After the chaotic Iowa caucuses last week, New Hampshire took centre stage last night for the first-in-the-nation primary. With twenty-four delegates up for contestation, the primary in New Hampshire proves significant by serving to build or slow momentum for contenders in the Democratic primary campaign.
Moreover, New Hampshire offers a unique opportunity through its nature as an open primary: “undeclared voters” (those not registered with either party) were able to vote. This provides a larger pool of voters for primary candidates to mobilize, while also offering interesting insights into which candidates might have more potential to sway late-decision voters in the Presidential election.
As of the opening of the New Hampshire polls, eleven candidates remained in the primary race: Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Tulsi Gabbard, Amy Klobuchar, Michael Bennet, Deval Patrick, Andrew Yang, Tom Steyer, and Pete Buttigieg. Later in the day, however, it was announced that Yang would be dropping out of the race. In line with last week’s caucus, Michael Bloomberg was not on the ballot, instead choosing to concentrate resources on the primaries of the Super Tuesday states.
After a night of smooth delivery of results, Sanders declared victory in New Hampshire, bringing in 25.8 per cent of the votes, nearly two points ahead of Buttigieg. While Sanders achieved victory in terms of popular support, both Sanders and Buttigieg exited the primary with the same number of delegates secured: nine. As in Iowa, Sanders’ lead in the popular vote failed to translate to a lead in delegates. While leading in popular support can both indicate and produce momentum, the number of delegates is what will ultimately determine who becomes the Democratic nominee.
While Sanders also won the New Hampshire primary in 2016, the field looks much different this time around. Sanders was extremely successful in New Hampshire in 2016, leading Hillary Clinton by 22 percentage points. Though Sanders’ two point lead this time around may seem like a drastic loss, it is largely the result of a crowded field. Perhaps the more worrying sign for Sanders is the difference between his real lead and that predicted in the polls. His close trailing by Buttigieg was largely unexpected, with pre-election polls forecasting Sanders as maintaining a safe and far-ahead lead. Buttigieg’s rise is likely precipitated by his surprise win in Iowa. However, he is unlikely to maintain this level of success in the later states.
Apart from Sanders and Buttigieg, only Klobuchar, the declared third-place winner of New Hampshire’s primary, will be receiving pledged delegates, entering the next stage of the election trail with an additional six delegates. Both Warren and Biden failed to make strides in their campaigns, with Warren coming in fourth place with 9.3 per cent support, while Biden trails with 8.4 per cent. As both failed to reach the 15 per cent delegate threshold, neither candidate received delegates as part of their efforts in New Hampshire.
For Biden, this is the second major disappointment. The former Vice President will need to win upcoming states in order to repair the loss of momentum caused by weak finishes in the earliest states. Perhaps with this in mind, Biden skipped his own New Hampshire results event in order to begin campaigning in South Carolina.
While Buttigieg performed well in Iowa, and performed even better than predicted in last night’s primary, these successes will not break new ground for Buttigieg’s campaign. Though popular in states with a predominantly white Democratic-voting list (such as Iowa and New Hampshire), Buttigieg has failed to make any significant gains with voters of colour. Buttigieg’s real obstacles will come as the race moves to states such as Nevada and South Carolina, states with large Latino and black electorates.
Besides establishing the front-runners of the Democratic campaign come Super Tuesday, the primary in New Hampshire also reduced the playing field of potential nominees, going from eleven to nine. After receiving a mere 2.8 per cent of votes in the primary, Andrew Yang formally suspended his campaign. Despite being considered a long-shot candidate, Yang’s promotion of universal basic income allowed him a longer run than most expected. This was largely thanks to support of disaffected voters from across the ideological spectrum. His exit will further reduce the diversity of the Democratic candidates, eliminating one of the remaining candidates of colour. Senator Michael Bennet also exited the race after earning less than 1 per cent in the primary.
While the caucuses in Iowa and the primary in New Hampshire have long been used to predict the nominee, the results do not necessarily translate to the wishes of the whole Democratic electorate. Both states are comprised of predominantly white voters, and the picture will only become clearer once the Nevada caucuses and the South Carolina primary conclude in two weeks.
Edited by Evelyne Goulet and Catharina O’Donnell.
This article is part of a series on the 2020 United States elections. To see more analysis and opinion on the American presidential and congressional elections, click here.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and they do not reflect the position of the McGill Journal of Political Studies or the Political Science Students’ Association.
Image by Lauren Hill.