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Diplomacy in Action

Primary Day in New Hampshire: The View from Academia

Dr. Andrew Smith, Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the UNH Survey Center, Univeristy of New Hampshire
New York, NY
January 10, 2012

 2:00 P.M., EST


MODERATOR: Hello, everyone. Thank you for participating in this afternoon’s teleconference with Professor Andy Smith. He is the director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center and a professor of political science at the university. We’re very pleased to have him with us this afternoon.

Professor Smith has agreed to give a few initial comments and then we will take your questions.

MR. SMITH: Thank you all for joining us, and I hope if you’re in New Hampshire, enjoying your stay. If you’re not, you should come up and visit us sometime.

I’ll talk a little bit about New Hampshire first off. New Hampshire, as you can see, is a very small state, both in size as well as in population. We’re about 1.3 million people. Most of the population is concentrated in the southeast corner of the state, so large parts of the state are very, very rural with few people. In fact, we have several designated areas of towns that nobody lives in, in the far north of the state. The state’s a very wealthy state, though.

According to the U.S. Census, the recent U.S. Census, we have the highest median household income of any state in the country, about $66,000. And we have had the lowest poverty rate in the country for close to the last 10 years. It’s not that we are really that wealthy as much as it is that it’s a very middle class state without large extremes of poverty or great wealth. The largest industries in the state are tourism. We have beautiful mountains where some of the earliest vacation resorts in the country are, and also skiing in the winter and other winter sports. Manufacturing is the largest sector of the economy in terms of the actual gross state product. And it’s concentrated in high-tech manufacturing – computers, software, et cetera, and other things like defense aeronautics.

If you look at the cultural nature of the state, it’s a fairly secular state. In fact, I would argue it’s probably the most secular state in the country. We have the lowest rate of church attendance of any state in the country. We have the second lowest rate of what’s called religiosity – that is, how important religion is to your life and how frequently you would attend religious activities. So it’s not a state in which socially conservative messages that might work in states like Iowa resonate very well.

Politically, it’s pretty evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, although historically, it has been a Republican state. We’ve been going through a process of partisan realignment in the state as the older Republicans have died or moved south for vacation. And the people who are replacing them are much less Republican, more likely to be identified as Democrats. An important thing demographically about the state is that it is the only state in the entire American Northeast which has experienced significant population growth over the last 20 years, and it’s the only state that’s expected to experience significant population growth in the future, and that’s almost exclusively driven by migration into the state. So we’ve seen dramatic turnovers in the number of the kinds of people who are here in the last couple decades.

Politically, it’s about equally divided between Democrats and Republicans. Democrats slightly outnumber Republicans now in terms of party identification, but Republicans can make up for that in turnout on any given election. You will hear about New Hampshire voter registration, and this is somewhat important, but I think it’s also very misleading. We are about – 31 percent are registered as Republicans, about 29 percent are registered as Democrats, and just about 41 percent – just a little under 41 percent are registered by what’s officially called “undeclared,” but is referred to as Independents. And that’s important because those people that we call Independents, they’re really not Independents; they tend to be either Republicans or Democrats, and they have a fairly different impact on the election in terms of how they vote.

Just getting to some final thoughts about the electorate here when you’re thinking about what is likely to happen today, this is a primary. New Hampshire has very high turnout in its primary. Typically, we have – I would say in 2008 specifically, we had 60 percent turnout. That’s higher than some states have in their general elections for President. And that means that it’s not political activists who determine who wins here. It’s regular voters who by and large don’t pay that much attention to politics, and they make up their minds at the very end of the campaign. So I hope that gives you an idea of what you’re looking at with New Hampshire, and I’d be happy to take any questions from you.

OPERATOR: Thank you. We’re ready to begin the question and answer session. To ask a question, please press *1. You may withdraw your question by pressing *2. Once again, to ask a question, please press *1. One moment.

First question comes from Nico Pandi. Please state your affiliation.

QUESTION: Hi, Professor Smith. This is Nico calling from Washington and Jiji Press. Thanks for doing this.

MR. SMITH: Thank you.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask you, if you look at the New Hampshire primary and the Republican contest historically, I think, going all the way back to maybe World War II, no candidate has ever finished lower than second and then gone on to win the party’s nomination. So if you could look into your crystal ball, can you imagine – realistically imagine any kind of scenario where this year that trend is broken?

MR. SMITH: I would say it would be very difficult largely because there’s only one campaign that has a significant amount of money, and that is the Romney campaign. They’re the only campaign that is really organized in other states. And Republicans have a tendency to go through the chairs. That is they tend to pick the person who finished second the previous nomination contest, and I think by most reasonable analyses, Mitt Romney really finished second in 2008. And Romney in all of the polls going into this race is leading in New Hampshire by a wide margin – not a slim margin, by a wide margin anywhere between 10 and 20 percentage points over his closest rival.

So if Romney, by some strange extreme circumstance, doesn’t win the New Hampshire primary, he’s likely to finish in second. If he wins the New Hampshire primary, it’s my sense that that will give him tremendous momentum in South Carolina, make him likely the winner of South Carolina, and if that happens, he’s all but the nominee. He’ll be the de facto nominee. If he doesn’t win here in New Hampshire – and I don’t know who that would be that could beat him frankly – but that person would certainly have an advantage in South Carolina and some advantage going on, but it would be very difficult for anybody other than Romney to get the nomination at this time simply because nobody else has the money to continue a race. People don’t drop out of the nomination process because they lose a race; they jump out of the contest and the process because they run out of money.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Fernanda Goday. Please state your affiliation.

QUESTION: Hi. I’m from O Globo, Rio de Janeiro. I’m calling from Concord, New Hampshire. What I’d like to ask you, Mr. Smith, is: Do you think that the results coming from the Independents or undeclared voters here in New Hampshire, can they be sort of be read to a larger context like a trend for Independent voters in November?

MR. SMITH: I don’t think so. And I would make the point – the technical name is “undeclared,” and I think that is a much better description. Because if you refer to these people as Independents, it makes people think that they’re up for grabs. But as I said before, about 35 percent of the undeclared are really Democrats. About 30 to 35 percent are really Republicans. And about 30 percent are true political Independents. And what you will see on Tuesday or today is that most of the Independents who vote – or I should say most of the undeclareds who vote are going to be Republicans. They are Republicans in everything but their official legal registration.

So if you look at today’s electorate, I think about 60 percent of the voters are going to be Republicans – registered Republicans, excuse me. About 20 percent are going to be undeclared voters but who are really Republicans. Among both of those groups, Mitt Romney is winning very big, close to 50 percent – 45 percent or so in our polls. Among the undeclared that are really Democrats, that’s about 10 percent of the electorate, fairly small actually. And Jon Huntsman is doing best among them. He’s getting about 40 percent of the vote among that small group. And then among the other 10 percent who are truly Independent, Ron Paul is getting about 30 percent of that group, and then Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are both getting about 24 percent of that group. So when we talked about the impact of the, quote, “Independents,” the undeclareds here, we have to really think of them as three separate groups and not really think of it as saying something about true Independent or swing voters in the general election.

That said, the more important way to look at New Hampshire – about the political impact is that it will have higher turnout than any other state in the entire nomination process. And that means that it’s regular voters who come out and vote, not activists. The general election will look much more like the New Hampshire primary electorate than it does the Iowa caucus or the South Carolina primary electorate. It will be more people who don’t pay that much attention to politics who are swayed more by personalities that don’t have those political affiliations that are going to drive 85 percent of the U.S. vote in November. In November, the Democrats are going to vote for Obama by 90, 95 percent. Republicans are going to vote for whoever the Republican candidate is by 90 to 95 percent, and the Independents are what the campaigns are fighting over, and that’s only going to be 10 to maybe 15 percent of the electorate.

OPERATOR: Once again, to ask a question, please press *1. Our next question comes from Marcia Torres. Please state your media affiliation.

QUESTION: La Razon newspaper from Spain. Good afternoon. I would like to ask you why it seems that there is less enthusiasm among the voters than in other primaries and if you could please compare this primary to the one in 2008.

MR. SMITH: Sure. This is, in my experience, by far the dullest primary that’s happened, and I think that’s largely because Mitt Romney has been seen as the favorite since 2009. We started polling on this primary in February of 2009, and Romney has held between 35 to 45 percent of the vote throughout that period, and no other candidate has been able to maintain anything in even double digits. So Romney’s had a three to four to sometimes five time lead over any of the other Republicans.

Another factor is that Romney is the only Republican that’s raised significant amounts of money. All of the other Republicans, I think, with the maybe slight exception of maybe Ron Paul and Rick Perry initially haven’t had the resources to compete in New Hampshire. So if you put those two factors together, Romney’s seen as the favorite son, the second place finisher in 2008, the frontrunner here who is the most popular candidate with the New Hampshire Republicans. You put that together with campaigns not having any other money and for whom the moderate Republican electorate in New Hampshire is not particularly attractive, they decided to spend their limited resources first off in Iowa, and then like Rick Perry, skip New Hampshire and go to South Carolina, where he thinks his message would receive a better reception.

So I think this is a unique set of circumstances, both because Romney is a local candidate, but also because he’s the best known, best liked, best funded, and highest rated in polls of any of the candidates. So he’s been almost running – I would be careful about overstating this, but it seems like he’s almost the incumbent running for reelection here. That’s overstating it a bit, but the sense is that the other campaigns have largely ceded New Hampshire to Romney, and they campaigned other places.

The one exception to that is the Huntsman campaign, and frankly, I don’t think Jon Huntsman is really campaigning for the presidency this year. He may be running for the office in 2016, he may be campaigning for a seat in the Cabinet, maybe Secretary of State, but he hasn’t run that serious of a campaign up here if he was really intending to win the nomination this year. And I should say that’s not an uncommon thing, particularly on the Republican side. It typically takes two runs before you can win the Republican nomination.

MODERATOR: This is Alyson Grunder speaking. I was wondering if I could ask a question. What do you make of the fact that Romney’s tenure at Bain is finally getting discussed? It seems like it’s only been very recently that his record in business has come up.

MR. SMITH: Well, I think there’s a couple things. First off, it was discussed in the 2008 campaign. Mike Huckabee, I think, accused him of being a vulture capitalist in 2008, so it came up then, but it wasn’t discussed that much, as that was not an economic election.

This time around, it’s been difficult for Republicans to complain about it, because Republicans tend to be more likely to be business owners or be seen as kind of the party of business, be it small business or large business, in the country, and it’s difficult for a Republican candidate who’s appealing to business people, who are people who at least are more free market based in their sense of what makes the economy work – it’s difficult to attack businesses or capitalists when you’re essentially running in the capitalist party.

That said, when it comes down to the end and you think you might have an edge over your opponent, any candidate for president is willing to throw ideology or caution to the wind and attack in whatever way they can. I don't know if this attack will be particularly helpful in New Hampshire. It certainly is something that put Romney back on his heels in the last day, and in politics there’s an expression, “Never complain, never explain,” and Romney’s had to explain in the last couple – in the last day. So it’s not helpful for Romney.

I think, though, it will be difficult to do too much damage to him, simply because we’re coming at the very end of the campaign. If Romney wins the nomination, it could cause him some trouble in the general election, but I don't think that this is a new revelation that the Obama campaign really wasn’t aware of and would have used against him anyway.

MODERATOR: And you’ve talked about the lack of religiosity among New Hampshire voters, but do you think that Mitt Romney’s Mormon background will have more of an impact in the general election?

MR. SMITH: It could. It certainly won’t have an impact in New Hampshire. In fact, candidates who wear their religion on their sleeves up here tend not to do very well. In the general election, it could, and I think it could by – I doubt that – let me put it this way. I doubt that many Republicans will say, “You know what? I would rather have Barack Obama in office than a Mormon in office.” Republicans are mad as hell against the Obama Administration. They’d rather have a person with three heads in office or a Satanist in office than Barack Obama.

But it may diminish turnout for some people. They may not vote for Obama, but they may decide to stay home. I don't know how many that is, but the other thing is you could see it used against him in a kind of cynical, nasty way by the Obama campaign trying to exploit whatever weakness they feel is there with Romney, if he gets the nomination. Unfortunately, religion has been used in the past in American political campaigns. It was used by Republicans against Romney in 2008. Mike Huckabee made a pretty clear pitch to Iowa voters in 2008 to not vote for Romney because he was – those Evangelicals in Iowa viewed – or many of them view Mormonism as a cult. So I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s used against him. It will have to be done in a kind of way that you can disown or say that you’ve got nothing really to do with it. But I could see it be used in a general campaign.

OPERATOR: Once again, to ask a question, press *1.

MODERATOR: And if I could just ask one more question, and then it seems like we’ve run out of questions from journalists --

MR. SMITH: Okay.

MODERATOR: What time do you expect us to start hearing about – oh, we do have a question from Ana Maria Coman of Radio Romania.

QUESTION: Hello. Can you hear me?

MR. SMITH: I sure can.

QUESTION: Okay. My question would be who has a better chance of finishing second in the election in New Hampshire, and what would that mean for the next elections in the other states?

MR. SMITH: That, I think, is the most interesting thing to pay attention to here. There – that and the magnitude of Romney’s expected victory. But right – the last polls were showing Ron Paul in second place, but not by a significant margin, anywhere between 17 and maybe 20 percent of the vote. But Ron Paul has typically not been able to deliver his poll numbers at the polls. He certainly wasn’t able to in Iowa this year, and he didn’t do it in 2008 as well. His supporters tend to be younger and less partisan. And frankly, in a Republican primary, those are two demographics that are less likely to show up and vote. But Ron Paul’s probably the most likely to win second place.

The next most likely would be Jon Huntsman, who’s been doing a lot of advertising over this final weekend, who the press has indicated – and I don’t know if we’ll see this in the general, in the election, but has indicated that he did very well in the final debate. The problem that Huntsman has is that his support comes primarily from self-identified Democrats who are able to vote in the Republican primary because of their party registration, and it’s hard enough to get people from your own party to come out and vote in a primary, it’s really hard to convince people from the opposite party to come out and vote in a primary. So Huntsman is likely to be the best person to challenge for second place if it’s not Ron Paul, but it’s going to be tough for either of them.

Paul and Huntsman also, I think, are the best to finish in second place simply because they’ve had significant advertising on television here over this last weekend. Newt Gingrich has had some, but not very much. Rick Santorum has had no advertising on television, so he has to rely on what they call earned media here, meaning the stuff that people like you, the American equivalent of reporters, put in the newspaper coverage or the television coverage.

QUESTION: Thank you.

OPERATOR: Next question comes from Janine Harper. Please state your affiliation.

QUESTION: Fuji TV. Hello.


QUESTION: Hi. There’s some initial reports that Jon Huntsman was concentrating his campaign efforts on New Hampshire. Would you say that those efforts died out or they were unsuccessful? How would you characterize his campaign in New Hampshire?

MR. SMITH: I would say that he did absolutely concentrate in New Hampshire, but I think that – I don’t know if they were successful, because it doesn’t appear to me that he was really running for President this year. What I think Huntsman was doing was really laying the groundwork for maybe a campaign in 2016 or perhaps a position as, say, Secretary of State.

He made a lot of speeches in New Hampshire, but he never built a campaign organization here. He never recruited very many volunteers, set up local offices, did the telephone calling and knocking on doors to identify prospective voters that is necessary, targeted them with information, which is necessary. So I think he would have been much more successful had he built a campaign organization and not just given some speeches. I think that’s his biggest weakness in New Hampshire. He may have been able to capitalize on coming to New Hampshire a lot if he had an organization to go with it, but he really doesn’t have that organization, so I’m anticipating he’ll be somewhat limited.

The strategic error that he made though was that he was unknown coming into New Hampshire. If anybody here knew anything about him at all, it was that he had been President Obama’s ambassador and – which means like he was playing for the opposing team. And then the second thing he did was he very consciously distanced himself from other Republicans, saying that he’s not one of “those kind of Republicans,” meaning Republicans who maybe question global warming or didn’t believe in evolution and so forth. And that, I think, frankly, turned off some Republicans. And so they see him then as a Republican who’s being disrespectful to other Republicans, and also who worked for a Democratic administration who they’re desperately trying to defeat, and I think the fruits of that strategy are that he’s really only doing well among those undeclared voters who are really Democrats but who are voting in the primary.

OPERATOR: And at this time, there are no further questions.

MODERATOR: Well, if I could just close, unless someone else has another question, I just wanted to ask what time you expect announcements to be made about --

MR. SMITH: Well --

QUESTION: -- the standing.

MR. SMITH: Sure. I think the city of Manchester, which is the largest city in the state, closes – its polls close at 7 o’clock, and the returns typically come back quite quickly, typically by 7:30. And I think looking at the Manchester results will give us a really good indication of what’s likely to happen in the state. If Romney gets somewhere around 40 percent or so in Manchester, he’s likely to be declared the winner as soon as the other polls close because it – that sort of trend typically holds over in the rest of the state, and as soon as the polls close at 8 o’clock in the rest of the state, he’s probably going to be declared the winner. The actual margin of his victory won’t be known, and the second-place finisher and third-place finisher won’t be known until later. But I think that you could pretty much expect this to be done by, say, 9:30 tonight where we have a – maybe not all of the votes counted, but (inaudible) votes counted and not much else could move.

MODERATOR: Okay. Well, that’s good to know. Thank you so much, Andy, for taking time out of your day in Manchester to talk to us. We really appreciate your willingness to do this and all of your insights and knowledge about the scene in New Hampshire. So I thank all the participants for today and look forward to finding out the results tonight.

MR. SMITH: Thank you. It was my pleasure.

MODERATOR: Thanks again.