We’re on to milepost two of the long march to the Democratic presidential nomination: the New Hampshire primary. Will it be less of a cluster than the Iowa caucus? There’s pretty much no way it couldn’t be! Unlike in Iowa, every vote in New Hampshire counts as one vote; there are no weird intermediate steps like state delegate equivalents along the way to figuring out how the delegates to the national convention are assigned. There’s no second-round allocation for voters whose candidates weren’t viable, and there’s no leverage to be achieved by doing better in sparsely populated areas. And the elections will be administered by experienced professionals, instead of by old-timers trying to report results using an app that they’ve never used before.
So the New Hampshire primary is simply a lot less opaque than the process in Iowa, and any explainer of New Hampshire’s primary isn’t going to have as many things that need to be explained as one about Iowa. On top of that, unlike in Iowa, the person who’s going to finish on top of the polls in New Hampshire seems pretty clear in advance: Bernie Sanders, who won a clear victory in the Granite State’s primary in 2016, is also in the lead this time, according to current polling averages.
Winning New Hampshire narrowly, however, isn’t going to lead to a big bonanza of delegates, which of course is what you actually need in order to get the nomination. New Hampshire doesn’t have a lot of delegates, given its small population. Even in 2016, when Sanders swamped Hillary Clinton 60-38, he emerged from New Hampshire with a net delegate lead of only 6 (winning 15 delegates to Clinton’s 9). So a narrower victory by Sanders over Pete Buttigieg this year (as of Monday morning, Sanders leads Buttigieg 26-21 in FiveThirtyEight’s polling average) will lead to a smaller net delegate haul for Sanders.
As in 2016, there are 24 delegates up for grabs in New Hampshire this year. (That contrasts with Iowa’s 41.) They break down as follows:
- 5 at-large statewide delegates.
- 3 statewide delegates drawn from party leaders and elected officials (aka “PLEO” delegates), allocated in the same way as the at-large delegates.
- 8 delegates in the 1st Congressional District.
- 8 delegates in the 2nd Congressional District.
New Hampshire also has nine superdelegates—they of course are not allocated during the primary, and they are able to vote as they wish in a second round of balloting at the Democratic National Convention. They include New Hampshire’s five DNC members and its four Congress members: Maggie Hassan, Jeanne Shaheen, Chris Pappas, and Ann Kuster (the only one of the four who has endorsed—she’s a Buttigieg supporter).
This year, the 15% threshold of votes statewide or at the district level required for candidates to be allocated delegates looms extremely large in New Hampshire, thanks to the large number of candidates. (Remember, again, that this 15% threshold applies to all Democratic contests; they don’t have any winner-take-all states the way Republicans did in 2016.) It’s entirely possible that Sanders and Buttigieg are the only candidates who will clear that hurdle: Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden are both at 13, with Amy Klobuchar at 10 in FiveThirtyEight’s average. You might think, “Well, Warren and Biden will climb over 15 once undecideds have to decide,” but keep in mind that FiveThirtyEight’s average only contains around 6% undecided voters, so there’s not much there in that pool for Warren, Biden, or Klobuchar to draw on.
And a scenario in which they’re the only two viable candidates would be the best-case scenario for both Sanders and Buttigieg. If that’s the case, for instance, they could end up emerging from New Hampshire with 13 delegates for Sanders and 11 for Buttigieg, total; for instance, they each split each of the congressional districts 4-4, but Sanders benefits from the odd numbers of delegates in the statewide batches to win those 3-2 and 2-1.
But if, say, Warren sneaks over the 15% line both statewide and in both congressional districts, that scrambles the math somewhat. Instead, you’d see a possible scenario in which each district gives 3 to Sanders and Buttigieg and 2 to Warren; the at-large delegates go 2-2-1, and the PLEOs go 1-1-1. This would give 9 to Sanders, 9 to Buttigieg, and 6 to Warren.
And if Biden manages to squeak over the 15% line, you could see a scenario in which Sanders’ and Buttigieg’s 5-to-10-point leads over the rest of the field are left largely irrelevant, in which each district breaks down 2-2-2-2, the at-large delegates go 2-1-1-1, and the PLEOs go 1-1-1-0. In other words, the delegate hauls could be 7 for Sanders, 6 for Buttigieg, 6 for Warren, and 5 for Biden, essentially leaving New Hampshire a wash.
One question we should ask, though, is this: Is there some difference between the state’s two congressional districts that might lead them to vote differently? In other words, could we expect one of the candidates to do massively better in one district while doing worse in the other, which could throw off that math?
The most likely answer is … no, not much. New Hampshire’s 1st and 2nd congressional districts are remarkably demographically similar. Much as in Iowa, they’re both very white and relatively old, and not terribly representative of the nationwide Democratic electorate. And they vote similarly in general elections: The 1st District went 48 Trump/47 Clinton in 2016, while the 2nd District went 49 Clinton/46 Trump.
- New Hampshire: 90% white/1% black/3% Asian/4% Hispanic; 19% 20-34 years/18% 65+ years
- NH-01: 90% white/2% black/3% Asian/4% Hispanic; 20% 20-34 years/18% 65+ years
- NH-02: 90% white/1% black/3% Asian/4% Hispanic; 18% 20-34 years/19% 65+ years
It is worth noting, though, that Sanders did appreciably better in New Hampshire’s 2nd District than in the 1st in the 2016 primary. Sanders’ two best counties in 2016, Cheshire and Grafton, are in the state’s southwestern corner and in the 2nd District; meanwhile, Clinton’s two best counties from 2016, Hillsborough and Rockingham, are in the state’s southeast and comprise the bulk of the 1st District. (If you’re looking for those counties as the night unfolds, though, the problem is that New Hampshire, like the rest of New England, reports on a town-by-town basis. Towns you might watch in the 1st District include Manchester and Portsmouth; towns you might watch in the 2nd include Keene and Claremont.)
That may have less to do with demographics, though, than with media markets: The areas of the state that face Vermont, along the Connecticut River, are part of the Burlington, Vermont, media market, and, as a result, Sanders has been a longtime media presence there. The areas of the state that are adjacent to the Massachusetts border are part of the Boston media market. (The northernmost counties in the state are in the Portland, Maine, market, but they represent only a small percentage of the state’s total population.)
So we could see, for instance, a 5-3 split in Sanders’ favor in the 2nd District, but a 4-4 tie with Buttigieg in the 1st District, which could help Sanders eke out one more delegate. Keeping in mind that, unlike in 2016, there’s a senator from the Boston media market in the race, we could also potentially see Elizabeth Warren do relatively well in the 1st District but not in the 2nd District, and she could cross the viability hurdle in the 1st District even if she isn’t viable statewide.
In the end, though, even if New Hampshire manages not to screw things up as thoroughly as Iowa did, its primary is likely have similar results to Iowa’s: The top few candidates will emerge with a very similar number of delegates. Instead, its value is mostly in narrative-setting, in terms of who emerges with “momentum” as we start heading toward more populous states, and in terms of winnowing less-viable candidates (certainly Michael Bennet, and, depending on how she fares, maybe even Klobuchar). But as we turn to less-white states next, with South Carolina and then Super Tuesday poised to give Biden an opening to jump back into the thick of things, it’s not clear that New Hampshire will much do to shape the trajectory of the race this year in a lasting way.
Polls in New Hampshire close at 7 PM ET, though its larger cities have the option of keeping polls open until 8 PM. Daily Kos Elections will be liveblogging throughout the evening.