New Hampshire Primary

A Historical Look at the New Hampshire Primary

Previously we looked at Iowa's caucuses, particularly on the Republican side of the aisle. Today, New Hampshire.

Like Iowa, the Granite State is not representative of the U.S. populace. It is one of the whitest states in the Union (94%) and also one of the wealthiest. It skews liberal, such that New Hampshire's Republicans are fairly centrist and its Democrats tend to be rather left-wing. It is a little less easy to pander to New Hampshirites—they have no corn, unlike Iowa—though they are well known for disliking taxes a lot. As with Iowa, the voters of New Hampshire have a strong geographical bias.

Note, incidentally, that the two parties are well aware that first four states to weigh in on presidential candidates—Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada, in that order—are not representative. Their thinking, which may or may not be correct, is that the process is set up to identify a candidate who can attract voters in the Midwest, New England, the South, and the West—the nation's four major geographic regions (sorry, Alaska and Hawaii!)

In any event, New Hampshire has been holding primaries for just over a century, though it was not until a rule change in 1949 that the contests began to produce a clear-cut result. The state has thus had an important voice in the political process since 1952. By New Hampshire law, it must hold the first primary in the nation and the secretary of state is authorized to set whatever date is needed to achieve that. If some other state were to pass the same law, we'd have a problem.

When it comes to the nomination process, New Hampshire is different from Iowa in two important ways. The first is that it is much smaller, both in population and in area. This means that nearly every candidate can afford to blanket the state with advertising; a large war chest or a well-heeled PAC or a Koch brother matters relatively little. The second difference—and the more important one—is that New Hampshire uses a straightforward primary rather than a caucus. Voters go to the polls, they mark their choice, the ballots are counted up, and that's it. There is little room for wheeling and dealing, there is no horse trading, and a weaker candidate is unlikely to gain an advantage through skillful organization and a strong ground game.

As we can see, New Hampshire's Republicans—who, remember, tend to be moderate—have been something of a bellwether, missing only three times since 1952. None of this year's candidates seems to be in their wheelhouse—if only John Kasich was from Connecticut or Maine—but a Republican victory here will be much more instructive than one in Iowa.

The state's Democrats have not given their imprimatur to the eventual nominee nearly as often as their Republican counterparts, showing a love for liberals (Estes Kefauver, Lyndon Johnson), New Englanders (Paul Tsongas), and liberal New Englanders (Edmund Muskie) that apparently was not matched by the rest of the populace. As such, the liberal New Englander Bernie Sanders is very well positioned to have an excellent day on February 9, 2016. Like Paul Tsongas before him, however, this will only be a brief reprieve before he is squashed by a Clinton.

Year New Hampshire Dem Winner Runner(s)-Up (Minimum 5%, except as noted) Prediction?
2012 Barack Obama (81%) No viable opposition  
2008 Hillary Clinton (39%) Barack Obama (36%), John Edwards (16%) Wrong
2004 John Kerry (38%) Howard Dean (26%), Wesley Clark (12%), John Edwards (12%), Joseph Lieberman (9%) Right
2000 Al Gore (50%) Bill Bradley (46%) Right
1996 Bill Clinton (84%) No viable opposition  
1992 Paul Tsongas (33%) Bill Clinton (24%), Bob Kerrey (11%), Tom Harkin (10%), Jerry Brown (8%) Wrong
1988 Michael Dukakis (36%) Dick Gephardt (20%), Paul Simon (17%), Jesse Jackson (8%), Al Gore (7%) Right
1984 Gary Hart (37%) Walter Mondale (28%), John Glenn (12%), Jesse Jackson (5%), George McGovern (5%) Wrong
1980 Jimmy Carter (47%) Ted Kennedy (37%), Jerry Brown (10%) Right
1976 Jimmy Carter (28%) Mo Udall (23%), Birch Bayh (15%), Fred Harris (11%), Sargent Shriver (8%) Right
1972 Edmund Muskie (46%) George McGovern (37%), Sam Yorty (6%) Wrong
1968 Lyndon Johnson (50%) Eugene McCarthy (41%) Right
1964 Lyndon Johnson (95%) No viable opposition  
1960 John Kennedy (85%) No viable opposition  
1956 Estes Kefauver (85%) Adlai Stevenson (15%) Wrong
1952 Estes Kefauver (55%) Harry Truman (45%) Wrong

Year New Hampshire GOP Winner Runner(s)-Up (Minimum 5%, except as noted) Prediction?
2012 Mitt Romney (39%) Ron Paul (23%), Jon Huntsman (17%), Speaker Newt Gingrich (9%), Rick Santorum (9%) Right
2008 John McCain (37%) Mitt Romney (32%), Mike Huckabee (11%), Rudy Giuliani (8%), Ron Paul (8%) Right
2004 George W. Bush (80%) No viable opposition  
2000 John McCain (49%) George W. Bush (30%), Steve Forbes (13%), Alan Keyes (6%) Wrong
1996 Pat Buchanan (27%) Bob Dole (26%), Lamar Alexander (23%), Steve Forbes (12%), Dick Lugar (5%) Wrong
1992 George H. W. Bush (53%) Pat Buchanan (38%) Right
1988 George H. W. Bush (38%) Bob Dole (29%), Jack Kemp (13%), Pete du Pont (11%), Pat Robertson (9%) Right
1984 Ronald Reagan (99%) No viable opposition  
1980 Ronald Reagan (50%%) George W. Bush (23%), Howard H. Baker (12%), John Anderson (10%) Right
1976 Gerald Ford (49%) Ronald Reagan (48%) Right
1972 Richard Nixon (68%) Pete McCloskey (20%), John Ashbrook (10%) Right
1968 Richard Nixon (78%) Nelson Rockefeller (11%), Eugene McCarthy (5%) Right
1964 Henry Cabot Lodge (35.5%) Barry Goldwater (22%), Nelson Rockefeller (21%), Richard Nixon (17%) Wrong
1960 Richard Nixon (89%) No viable opposition  
1956 Dwight Eisenhower (99%) No viable opposition  
1952 Dwight Eisenhower (50%) Robert Taft (39%), Harold Stassen (7%) Right

So there you have it. New Hampshire got it right 6 times out of 12 for the Democrats, only half the time. For the Republicans it has been right 9 times out of 12. With Bernie Sanders being a "favorite neighbor," the Democratic primary is not so interesting, but the Republican one could be very important.

-- Zenger