A TRUMAN-DEWEY lesson was learned in New Hampshire Tuesday night, when George Bush decisively recovered from his humiliation in Iowa the week before and beat Robert Dole by 9 points - despite the morning papers saying the race was even, too close to call, or even that Mr. Dole was ahead. The polling in 1948, which had called the election for Dewey, was not wrong; it was stopped too soon. It had been assumed, wrongly, that opinion was a fairly static phenomenon, and that where the electorate was the week before was where it would be on election day. We know differently now: Opinion can be quite elastic. Events can cause a bulge upward or downward in public support.
The polling in New Hampshire, too, was for the most part not wrong. The daily ``tracking'' surveys are usually aggregated over a period of several days for release to the public. In the case of CBS surveys, Dole was ahead by 4 points last Thursday, 1 point Friday, even on Saturday, and then Mr. Bush led by 2 on Sunday and 7 on Monday. So it could be no surprise that Bush would actually win by 9 on Tuesday, if one were looking at the daily numbers. ABC's daily tracking numbers showed the same thing.
Now, we point this out because it is very important to read Tuesday's results correctly. George Bush could yet prove a more resilient political figure than he is widely taken to be. What happened was that his native appeal - a neighbor from Maine, loyal to the President, widely experienced, and so forth - reasserted itself after the impression of his Iowa defeat.
In a sense, the GOP front-runner race is now even: Dole won on his Midwest home turf, Bush on one of his several home turfs, New England. But Bush has the advantage going into the South, where themes like loyalty to the chief play well.
The media are irresponsible when they play up so much the potential for political disaster in politics. The media should be more modest and painstaking in their analysis. And the public should keep a good-sized salt shaker handy when watching or reading the news.
On the Democratic side: again no surprises. Michael Dukakis won decisively in a state embraced by Boston exurbia. Richard Gephardt beat Paul Simon by 4 points, not much, but enough to cause Mr. Simon problems on the next few stops along the trail. And Bruce Babbitt will have to think about 1992.
The campaign of Jesse Jackson continues to impress us. In a state with less than one half of 1 percent black population, the Rev. Mr. Jackson won 8 percent of the vote. He draws new voters to the Democratic Party. He does it with no money. He is consistently the best speaker at party rallies, leads in the national polls - and gets the least media coverage. Jackson's policies can at times be made of clever phrasing more than substance. Other candidates talk about caring: Jackson goes to the site of the suffering, the addicted, the jobless, and speaks for them.
Jackson should be taken more seriously. He may prove the biggest winner in the Southern primaries on Super Tuesday, March 8. The Democrats, and the media, should look at what is going on here and get a better grasp of the Jackson phenomenon as a political force.