As we write this, some crazed jackass has taken a couple hostages in Hillary Clinton's New Hampshire campaign office. We hope this ends with one guy--who turns out to be just a crazy--in jail and no one else hurt.
In today's political news, more polls, of course. What to make of them?
Interpreting small changes from poll to poll is dangerous, since there is a lot of data "noise" in these polls. More important are trends. A consistent gain or loss by one candidate over a series of polls is probably real. Likewise, a big move between two polls taken by the same organization may mean something--at least we know the methodology is the same between those polls.
[Methodology is more important in some places than others. In Iowa, for example, methodology matters a lot, because a pollster is trying to measure preferences amongst those who will actually turn out on caucus day, which is a very small minority of voters. Just asking every recipient of a telephone call in Iowa who they prefer won't be very accurate in projecting caucus results. The various polling organizations all use somewhat different approaches to identifying those most likely to attend their caucuses.]
With those caveats, here's what we see in a round of new polls from Iowa, NH and SC (by the way, if you want the best place to get up to date polling info, go to Realclearpolitics.com):
First, Obama may now be in the lead in Iowa. Probably better to call it a tie, but his recent strength in Iowa polls has been consistent. And Edwards isn't far behind. However, Obama's strength in Iowa hasn't translated into surge elsewhere, at least not yet: in both NH and SC Hillary still has a comfortable lead that hasn't changed much.
In SC, a Clemson University poll had Obama only two points back, trailing Hillary's 19% with 17%. But three other polls by professional pollsters--two before Clemson and one after--all consistently have Hillary in the 43-47% range with Obama in the 21-33% range. We have to view the Clemson poll as an outlier, although it may show that among the hardest core voters who have really made up their minds, Obama is closer to Hillary. (There were a lot of undecided voters in the Clemson poll.)
In New Hampshire, the last seven polls are remarkably consistent. Hillary ranges from 34-38% while Obama ranges from 21-26%, a comfortable lead for Hillary that hasn't budged over the past month.
Still, what we've seen before is a delay between moves in Iowa and those elsewhere. If Obama starts to move in New Hampshire, then watch out!
On the Republican side, the story continues to be Huckabee. He's a good example of the Iowa delay factor. After a steady rise in Iowa that didn't appear to be translating to other states, Huckabee is now getting a momentum effect, helped by not only Iowa, but tons of media attention, his debate performances and his good humored deflection of attacks on him.
Bear in mind, no one had ever heard of Jimmy Carter before Iowa in 1976, and he went on to win the whole thing. We might have to start thinking about how Huckabee would play in a general election. But not yet.
Here's what the most recent polling data shows: in Iowa, an ARG poll--the most recent--has Huckabee one point behind Romney. Consistent with other recent polls, this means the two men are tied. But Huckabee has an edge--in the ARG poll, 89% of Huck's voters say their support is "definite" compared to 56% for Romney. And, in other polls, the Huckmeister's support is greater amongst previous caucus goers--considered the most reliably likely to attend again. In short, we think Huckabee will be able to get his supporters to the caucus rooms, and if so, he will best Romney by a small margin.
In New Hampshire, Huckabee is moving up fast. In the Rasmussen and ARG polls, Huckabee is at 13% and 14%, up from 10% and 7% at the beginning of the month. His support is not coming at Romney's expense, however--the Mittster has remained consistently in the mid-30's all month.
How's this for a scenario: Huckabee wins Iowa and comes in second in NH? Then he'd be for real, for sure.
Finally, in SC, a new ARG poll has Huckabee at 18%, up from just 1% in an ARG poll a month earlier. Now that's movement! His support came from Romney, Thompson and and McCain.
If the overall ARG results for SC are accurate, then Thompson clearly has to worry. SC is make or break for the Thompson campaign, yet he's running in FOURTH place, barely ahead of McCain. That said, other recent polls had the Fredster as high as second place, but Thompson really needs to move to SC for the duration if he's going to have any shot.
Huckabee also leapt into second place in a recent Florida poll, behind Giuliani, which is consistent with his trend around the country.
What we don't have is any particularly recent--or robust--data from the two states that will vote between NH and SC: Nevada (caucus) and Michigan (primary). No one's really campaigning much in those states, so why worry.
So, with five weeks to go before the real voting starts, Huckabee's the story of the moment, along with Obama. Iowa is going to be tight all the way around. And the media's going to have something better to write about than holiday traffic, gloomy Christmas retail sales and whether we'll have a white X-mas.