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One pollster's take on Wisconsin

February 19, 2008 |  2:08 pm

Pollster Dick Bennett thinks he's caught sight of a significant wave that will crest in today's Wisconsin primary. Either that, or he's going to catch a significant amount of grief on Wednesday.

We contacted Bennett, president of the New Hampshire-based American Research Group, because his organization's most recent surveys had left our head spinning.

A poll conducted Friday and Saturday of likely voters in Wisconsin's Democratic presidential contest had caused a buzz because, in contrast to other recent surveys that had shown Barack Obama slightly ahead, it gave Hillary Clinton a 6-percentage-point lead (49%-43%).

Bennett's questioners were back at it on Sunday and Monday, and the results were dramatically different: Obama led by 10 points (52%-42%).

The margin of error ...

for both polls was plus-or-minus four points.

In discussing his results, Bennett acknowledged that this campaign season has frequently given him and other pollsters pause. Like many, for instance, he misfired in gauging this year's New Hampshire primary -- his final poll in his home state had Obama up by nine points; Clinton won by just shy of three.

But Bennett expressed his confidence in his final sounding in Wisconsin, saying his questioners had identified a clear trend toward Obama among the type of voters Clinton has been counting on: Lower- and middle-income whites.

The shift started among men in this group, many of whom were the target of John Edwards' populist message. Initially uncomfortable with Obama, they warmed to him as the short Wisconsin campaign intensified, Bennett said. And at that point, their allegiance became strong: "They don't like Clinton anymore after they decide on Obama," he said.

The big turnabout in the last few days, according to Bennett, occurred among women in this demographic. Simply put, many who had been for Clinton changed their minds. "They're happy with either one," Bennett said. But they opted to support the candidate they see as having momentum: Obama.

You can read the pollster's complete analysis here. And in a few hours, we'll see whether he was on, or off, the mark.

-- Don Frederick