Five keys to the outcome of the New Hampshire primary

Turnout and who receives Ron DeSantis’ votes now that he has dropped out of the race will decide the primary between Donald Trump and Nikki Haley

New Hampshire residents cast their ballots in the state's primary on January 23, 2024, in Concord.
New Hampshire residents cast their ballots in the state's primary on January 23, 2024, in Concord.TIMOTHY A. CLARY (AFP)
Miguel Jiménez

The New Hampshire primary is underway. At midnight, as Monday changed to Tuesday, the voters of Dixville Notch were the first to vote, following a tradition that gives the town its 15 minutes of fame every four years. The tradition has been in place since 1960, but there are now only six residents (four registered Republicans and two independents) in this remote, rural place, located in the northern part of the state, near the Canadian border. When Dixville Notch was more populous, it was tempting to analyze the results there as a clue to what would happen later in the day. It is of little predictive value now, although Nikki Haley celebrated winning all six votes there. But the keys to the New Hampshire contest on Tuesday lie elsewhere. Voter turnout, especially independents, will be a determining factor, as it will help decide whether the Republican favorite, Donald Trump, knocks out the challenger, Nikki Haley, or the fight drags on. But there are other aspects to look out for.

1. Turnout

Snow and temperatures in the low 20s led to low turnout in last week’s Iowa caucuses. Only 110,000 voters participated in the caucuses, which require greater dedication and motivation than primaries do. “Iowa did not do a good job. Voter turnout was very, very low,” New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu said recently. Both he and Secretary of State David Scanlan are predicting a large turnout in Tuesday’s primaries, which could exceed 320,000 voters, 60% of the electorate, compared to the 18% that participated in Iowa.

“The whole country is looking at New Hampshire,” Sununu said on Monday at the Haley campaign’s closing rally. This state holds a semi-open primary. Voters who are registered Republicans can only vote in Republican primaries and Democrats can only vote in Democrat ones. However, independents — those who are not registered in either party — can participate in either party’s primary. Polls show that in this group — which represents almost 40% of the voters — Haley has an advantage, while Trump comfortably dominates among Republicans. How much these groups mobilize will heavily influence the final result. In New Hampshire, some Democrats have registered as independents, although not very many. One can change one’s party registration as long as it is done by the deadline.

2. The DeSantis votes

Ron DeSantis’ decision to drop out of the race has shaped the final stretch of the New Hampshire primary campaign. By throwing in the towel before the vote, he leaves with the honor of having at least come in second in Iowa, even if his early suspension of the campaign is quite humiliating. In his message announcing the suspension of his campaign, the Florida governor endorsed Trump and dismissed Haley. According to the polls, DeSantis was only going to receive 6% to 8% of the vote, but if his supporters were to listen to him, the effect would be devastating for Haley and give Trump a landslide victory, as in Iowa. However, the polls do not indicate that DeSantis’ votes will go to Trump that easily.

3. The difference between Trump and Haley

Turnout and the distribution of DeSantis’ votes will decide the outcome of the primary. The latest polls indicate a 15 to 20 point difference in Trump’s favor. That is obviously the key polling data. For Trump, winning this Tuesday would all but lock up the nomination, even though New Hampshire only awards 11 delegates. In the past half-century, every candidate who has won both Iowa and New Hampshire in competitive primaries has gone on to win the primary, and Trump has the dominance comparable to that of a sitting president.

Haley has the best prospects in New Hampshire. She has the support of the governor, can win the backing of independent voters, and, generally speaking, the state is more moderate than average. Even the candidate’s initials are the same as the state’s, which allows for gimmicky sign designs. If Nikki Haley doesn’t win in New Hampshire, where is she going to win? If she doesn’t lose by a slim margin in New Hampshire, where will she do better? Those will be the questions if the results are what the polls predict. On the other hand, if the candidate does pull off an upset, the question will be: can her success be repeated in other states?

Nikki Haley
Nikki Haley on Monday at a campaign event in Salem, New Hampshire. BRIAN SNYDER (REUTERS)

4. Biden off the ballot

In Iowa, there were only Republican caucuses. In New Hampshire, however, both Republicans and Democrats are voting. But the Democratic Party does not award delegates to the winners in the state because of a dispute over the timing of the primaries. That dispute is also the reason why the president, Joe Biden, did not register in time; his name does not appear on the ballot, and he has not campaigned there. Citizens can vote for him by writing him in on the ballot, but this not only complicates voting, but also counting the ballots. In addition to the write-in campaign to vote for Biden, there is another one to write in “Ceasefire,” in reference to the Gaza war. Obviously, those votes would be invalid. There are 21 candidates on the Democratic ballot, including Minnesota Congressman Dean Phillips; self-help writer Marianne Williamson; comedian Vermin Supreme, an eccentric activist known for wearing a rubber boot on his head as a hat; and the unknown President R. Boddie. None of them stand a chance of winning.

5. The road ahead

On Monday, Donald Trump noted that the Republican primary race had begun with over a dozen contenders and now only two remain. “And I think one person will probably leave tomorrow,” he remarked, referring to Haley’s possible withdrawal. Whether the former ambassador to the U.N. and former governor of South Carolina will throw in the towel depends largely on the outcome in New Hampshire. The road ahead will not be easy. Nevada is next in the Republican primaries, but its process is somewhat confusing. The state has primaries on February 6 (voting at the polls at a defined time, like a conventional election) and caucuses (somewhat informal assemblies of citizens where they vote for their candidates) two days later. Until 2020 there were only caucuses, but that year the caucuses and canvassing were chaotic and the Democrat-led state legislature approved switching to primaries in 2024. However, the Republican Party rebelled and not only continues to hold caucuses, but it awards delegates based on them. Haley is on the primary ballots, but she will not participate in the caucuses. For Trump, who will take the delegates, the opposite is true: he is in the caucuses, but he is not on the ballot.

If there is still a contest after Nevada, the South Carolina primary is on February 24. It is Haley’s home state, but the former president has solid support there and is the clear favorite. For their part, the Democrats vote in South Carolina on February 3. Biden pushed for an earlier Democratic primary in that state, where his campaign took off four years ago, arguing that it is more diverse and better represents the United States.

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