Despite polls, history says Warren and Sanders will do well in New Hampshire

Good fences make good neighbors, but do good neighbors make good POTUS nominees?

A fascinating new analysis by the data geeks at FiveThirtyEight finds a strong correlation between proximity and performance for candidates in the New Hampshire presidential primary. How strong?

Starting with Sen. Ed Muskie (D-Maine) in 1972 and continuing through Bernie Sanders’ big win in 2016, every single major POTUS candidate from a neighboring state either won the New Hampshire primary or came in second. Every. Single. One.

As FiveThirtyEight’s Nathaniel Rakich writes:

“Of the nine (major candidates), six finished in first place, and three finished in second. In other words, when politicians from neighboring states contest the New Hampshire primary, they win it 67 percent of the time, and impressively, they have always finished in the top two.”

As GOP consultant Dave Carney said of these stats, “The facts are hard to argue with.” The question is why? Is it the case that Granite State primary voters backed Mike Dukakis and Mitt Romney just because they were locals? Or put another way, would John Edwards and Newt Gingrich have finished first in New Hampshire if they’d been from Down Maine instead of down south?

Rakich lists several facts that likely contribute to this home field advantage:

  • 84 percent of New Hampshire’s population gets Boston TV stations. The rest are in either the Portland or Burlington media markets.
  • 25 percent of New Hampshire residents were born in Massachusetts.
  • New England is also physically small, with six states packed into an area smaller than South Dakota.
  • New Englanders share a cultural and political identity: colonial heritage, reverence for town government and love for Dunkin’ and the Red Sox.

But success in New Hampshire doesn’t ensure success thereafter. Of the four major-party nominees from Massachusetts since WWII (JFK, Dukakis, Kerry and Romney), only one made it to the White House.

This nine-for-nine number — first or second — could be a coincidence. Reagan won big in New Hampshire, Pat Buchanan was a surprisingly strong 2nd-place finisher in 1992, and the Granite State is widely viewed as having rescued the endangered candidacy of Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton that same year. Their success was based on their ideology, their message and their political talent. The map only means so much.

With this history of success for local candidates comes expectations. Perhaps Bernie Sanders and Liz Warren will be the top-two finishers in New Hampshire, but right now neither is even competitive with Joe Biden in the polls. Would finishing out of the top two mean their candidacies were finished as well?

Another fact: No New England candidate in the modern era has ever lost New Hampshire and then gone on to become their party’s nominee.

Michael Graham is politics editor at InsideSources.

 

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