The Comeback in New Hampshire: Who’s Polling these People?

Fascinating. I love a good contest, I love the underdog more often than not, and I love watching politics pivot upon small but crucial moments.

But you have to wonder, when Hillary won the New Hampshire primary tonight: how is that polls got the public reaction so very wrong? I mean, wrong on the level that even the HRC camp was apparently surprised about not getting shitcanned.

As Dana Milbank notes in the Washington Post (with hyperbolic title-du-jour “She Lives”),

Even [Clinton’s] own aides had seemed to believe the worst. They had booked the big gymnasium here at Southern New Hampshire University — the same spot Howard Dean filled in 2004 — and put the numerals “20:08” on the time clock and the words “Hillary” and “Clinton” in the home and away spots. But instead, they decided to hold the event next door, in a dank auxiliary gym half the size — an irresistible metaphor for a dying campaign — and the crowd of 400 was too small to fill the place.

Last night Obama was up 13 points in a Gallup poll and most of the newspapers were already predicting a massive overhaul of Clinton’s campaign. McCain was fielding one interview after another asking about a November showdown with Obama.

Tonight? Not so much.

I’m reminded of the Iowa polls a week ago, when every indicator was the contest would be a three-way split — and only one paper got the Obama surge right. When interviewed, pollsters at the Des Moines Register noted they’ve got a winning set of calculations, as demonstrated by a consistently strong track record of accuracy.

So what happened today? Faulty or imprecise polling (as precise as random sampling can be, which is to say, not especially)? Slate is wondering if we’re witnessing the Tom Bradley effect / quiet racism defense from pollsters in its article “Did Obama Supporters Lie?”. It was as close in New Hampshire as Iowa was supposed to be, but the truth is that no one knows why. But expectations were raised / lowered, certainly.

Women voters in New Hampshire said in exit interviews that they were moved to reconsider Clinton after her emotional moment in the diner yesterday. Contrary to what Gloria Steinem wrote in today’s Times, at least women don’t hold other women to a double standard. Muske loses for weeping, but with Hillary women voters said they finally saw a genuine moment of care and candor.

But is that all? I wonder if the old West Wing episodes — when the President gruffly dismisses polls and sure enough, he defies expectations — isn’t more on the nose than we’d care to admit. Bill Clinton was beating up the press corps this morning for seeming so enthralled by Obama, but the truth is that reporters are only enthralled with hyperbole. They like to push the big story until it becomes its own truth: Obama cruises to landslide! And then the next story: Clinton’s comeback a remarkable political resurrection!

The most accurate lede of all, as of 9:45 on Tuesday night, from Politico: “Clinton victory makes fools of doubters”.

Seriously. Who thought it was gonna be a landslide, exactly?

Rosestuffing

I grew up a few blocks from the Tournament of Roses madness on Colorado Blvd. The parade has its history and draw, but locals know the real action lies in everything leading up to the televised event.

There’s the ritual of sleeping out on the route the night before, which is huge when you’re 14. You grab your sleeping bag and a few friends, plus four bags of Nacho or Cool Ranch Doritos, and you find the ideal spot like a cat circling for the perfect perch. In theory, you’re there to secure a space on Colorado for your family, but in reality, you’re there to witness the one night of near-lawlessness, near-Mardi Gras that Pasadena has to offer.

Thick lines of happy drunks kiss and holler past. Sleepless kids aim their silly string at cars, especially convertibles. Retirees in their RV bunkers form a long, secure caravan for miles along the side streets, so inevitably it’s important to harass the old timers out of their nests by knocking on their plastic doors at 2, 3, 4am. Firecrackers pop up into the cold, clear night. Grilled onions and chorizo on small outdoor barbeques abound, and the smell wakes you up hungry.

Long before daylight people start to claim their spots on the route, armed with blankets and folding chairs. They line up three, four, five deep along the incredibly long street, and the bottles from the night before get swept to the side. The cameras all get set up on the westernmost corner of Orange Grove and Colorado, but the further east you go the less polite the jostling tends to be. People like an unobstructed view.

My family refuses to go in person anymore (unless we get out-of-town visitors, which poses a dilemma). They still wake up early on New Year’s Day and watch the sky for the high-tech bomber that buzzes the route (a worrisome ritual) and catch the first telecast of the parade, with all its awful announcer-chatter.

To grow up in Pasadena is to watch the parade on someone’s shoulders when you’re little; to mock it in person when you’re a teenager; to roll the more mobile trash at the wheels of passing RVs on Jan 2nd. In short, the parade is such a manicured, family-friendly delight that it takes a lot of effort to not subvert it.

Which brings me to the other unseen part of the Rose Parade: people volunteer to build the floats. Unqualified kids and adults immerse themselves in a process so laborious and painstaking in its application of individual rose types and minute seeds that it’s a wonder the floats emerge on time at all.

In honor of the New Year, a poem I wrote when I was 19.

Rosestuffing

Pasadena turns on men, arouses
with roses. Blisters each new year
with gobs of American Beauty.
In warehouses the night before,
we scramble, shove puffs of Paradise
through chicken wire and plywood,
string up White Lightnin’,

Red Devil. The foreman
for a day drawls “Don’t forget
they’re worth more than you”:
the exotic shipped, sprayed
to last, arrayed with precision.
Our float, pelted with Simplicity,
“the largest mobile possum

in the parade’s proud history.”
Complete with leering wink
and waggle, my friend finds it
cute, wants hot pink Puppy Love
flanking its revolving eyes.
The supe barks for Buff Beauty
and I run to the platform

built for fourteen
bovine ex-Queens; on their
girdled trash can risers (the theme
tomorrow being Fun
in the City), the Strumpet
and Cupcake keep wilting.
Our rodent starts to throb and quiver,

shakes thick scent across the workers,
cautiously extends its tail as it heads
toward the route. Starglo snout
to the night sky, it squeaks and winks,
warming up for tomorrow’s prance
under the scrutiny of cottony
crowds, cameras, stripping souvenir

Charisma. Our opossum will proudly
chug past the pimply bands and albino
ponies; it will take its place
in the unfailingly bright California
morning as we sleep through the newest
day, dreaming of Voodoo and Shot Silk,
Camelot and Bronze Masterpiece.

The Scattershot Hello

I had intended to write about the Democratic caucus absurdities, the many tied polls and tensions in Iowa. And how I can’t stop reading news and commentary. And watching cheap shots.

Also: the excellent series about Chinese growth and pollution in the Times. And Rob Gifford’s new travelogue, China Road: A Journey into the Future of a Rising Power.

Or: my first hockey game ever, Sharks vs Ducks, where no less than three full-fledged fights erupted as the crowd lost its collective mind.

And: thoughts about the pleasures of a year ending, of finitude, of how much we need these arbitrary rituals of transition (preferably punctuated by champagne). Especially insofar as I’m going to miss the Year of the Pig (though it ain’t over just yet) and are we really ready for the Rat?

I’d planned to write about all of these things to entertain you, the reader. But I really haven’t got much of a clue who reads this.

You, the friendly ghosts who check in on me periodically from West Covina, Puerto Vallarta, Bowling Green Kentucky.

The accidental tourists from Sydney, Bangkok, Neumnster Schleswig-Holstein.

The brave commentators from London, Mesa, Haverhill, Brooklyn.

I want to wish you all a very happy New Year. Thanks for checking in, for the passing / recurring interest. Next year, don’t be a stranger — tell me what you think, what’s funny, what’s afoot with you. Thanks for reading; I’ll keep writing.