Now What: New Hampshire Votes Against the Establishment


By Matt Bennett, Senior Vice President, Washington D.C. Practice Lead

Continuing Racepoint’s look at the 2016 presidential election, we come to the New Hampshire primary. The results both confirmed what the polling showed in the week leading up to the vote and upended any chance of this being a short and simple nomination contest on either side.

I’m trained as a political scientist. I’ve studied elections in detail. I never thought I would say that an avowed socialist (Senator Bernie Sanders) and a billionaire real estate investor turned reality TV star (Donald Trump) won the New Hampshire primary. And the fact that they won the respective Democratic and Republican primaries in the same year is baffling to casual observers and seasoned political operatives alike.

New Hampshire made one thing clear – the electorate has changed. And frankly, they really don’t know what they want, except they don’t want things to be the same as they are. Consider:

  • Trump received 35 percent of the vote in New Hampshire, but only 50 percent of Republican voters in the state said they’d be satisfied with Trump as their nominee, according to the exit poll.
  • Hillary Clinton, seeking to be the first woman elected president, lost female voters in New Hampshire to Sanders by 12 points.
  • 88 percent of Republican primary voters and 61 percent of Democratic voters said they were dissatisfied or angry with the federal government.
  • 50 percent of Republicans said the next president should be outside the establishment.

Politico outlined some of these dichotomies playing out in New Hampshire. By traditional measures, things are good in the state. Unemployment is only 3.1 percent. The average price of gasoline in the state is below $2/gallon. And yet New Hampshire voters rewarded Sanders and Trump, anti-establishment candidates whose central arguments hinge on how bad things are going in the country.

For months, we speculated about the viability of unconventional candidates like Trump, how the conservative and establishment Republicans would sort themselves out, and if Hillary Clinton could maintain her dominant frontrunner position. While we focused on the horse race, the ground beneath our feet shifted dramatically. The voters are now telling us what they want and many traditional political assumptions are out the window.

Up next, the Democratic caucuses in Nevada and the Republican primary in South Carolina on February 20th. Hold on for a wild ride.

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