Post Palin Ergo Propter Palin

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Public Policy Polling (or, as news anchors call it, Puh, Puh, Puh) is out with a poll suggesting that Republican Senate candidate Kelly Ayotte is in trouble because Sarah Palin endorsed her last week. Ayotte's lead over Democrat Paul Hodes was seven points; it's now three points. One poll.

I don't see the connection, or much actual movement. Logically, one cannot connect any appreciable drop in Ayotte's numbers to one thing that happened so recently; this is the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. PPP covers themselves by modifiers, as in, "Palin's endorsement may well be playing a role in this." Maybe. The poll suggests that most independents -- those famous New Hampshire independents, that 50 percent of New Hampshire voters -- are less willing to vote for a candidate who gets the support of Sarah Palin. That's an interesting data point, but it screams for more information: of Republican-leaning independents, how salient is this belief? And since PPP last polled in April, why isolate Palin's endorsement as the thing that has damaged Ayotte's standing among moderates? Nothing happened for three months, and suddenly Palin makes Ayotte a Mama Grizzly, and suddenly Ayotte's ratings drop? Eh. More information is needed.

Democrats are in a tizzy about this, as anything involving Sarah Palin's interaction with a candidate is like catnip for them. Truth is, New Hampshire might be one state where Palin's endorsement hurts a Republican if you go by the conventional picture that people have in their minds of New Hampshire voters, but beyond that, there's not much to say or conclude. Truth is, Palin has endorsed some winning candidates and some losing candidates, but she's done so carefully, strategically, and more cannily that she's been given credit for. Truth is, as PPP points out, the Palin endorsement might have helped Ayotte among Republicans. It's an open primary and there's no competition on the Democratic side, so plenty of true independents can vote in the GOP contest if they want. So Palin may have an effect. She may not. We don't know, and won't know, for a while.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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