As I was writing the article on the history of the New Hampshire primary for today’s Examiner, it struck me that the 2008 New Hampshire results seemed to be similar to those of the later primaries of both parties. So I calculated the figures, and it turns out to be so. In the Democratic primary in New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton beat Barack Obama by a margin of 39.1%-36.5%, a margin of 2.6% (I’m using tenths of a percentage, which I ordinarily don’t do, to make this particular point). If you aggregate the total votes in later primaries, including those in Florida and Michigan which were contrary to Democratic party rules, you find that both Clinton and Obama had larger percentages, for the obvious reason that John Edwards, who finished third in New Hampshire with 16.9% of the vote, dropped out. But the percentage difference between their totals was very similar to that in New Hampshire. Overall, Clinton beat Obama 48.3%-47.1%, a difference of 1.2%. Obama won the nomination, despite getting outvoted in the primaries, because he won by big margins in the caucuses and among the superdelegates.
John McCain led Mitt Romney in the New Hampshire primary by 37.0%-31.6%, a 5.4% margin. In the succeeding 18 primaries in which both competed, up to Super Tuesday February 5, McCain beat Romney in the total popular vote by 38.6%-32.1%, a 6.5% margin. That’s pretty darn close.
Does that mean there’s a political science rule that New Hampshire foreshadows later primary results? Or that if Mitt Romney, as expected, wins by a big margin in New Hamsphire he is fated to win later contested primaries by a big margin?
I don’t think so. For one thing, Romney has advantages in New Hampshire he does not have elsewhere: he has campaigned there a lot over the last five years, he has had a chance to assemble an in-depth organization, he was governor of next-door Massachusetts whose news is transmitted to many New Hampshire television viewers over Boston TV stations and he has a vacation house in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, on Lake Winnipesaukee.