Tuesday morning, New Hampshire voters will head to the polls to make their choice for the two major party nominees. The Granite State comes second to Iowa in this year’s nominating contests, but it claims the first spot among primary elections. That means polling booths will be in use for the first time this election season. As we approach the nation’s first primary, here are five things about New Hampshire that might be interesting to keep in mind. 1. This is the is the 100th anniversary of the New Hampshire primary.
Some may call it ironic, but primaries were first implemented to wrest away the power of the party ‘establishment’ in picking nominees. Early in this country’s history, political party nominees were chosen with heavy influence from party bosses and power brokers at conventions. Primaries were an attempt to give that power to the partisan rank and file. The first presidential primary was held in Florida in 1901, over 120 years removed from ratification of the U.S. Constitution. When New Hampshire’s primary got its start in 1916, there were just a handful of state conducting this type of nomination contest. And over the last century, the Granite State has been a staple of early presidential election politics.
Late last year, Election Projection took a look at the success rate of Iowa caucus winners in claiming their party’s nomination. The conclusion, base on very limited data was that winning Iowa isn’t necessarily a bad or good sign for a presidential candidate’s chances. New Hampshire paints a different picture – on the GOP side, that is. Since 1972, the same period studied for the Iowa article, only twice in seven tries did the GOP winner in New Hampshire not get his name on the general election ballot. (This includes only years in which the sitting president was not running.) If the last 40+ years are any guide, then, whoever wins next Tuesday will have a 71.4% chance of parlaying the victory into the nomination. For Democrats, history shows a picture more similar to Iowa’s results. Over the last eleven presidential elections dating back to 1972, Democratic winners here have gone on to the nomination four times in eight tries, a 50% success rate. The other three times, a sitting Democratic president was in the mix. 3. The great midnight voting battle takes place here.
Dixville Notch will always hold a place in U.S. election history. For many years, the little community in upper New Hampshire garnered national media coverage as the first place in the nation to vote on Election Day each presidential cycle, both in primary and general elections. The ten to fifteen eligible residents would join together in a room upstairs in a posh early-1900’s style hotel to drop their ballots into the box. The voting started precisely at 12:00am and was over by 12:07. This tradition began in the 1950’s and became the “unofficial official” kickoff to Election Day. However, midnight voting is not the domain of Dixville alone. The smallest incorporated town in New Hampshire, Hart’s Location (42 residents), actually began voting at midnight before Dixville Notch (in 1948) and still does today. But early Dixville Notch promoter, Neil Tillotson, inventor of the latex balloon, conducted a publicity effort in the 1950’s that put Dixville on top of the midnight election battle. Unfortunately, at least for nostalgia’s sake, Dixville fell victim to changing times. By early 2015, the hotel sat dilapidated and condemned, and the community’s residency fell to just two. To fill the gap – and keep the midnight battle alive – the nearby
4. New Hampshire’s prize is smaller than Iowa’s.
Despite its enormous impact on media coverage and the influence such coverage might bring with it, Iowa is a small state. Only 1.2% of the total delegates were at stake in the Hawkeye State. New Hampshire is even smaller. According to 2015 estimates, the state’s population is less than half that of Iowa. If figures, then, that the number of delegates up for grabs would be less even than Iowa’s 1.2% share. Indeed that is the case. For Democratic presidential hopefuls, the delegates at stake number 32 (Iowa had 52). Republican contenders will do battle for just 20 pledged delegates (3 more are unpledged). In Iowa that number was 30. It is interesting that the two most visible and most watched individual nomination contests represent just 2% of the total delegate pie. By comparison, the two largest states (California and Texas for Republicans, California and New York for Democrats) represent well over 10% of the total. Still, the influence of Iowa and New Hampshire remains. Early in the nomination, momentum can be the most valuable commodity. Marco Rubio and Bernie Sanders are enjoying increased momentum since their strong showings in Iowa. If they can add another strong performance in New Hampshire, their momentum will be greater still heading to South Carolina. 5. The Granite State’s undeclared voters are pivotal in primary elections.
An observant reader might notice the wording of the second item in this list. I included the phrase “Republican primary voters” instead of simply “Republicans” for a significant reason. New Hampshire’s voting laws call for a hybrid-style primary. The election is not ‘closed’, which would mean only registered partisans can vote in their party’s primary. Neither is it fully open. Registered Democrats can’t vote in the Republican primary nor vice-versa. However, if a registered voter has not declared a political party affiliation, he or she is free to vote in either primary. Because of this flexibility, the electorate in New Hampshire tends to consist of a greater proportion of undeclared voters than most states. Fully 44% of New Hampshire voters are registered without party affiliation. That number surpasses both registered Republicans (30%) and Democrats (26%). Clearly, this many voters will be impactful, to say the least, on the outcome. With just a few days separating us from the vote, polls suggest a plurality of these voters are currently planning on voting in the Republican primary. Polls also indicate Democrat Bernie Sanders and Republican John Kasich will benefit most from the undeclared. Stay tuned to this page for more New Hampshire primary coverage between now and Tuesday. It might just be one step in a long slog, but being the first primary amplifies both interest and significance for this little state up in the northeastern corner of the country. By Wednesday, it will have helped shape the race for both nominations.