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Parsing the new N.H. polls

December 5, 2007 |  4:19 pm

The most intriguing aspect of the new Washington Post/ABC News poll in New Hampshire may not be the tightening it shows in the Democratic presidential race. Rather, its importance might involve the question it raises: What is Hillary Clinton's ceiling of support?

The Post/ABC survey gives Clinton only a single-digit lead over Barack Obama among likely Democratic voters, 35% to 29%, followed by John Edwards (17%) and Bill Richardson (10%). In a bit of good news for Clinton, the pollsters report that her supporters are more loyal and committed than the backers of other candidates.

Still, the numbers mean that almost two-thirds of those New Hampshirites intending to vote in the state's Democratic primary are outside the Clinton camp. That may be the figure worth focusing on.

Given how long she's been on the public stage -- and the presumption throughout much of this year that she was the odds-on favorite for her party's nomination -- it would seem that most voters would have made up their minds by now whether they are for her or against her.

If that's the case, how much more can her number grow? With polls such as this one undercutting the "inevitability" notion surrounding Clinton, isn't it more likely that Obama would benefit from defections by those supporting Edwards or Richardson, if either or both underperform in the Iowa caucuses?

Another new poll of likely Democratic voters in New Hampshire, this one by the New York-based Marist Institute, gives Clinton more breathing space -- a 14-percentage-point lead over Obama, 37% to 23%. And a new Zogby poll makes it Clinton 32%, Obama 21%.

But again, in each, note the vast numbers lined up behind someone else.

-- Don Frederick

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