how these numbers seem to offset each other. Arguable, therefore, the entire uncommitted vote broke to Clinton.
Now let’s look at the latest Suffolk University poll in New Hampshire.
When you do the math, 12% of the vote in this polls is not assigned to any candidate. Keep in mind that Romney’s support right now is somewhat lower than Obama’s. So if this 12% of the vote gravitated to one candidate, and Romney dropped just a bit, several candidates would become competitive. Of course, in the end, this type of collective action by voters is rare. Still, throughout the past few months, we have often seen support (often fleeting) galvanize around a particular candidate. And one has to look no further that last week's Iowa caucus to see how quickly Rick Santorum gathered the support that had eluded him during his months of campaigning in the Hawkeye state.
Of course, a loss by Romney would be the equivalent of the Bronco's beating New England next week.
As they say in football, that is why they play the game. And that is why we vote.
Still, Clinton’s come from behind was the start of very long, hotly contested race that lasted almost through to the Democratic National Convention. Will we see the same thing with the Republican party this year? Probably not, but if I were Mitt Romney, I would sure like to know what those undecided 12% are doing today.
Paul Sracic is chair of the department of political science at Youngstown State University in Ohio. He frequently writes on midwest and national politics. Follow him on Twitter at @pasracic.