New Hampshire Primary Preview Analysis: Bucking the Establishment Again?

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

New Hampshire is usually the 2nd contest of the primary/caucus elections to determine the nominee.  In 2016, it will be February 9th, eight days after the Iowa caucuses. Unlike Iowa, New Hampshire runs a primary.  It’s not a closed primary, as both registered Republican and “unaffiliated” voters may vote in the primary.

New Hampshire is a state with many political currents. It’s influenced by Vermont as the west side of the state (along with Concord and Dover) is the most liberal part of the state. The Southern portion of New Hampshire is Massachusetts-influenced. Many of the New England independents are still active in the state. The Republican base is in the Central Eastern portion of the state outside of Strafford County. The Massachusetts border counties contrary to popular belief are actually swing areas which can vote for either party. Scott Brown nearly won in an upset in his senate race in large part due to the votes of former Massachusetts resident.

There has been a lot of 2015 hype regarding Donald Trump. If Donald Trump has a serious candidacy, we will know in the New Hampshire primary. New Hampshire has a long populist history of bucking the establishment in Republican Primaries. In 1996, Pat Buchanan with 27% defeated Bob Dole and Lamar Alexander.  In 2000, John McCain with 48% defeated George W Bush in every county and won by 18%. McCain still had his popularity there in the 2008 primaries with 37%, as he beat neighboring state Mitt Romney by 5-6% winning all except two counties bordering Massachusetts. Will the same group that voted for Buchanan nearly 20 years ago, and McCain, 15 and 7 years ago show up and vote for Trump?

In 1996, there were three candidates that had 20% or more of the vote: Pat Buchanan, Bob Dole, and Lamar Alexander. We used 1996 here as a comparison with the map. At this point we expect it to be the most “recent” comparison to 2016 for New Hampshire. There is an outsider candidate with momentum. Then it was Pat Buchanan. This year, as of now, it is Donald Trump. There is an “establishment” candidate who is the “next in line” to be the nomination. Then it was Bob Dole. This year there isn’t a true “next in line,” but many want it to be Bush. There are other “establishment” candidates who think they can win (Kasich now/Lamar Alexander then). Then there are the other establishment/outsider candidates that just are not gaining any traction. Then it was Forbes, Lugar, Gramm and Keyes. It’s too early to tell this year who aren’t gaining traction when it counts.

Alexander by 0-500 votes – Green

Buchanan by 1000+ votes – Dark Red, Buchanan by 0-500 votes – Tomato Red

Dole by 0-500 votes – Royal Blue, Dole by 500-1000 – Blue

New Hampshire early state analysis map

1996 is still a 20 year old electorate so it’s a bit of an apples and oranges comparison. New Hampshire has more Vermont (West) and Massachusetts influences than it did in 1996. In 2014, Scott Brown moved to New Hampshire and nearly beat an incumbent despite winning only three counties, two of which border Massachusetts. 2012 had three candidates with 15% or more of the vote. Romney won easily with 39% followed by Paul (22%) and Huntsman with 17%. Romney won all counties except Coos County which went for Ron Paul. Romney received 40% in the Massachusetts border region along with Carroll County in the central eastern region.  Coos County is very anti-establishment, so keep an eye on its results. Hillsborough County is quite independent and also the largest county in the state. Buchanan won it in 1996 and it made the difference in his win. The Manchester Union Leader in its day had a lot of influence with its editorials.

While winning New Hampshire is important, the most important thing it does is narrow the field. A lot of candidates drop out after New Hampshire if they contested the state and did not finish well. That will be a major key with the large number of candidates running in 2016. New Hampshire is the Waterloo for most candidates. A caucus electorate is one thing, but a primary electorate is a different animal.  If Donald Trump is still running by this point, then New Hampshire could be his Waterloo.