Decision 2016: The day before the New Hampshire primary

Tomorrow, the Presidential contest moves to New Hampshire for its “first in the nation” primary. Three things that are important to understand about New Hampshire: (1) Independents are 44% of the electorate (30% are Republican, and 26% are Democrat), and can vote in (and influence) either party’s primary, (2) New Hampshire voters are less ideological and religious than Iowa, and (3) the New Hampshire results tend to contradict the Iowa results.

Republicans (2/8 RealClearPolitics poll average: Trump 32, Rubio 15, Cruz 13, Kasich 12, Bush 10, Christie 5)

Donald Trump has consistently led in the polls for months, although: (1) New Hampshire voters tend to decide late, (2) the Iowa results showed that some of Donald Trump’s voters are not very chronic voters, so his poll numbers may be overstated. The real focus in New Hampshire, however, will be who the second and third place finishers are. Five candidates are competing for these two slots: Ohio Governor John Kasich, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Kasich and Bush both turned in credible debate performances on Saturday night, and Kasich benefits from the less confrontational tone (and his boast of hosting 100 town halls) of his campaign. Given that Independents are a substantial voter bloc (while Republicans are more moderate and suburban), these two factors benefit Kasich.

And while Marco Rubio gained momentum from a strong third place showing in Iowa, his faltering debate performance, combined with New Hampshire’s tendency to upend Iowa’s “winners”, puts him in a precarious position – he HAS to finish at least in second place to remain viable. He has two challenges, however: (1) Kasich, Bush, and Christie are all competing for the same “moderate vote” which has consistently been about 40%, (2) Ted Cruz essentially has the ideological conservative vote to himself. And while that vote is smaller in New Hampshire than in Iowa, Donald Trump is his only competitor for these voters.

Given the desire of political handicappers to “clear the field”, those who do not finish in the top 2-3 positions in New Hampshire will lose the oxygen of favorable media coverage, which is almost as deadly as having insufficient funds to compete in subsequent contests. The Iowa caucus immediately ended the candidacies of Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, and Rick Santorum. New Hampshire has the potential for up to six casualties come Wednesday morning.

Democrats (2/8 RealClearPolitics poll average: Sanders 53, Clinton 41)

Since New Hampshire is next door to Vermont (Bernie Sanders’ home state), Sanders is expected to win this primary, which is both good and bad: he HAS to win by a large margin to be treated as a serious candidate. Going back in time to 2008, Barack Obama was thought to be an unstoppable juggernaut after the Iowa caucuses before Hillary Clinton upset him in New Hampshire – an upset that prolonged the Democratic contest until the summer.

Looking down the road

The next contests are on February 20 – South Carolina for Republicans, and Nevada for Democrats. While South Carolina should be a Southern state friendly to Ted Cruz’s politics, many northern migrants have settled in its coastal counties, so there is the potential for a competitive race: John McCain defeated Mike Huckabee here in 2008. Nevada’s Democratic electorate is dominated by Hispanics and union members, with the epicenter’s being Las Vegas’ numerous hotel/casino employees (there is a considerable amount of demographic overlap here). While Hillary Clinton is expected to win, Nevada will test whether Bernie Sanders be a viable candidate by expanding his base of support among unions and minorities.