5 Things You Should Know Before the New Hampshire Primary


Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign stop at The Colonial Theatre in Keene, N.H. The Vermont senator is up by double digits in most Democratic polls in the state.
John Minchillo, AP

With the Iowa caucuses in the books, the focus of the political world has shifted to the first-in-the-nation-primary state, New Hampshire. New Hampshire voters, with their contrarian reputation, head to the polls Tuesday. Expect the unexpected.

Here are five things to know about how it all works:

1. Voting is straightforward

Kudos to those of you who mastered the complex caucus system that Iowa uses to pick its presidential nominees. But now you can breathe a sigh of relief. In New Hampshire, it is much more straightforward. Anonymous ballots are cast at regular voting locations.

The election is also run by the New Hampshire secretary of state's office and not by the individual political parties. That means an actual vote that's able to be recounted, if necessary (though there are complicated rules for that. Check in with us if that becomes relevant).

2. Midnight voting — and lots of varied poll-close times

That doesn't mean the primary isn't without its quirks. One of those quirks is midnight voting — at least in some places. Each town in New Hampshire sets its own time for when the polls open. Three tiny towns — Dixville Notch, Hart's Location and Millsfield — choose to cast their votes just after midnight Tuesday morning.

Support comes from

How small are these places? Dixville Notch's population is just 12; Millsfield, 23; and by comparison, Hart's Location is a veritable mecca with 41 residents, according to the 2010 census, anyway.

Most polls in the state are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET. Polls in Manchester, the state's largest city with about 110,000 people, are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET.

3. It's really easy to get on the ballot

New Hampshire is a small state — both geographically and population-wise. And its politics have a very local feel, unlike in big states such as, say, California, Texas or Florida. Voters love town halls so they can kick the tires and look under the hoods of candidates. They ask probing, sometimes blunt questions at town halls, and they want to look a candidate in the eye.

Out of this culture comes the ease by which candidates can get on the ballot. All it takes is $1,000; or, if that's too much, just 100 signatures will do. That means on this year's presidential ballot, there will be 58 (yes, 58!) people — 30 on the Republican side and 28 for the Democrats.

4. A state known for its high voter participation and independent streak

New Hampshire voters are used to voting. Their governors have the shortest terms in the country, elected every two years. Because of that, in part, New Hampshire has had among the highest primary voter turnout rates in the country. In 2012, for example, 31.1 percent of all eligible voters showed up to the polls despite the Democratic side not being competitive. (Who was first? North Carolina, actually, with 31.5 percent, according to the U.S. Elections Project, maintained by Michael McDonald at the University of Florida.)

It is expected to soar much higher than that this year with both sides being competitive. New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner is predicting a record-breaking turnout in 2016 of 550,000 votes cast, or 63 percent of all registered voters. (That would break the total votes-cast record in the state of 527,349.)

Gardner also said he thinks more Republicans (about 282,000) will come out to vote, given the historically large field of candidates, than Democrats (about 268,000). For Republicans, that would break the 2012 total turnout primary record in the state of 248,475. It would fall short of the 287,556 Democrats who showed up in 2008.

And a lot of those voters are independents or undeclared — roughly 44 percent. Not surprising for a place whose state motto is "Live Free or Die." And, unlike in many other states, those independents can vote here in either the Republican or the Democratic primary. That's important because in an open presidential election, with the kind of interest that has been drummed up by this election on both sides, which way those indies go could sway the outcome.

That might be thought to help someone like Hillary Clinton, who is seen as more centrist than Bernie Sanders, but it's Sanders who has been winning independents in the state, while Clinton does best with hard-core Democrats.

By the way, if after voting, those independents want to remain undeclared, they have to fill out a form saying so before leaving the voting location. That might be seen as a sneaky way to register voters in most other states, but, see above, New Hampshire is used to this.

5. New Hampshire has had a better track record of picking GOP nominees in recent years

New Hampshire voters like to say they pick presidents while Iowa picks corn. So how true is that? Since 1976, in competitive presidential primaries, New Hampshire has selected 10 eventual nominees (five Democrats, five Republicans). That includes the last two Republicans — Mitt Romney and John McCain. The last Democrat it picked right for the nomination was John Kerry in 2004. (Obama narrowly lost to Hillary Clinton in 2008 despite leading in the polls heading into voting.)

That's only about a Hillary Clinton-Iowa-size win better than New Hampshire's rival first state. (Iowa has picked nine nominees in that same time frame.)

OK, but the point here was about picking presidents. So is New Hampshire good at that? The truth is, neither Iowa nor New Hampshire is that great at it. They've picked three presidents each.

And New Hampshire has struggled in the past few decades at picking presidents, honestly. Consider:

-- No Democrat who has won the New Hampshire primary has won the presidency since Jimmy Carter in 1976.

-- And no Republican has done it since George H.W. Bush in 1988.

The New Hampshire primary, though, goes further back than Iowa — all the way to 1916, actually (though back then they were voting for delegates to the national conventions, not directly for candidates). And the record holder for the most New Hampshire primary wins — three — is Richard Nixon.

State Of Play

The Big Questions


-- Can billionaire businessman Donald Trump rebound from a stinging second-place finish in Iowa last week?
-- Will Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the Iowa winner, turn his victory into momentum in a state that is far less religious?
-- Who, if anyone, will emerge as a strong establishment candidate to challenge the two aforementioned outsider candidates? (Is "Marco-mentum" real?)


-- After narrowly losing Iowa by a few tenths of a percentage point, can Sanders make New Hampshire his launching pad? Expectations may have gotten too high for him in New Hampshire, with some polls showing him as far ahead as 20 points. What's his margin on primary night? He needs momentum to swing him into more diverse states and the caches of delegates available on Super Tuesday, March 1.

-- Can Clinton repeat a come-from-behind victory, as in 2008 (or at least closer-than-expected finish) in the state, and then ride that momentum to South Carolina, where she enjoys a sizable lead in polls, because of deep ties to the black community?

New Hampshire Republicans Typically Crown An Establishment Candidate

Just three men have led the Republican polls in New Hampshire since the 2016 cycle began in earnest last year. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was an early favorite, as he was nationally, only to see his poll numbers free-fall after stumbles and the emergence of Trump. Then there was the flash-in-the-pan presidential run of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker that lasted a mere 71 days. Since then, only one person has sat atop GOP polls in the state — Trump. The former reality TV star has led, in an average of the polls, according to RealClearPolitics, since July 29 — six straight months. He still leads, but he had some of his air of inevitability punctured by last week's loss in Iowa, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has been climbing.

The true test on Tuesday may be who finishes second. For the establishment Republicans, like Bush, Govs. Chris Christie of New Jersey and John Kasich of Ohio, this may be make-or-break time for their candidacies. Christie received the endorsement of the New Hampshire Union Leader, the state's largest newspaper. It probably doesn't hurt Christie's case that the newspaper's publisher, Joe McQuaid, has had a very public and toxic feud with Trump for months now. Kasich got the Boston Globe (and the New York Times) behind him. He kept a light footprint in Iowa and is virtually putting all his marbles into the New Hampshire basket, spending more than $10 million on TV ads here.

Meanwhile, Bush has spent the most on ads and has more staff on the ground there than any other campaign. If he can't muster a strong finish, it's difficult to see a path forward for him.

Democrats Are 'Feeling The Bern' This Year, But New Hampshire Has Been Good To The Clintons, Too

If recent polling holds true to form, New Hampshire may not be much of a contest on the Democratic side. Sanders, the white-haired, bespectacled septuagenarian with a sledgehammer of a message, holds a commanding double-digit lead there, according to an average of the polls.

Make no mistake — Sanders, who represents neighboring Vermont, needs a win here. His campaign believes if he can pull off a strong victory, it can raise along the lines of $30 million to $40 million within days. That's cash it needs to compete with the Clinton juggernaut in the race for delegates and to spread his appealing message across the country, especially with minority voters. Nonwhites, after all, make up about 40 percent of the Democratic Party, but Iowa and New Hampshire are overwhelmingly white.

His campaign will almost certainly be propelled by his narrow loss in Iowa. The Sanders camp is calling for the Democratic National Committee to release raw-vote totals from Iowa, and there are reports that the Sanders campaign is preparing to challenge the caucus results. As WBUR's Steve Koczela puts it:

"But both primaries tend to be dominated by white, liberal voters, which is Sanders' best demographic group. Sanders' Achilles heel has always been his support among nonwhite voters. ... As the primary moves into more diverse states, he will need to expand his reach, or will stand little chance of making the race competitive in the long term."

New Hampshire, though, has been kind to the Clintons in the past. In 2008, Hillary Clinton won the New Hampshire primary by slightly more than 2 percentage points, after losing in Iowa to then-Sen. Barack Obama. When her husband, Bill, ran in 1992, he earned the nickname of "The Comeback Kid" there even though he came in second to Paul Tsongas. A second-place finish for Hillary Clinton on Tuesday, though, would most likely not yield a similar moniker.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit

You won’t find a paywall here. Come as often as you like — we’re not counting. You’ve found a like-minded tribe that cherishes what a free press stands for. If you can spend another couple of minutes making a pledge of as little as $5, you’ll feel like a superhero defending democracy for less than the cost of a month of Netflix.