Primary Post Mortem: Winners Not Named Romney
The young master of the hidden videotape sting operation won a major victory when he caught election clerks in Manchester and Nashua happily handing out ballots to anyone who could come up with the name of a registered voter, alive or dead. One doesn’t have to buy conspiracy theories about Democrats busing in union activists from Massachusetts to vote en masse in New Hampshire elections to think that requiring voters to produce a picture ID at the polls would fix this problem. The New Hampshire Democratic Party embarrasses itself defending the indefensible and attacking O’Keefe rather than conceding the flaw he exposed.
Pollsters were also big winners last week, predicting the outcome with laudable accuracy. Before the pollsters measured the horserace, the real challenge was predicting who would participate in an election in which one candidate was heavily favored, possibly depressing turnout; undeclared voters could vote in either primary or stay home; and where same-day registration is allowed, meaning they had to account for people who were not registered to vote.
The gold medal for accuracy goes to the Suffolk University tracking poll. Suffolk’s final poll, fielded in the two days before the primary, predicted Mitt Romney 37, Ron Paul 18, Jon Huntsman 16, Rick Santorum 11, and Newt Gingrich 9. The actual results were 39, 23, 17, 9, 9. The last surveys by Public Policy Polling, Rasmussen, and the University of New Hampshire were also close to the mark.
UNH’s Andy Smith predicted that registered Republicans would comprise 57 percent of the GOP electorate, with the balance comprised of undeclared voters. Exit polling indicated 53 percent of those casting Republican ballots were registered Republicans. Furthermore, Smith predicted that among registered Republicans, Romney would win 48 percent and Paul and Santorum would each get 14. The exit poll had those candidates at 49, 14, and 12 percent respectively.
The only place the final polls were consistently off was in underestimating the vote going to another primary winner, Ron Paul. The four pollsters all predicted Paul would get 17 or 18 percent of the vote. He actually got nearly 23 percent, tripling the number of votes he received in 2008. The pollsters were off by a factor of one-third in measuring the Paul vote.
The first thing to understand about Paul voters is that they aren’t Republicans. Exit polls show Paul did twice as well among undeclared voters (30 percent) as among Republicans (14 percent). He did much better among moderate and liberal voters than he did among conservatives. He had the biggest gender gap of any of the candidates, performing five points better among men. Memo to fall candidates: Treat Paul voters as swing voters in the general election. They are not going to punch a lot of straight tickets.
One of the reasons Ron Paul supporters haven’t gone to war with the Republican establishment in New Hampshire, as they have in other states, is because Paul activists don’t need to control a party apparatus to get nominated for state offices here. After winning nearly a quarter of the primary electorate, look for more of Paul’s apostles to run for the Legislature this year.
Another winner? Former Massachusetts residents now living in Rockingham County. When Gingrich labeled Romney a “Massachusetts moderate,” Gingrich may not have considered how many people with deep Massachusetts ties live in southern New Hampshire.
Romney carried Rockingham County with 46 percent of the vote. He carried Interstate 93 border towns Atkinson, Windham, and Salem with 58, 57, and 56 percent, respectively. These are commuting towns filled with people who vote in New Hampshire but who are oriented toward Massachusetts. They may have grown up there and still have family there. Many of them work there. They get their news from Boston media. They remember, approvingly, Romney’s time as governor.
If Romney wins South Carolina this weekend and cruises toward the nomination, get ready for the next argument in the fight to preserve the first-in-the-nation primary: It was over before we even got to vote, will say 46 or 47 states. Here we go again.
Fergus Cullen, a freelance columnist, can be reached at email@example.com