Iowa and New Hampshire host the first major electoral events of the national election year — caucuses and a primary respectively. As a result of this position at the head of the pack, the judgements of these trail-blazing states attract massive media attention, and have the power to make or break the races of presidential hopefuls. Both states are extraordinary testing grounds, but each requires a distinct and nuanced approach.
So what are the key differences candidates must account for?
Firstly, and most obviously — by definition — one is a caucus and the other is a primary.
Iowa hosts 99 conventions (one for each county) with meetings occurring in each of the state’s 1,774 precincts. Vastly different from primary elections, caucus-goers elect delegates to county conventions who in turn elect delegates to district and state conventions where Iowa’s 25 national convention delegates will be selected. The process is indirect and informal, often defined as “gatherings of neighbors” instead of official elections.
The New Hampshire primary, by contrast, directly elects the state’s national delegates. Immediately, the stakes are raised — suddenly and seriously. Candidates dubbed “perfect for Iowa” — this year Paul and Santorum — may flounder in New Hampshire. And in an equal and opposite reaction, candidates like Jon Huntsman skip Iowa entirely and make their first move in the East-Coast state.
Here’s the difference in numbers:
In Iowa, Romney and Santorum both won 25% of the votes, Paul had 22% and Gingrich finished with 14%. Meanwhile in New Hampshire, (at time of print) Romney is expected to gather up 43.1% of the vote, Paul 24.2%, Santorum down at 12.3%, Gingrich at 9% and Huntsman just behind with 8.6%.
Another key distinction to take into account is that New Hampshire is not a closed primary in which votes can only be cast by members of the party whose primary it is. Undeclared — in other words, unregistered voters — can vote. (But, the system does not quite meet the common definition of an open primary, because people registered as Republican or Democrat cannot cast ballots in the primary of the other party.)
Still, the essence of an open primary remains, with wide popular participation and a non-partisan flavor with all but the staunchest Democrats eligible to vote for the Republican presidential nominee.
As a whole, the voters are therefore less conservative — more pro-choice, and fully half are openly opposed to repealing the state’s gay marriage law. So, while Santorum beat front-runner Romney among registered Republicans in Iowa, in New Hampshire, this may prove more hindrance than help. In 2008, for example, Mormon Mike Huckabee’s win in the Iowa caucuses did little to enhance his standing in the Granite State.
As a result, it is more than likely that Huntsman and Paul (and Romney at a pinch) will compete for the non-Republican, centrist vote, come January 10th. And this also goes some way to explaining why Conservative candidates like Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann (before she dropped out) planned to go straight to the more conservative South Carolina.
In addition, as well as more centrist, voters in New Hampshire are said to be willfully independent, often discarding what Iowa voters say.
As University of New Hampshire pollster Andy Smith explains:
Historically [the Iowa result] has had little impact in New Hampshire, particularly on the Republican side. That’s largely because the electorate is very different…New Hampshire Republicans are moderate northeastern Republicans for whom social issues are largely unimportant.
New Hampshire is a new battle field for a new battle and the opening shots have been fired: “A message to the winner of the Iowa caucus,” Huntsman said on Tuesday, “Welcome to New Hampshire. No one cares.”
- Iowa bounce unlikely as Rick Santorum moves on to New Hampshire (latimes.com)
- Candidates Who Do Better Than Expected Win More Media Attention (fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Romney’s Ugly Win May Be a Charm (nytimes.com)