What to look for in the New Hampshire primary results tomorrow.

Republican presidential candidates, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., businessman Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (L-R) line up on the stage at the beginning of a Republican presidential primary debate hosted by ABC News at the St. Anselm College  Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Tomorrow is going to be a very interesting exercise, from the point of view of political scientists.  And I mean ‘interesting’ in a sense that is completely divorced from the question of who should win in a partisan sense: there have been some long-standing assumptions made about the New Hampshire electorate that we will finally see legitimately challenged. It should be quite fun!


Anyway, here are the major questions that may get answered tomorrow. Emphasis on may. The results may be a good deal more confusing than we expect; life is like that.

  • Do you really have to camp out in New Hampshire in order to win?  That has been the assumption for years. Everybody did it, everybody was afraid not to do it.  Only this year, Donald Trump (who is favored to win New Hampshire, remember) has largely not altered his campaign style to, well, pander to New Hampshire voters.  It will be very interesting to see if that works as a strategy.  Certainly most American politicians would much rather not devote a significant amount of their total resources to one specific state, if they don’t have to.
  • Does increased turnout really favor insurgent campaigns?  That one is being discussed more, in the wake of Iowa. My personal opinion there is that… no, it probably doesn’t. I think that we will see higher turnout tomorrow, and that it will reflect a general excitement for the upcoming election that has not that much to do with specific candidates. However, if Trump brings in a significant bunch of new voters, that would certainly argue that outsider candidates represent a legitimate path to expanding the Republican electorate.
  • How long does it really take New Hampshire voters to make up their minds?  This one is fascinating, because you’ll get people first talking about how chaotic the New Hampshire electorate is until the last moment, and then in the very next sentence they’ll treat the current polling averages as Rock-Solid Truth.  I submit to you that one, or the other is untrue. I also submit to you that we don’t in fact know which one is. Polling in New Hampshire in the past has been all over the place, yes: but dice have no memory. The polling average in 2012, for example, was not impossibly different than the final results in the GOP primary. For all we know, the polling is about as good, or not-bad this year.
  • Do New Hampshire voters really make it a point to contradict Iowa? There are three candidates in particular that would like to know the answer to that.  Ted Cruz would prefer that the answer was ‘no;’ Marco Rubio and Donald Trump would like that the answer was ‘yes,’ for varying values of ‘yes.’ I am generally skeptical in these sorts of situations that the answer is ‘yes,’ myself: in my experience, rules of thumb typically work until they abruptly do not.  But we’ll see if that skepticism is justified tomorrow.
  • Does having the media love/hate/fear you really matter? This is a relatively new addition; it was of interest in the case of Trump, but the remarkably shrill and suspiciously organized screamfest by the punditocracy towards Marco Rubio’s debate performance gives it a certain extra amount of oomph. I don’t know whether this will really get resolved tomorrow, but we should get some more information at least.

I think that mostly covers what I’m looking to see in tomorrow’s results.  I really do recommend treating this particular primary as an opportunity to further your education: primary season has, after all, only just begun. So pace yourselves, folks.

Moe Lane

PS: One particular rule of thumb that will not be likely challenged tomorrow is Raw entrance/exit polls are absolutely useless in telling you who won.  They don’t do those polls to predict the outcome before the fact; they do them to get data that explains the outcome after the fact. So don’t fall in love or hate with them.


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