Corn Pickers vs. President Makers. Why the NH Primary Matters More than Iowa.

John H. Sununu famously said, “The people of Iowa pick corn, the people of New Hampshire pick presidents.” The stats prove he was right. With such a crowed field, the Primary elections this year will matter more than ever and I think New Hampshire is the key to the White House.

So a look back tells us that Iowa has a horrible record when it comes to influencing the Republican nomination and it typically has no bearing whatsoever on the NH race. In the six contested races over the past quarter century (1980, 1988, 1996, 2000, 2008 and 2012), the eventual party nominee won the Iowa caucuses twice: Kansas Senator Bob Dole in 1996 and Texas Governor George W. Bush in 2000.

And if that’s not bad enough, since 1988, Iowa has voted for the Republican nominee only once in the last 7 elections, GWB in 2004. All other elections they voted for the Democrat nominee. Not my kind of state and no wonder it’s not a predictor of the Republican nominee. The only value of the Iowa caucus is to tell us who they think is the most religious conservative candidate which is very good to know.

By contrast, NH has an excellent record of picking the Republican nominee that goes on to win the presidency.

“After controlling for everything else, a win in the New Hampshire primary increases a candidate’s expected share of the total primary vote by a remarkable 26.8 percentage points,” wrote political scientist William Mayer in “The Making of the Presidential Candidates” (Rowman and Littlefield, 2008). Even a second-place finish in New Hampshire increases a candidate’s total votes by an average of 17.2 points, Mayer noted.

New Hampshire’s primary predicts the eventual Republican nominee more times than not. In years without an incumbent since 1980, the winner of the state has gone three for five (60 percent) in earning the eventual Republican nomination. Exceptions were John McCain’s 2000 win over George W. Bush, and Pat Buchanan’s 1996 victory.

Yet NH’s record of picking the eventual president isn’t all that stellar. The three most recent presidential election winners (Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama) finished second in the New Hampshire Primary before later being elected to the presidency, while the previous four before that won the New Hampshire Primary.

So in the year of the outsiders, do stats and history matter? No non-incumbent president has ever won both Iowa and New Hampshire back to back so what difference does winning make?

And if NH matters more than Iowa as a predictor as I propose, God only knows how NH will vote. And given free will, I’m not even sure if God knows how NH will vote given it’s very odd voting rules. 

NH has “undeclared” voters what many may think of as Independents. Maybe some are Indy’s but the fact is, they just don’t register as a Republican or a Democrat or an Independent. Which makes it much harder to poll or predict who will win the Primary. Take a look at these graphs:

44% percent of all registered New Hampshire voters are unaffiliated with a political party, the highest share ever, and that number is likely to climb. In 2012, 35% of NH Primary voters were registered as undeclared.

NH has what’s called a mixed Primary, but I call it a super-sized mixed Primary. It’s way more wild than the jungle primary than CA’s. Let’s review.

  • Undeclared voters (those not registered with any party) can vote in either party primary by choosing a ballot of their choice. Anyone registered as a Republican or Democrat on voting day cannot cast ballots in the primary of the other party. Sept. 6 was the last day to register for a Party for the  Primary.
  • If you are registered with a party, you must vote that party’s ballot in the primary election. If you voted on a party ballot in the last primary or presidential election, you are now a registered member of that party unless you filled out a card to return to undeclared status with the supervisors of the checklist.” Oct. 30th was the last day that registered voters can change their party affiliation prior to the Presidential Primary.
  • Undeclared voters can immediately change their status back to undeclared  after voting, provided they do so before leave the polling place.
  • Voters may register and vote at the polls on election day, Feb 9, 2016. This applies to the presidential election day too.
  • February 12, 2016 – Last day for any candidate who received at least 9 percent of the votes cast in a party’s primary to apply to Secretary of State for recount. Oh dear.

In other words, live free and vote how and whenever you want!

So let’s talk about spoilers. We have so many fine candidates this year yet some polling in single digits can and will remain in the race for longer than in the past elections due to the support of SuperPacs. I maintain that it’s up to a candidate to decide when to drop out after the voters vote.  This data is a bit old but tells us that the undeclared voters liked Trump and Kasich:

A Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll this week 11/27/15 suggested that undeclared voters would make up 32 percent of the Republican primary electorate. Their preferences were largely the same as likely Republican voters as a whole. Donald Trump and Governor John Kasich of Ohio topped the list for undeclared voters with 19 percent and 14 percent, respectively. Senator Marco Rubio had the support of 12 percent of undeclared voters and Senator Ted Cruz received the support of 11 percent of the undeclared voters who were polled. (All other got less than 10% support.)

What if Kasich does well in NH? Or Christie? The truth is, other than Huckabee, I don’t see anyone dropping out of the race after IA or NH. The only way to win the race for the nomination is to garner 1,236 delegates. If Kasich holds out until Ohio’s primary on March 15th, winner take all, he could win 66 delegates. And given his holier-than-thou attitude, I have no doubt he will do just that and become a spoiler to real conservatives.

We’re down to 12 candidates now, so who and what delegate damage will they potentially do by winning their own state, if they stay in the race past the early states, regardless of the outcome. If all agree that Trump, Cruz or Rubio are the most probably Primary winners, then here’s the delegates we can subtract in this scenario. (WTA is winner take all.)

Huckabee: AR, Mar 1 with 40 delegates

Paul: KY, Mar 1 with 46 delegates

Fiorina: VA, Mar 1 with 49 delegates

Kasich: Ohio, WTA Mar 15 with 66 delegates

Jeb: Florida, WTA Mar 15 with 99 delegates

Santorum: PA, WTA Apr 26 with 71 delegates

Carson: MD, WTA Apr 26 with 38 delegates

Christie: NJ, WTA June 7 with 51 delegates

Gilmore: whatever (see Fiorina)

That’s 460 delegates if these all of the candidates stay in the race and win their state. It’s still close to about 20% of the total delegates and more than a third of the delegates needed to win the nomination. I’m not saying that this is the way it will play out, but it is one way for the GOP-E to deny a clear winner until the convention. Spoilers can spoil the outcome for some as we’ve seen in the past with Independent runs.

We don’t need to be a broken Party before the convention and one hopes that some candidates will search their hearts and do what’s best for the Party and the country.