The New Hampshire Primary Can Predict the Future

Last week, I speculated on the wisdom of the Iowa Caucus, that quadrennial political circus that sucks all the oxygen out of the atmosphere and makes people lose their collective (and in some cases individual) minds. The conclusion I came to was that the Iowa Caucus doesn’t really do a consistent job of predicting the eventual presidential nominee of either political party.

New Hampshire receives just as much scrutiny in the political press as Iowa. This first-in-the-nation primary is so all important that some candidates will practically move there a year before the contest takes place, bound and determined to kiss every baby, shake every hand, and eat in every greasy spoon in the state.

So I decided to put the New Hampshire Primary to the same test as I did Iowa. Does this big contest really have any hand in predicting whether the winner of the primary will go on to win their party’s nomination? Or is it just a lot of hype like most things in politics?

Can Sanders keep the Bern sizzling? Image: Associated Press

Can Sanders keep the Bern sizzling?
Image: Associated Press

After doing some of my tried and true back-of-the-napkin calculations, it turns out that the Granite State just may know what it’s talking about with this politics stuff. Take a look at these numbers.

We’re going to go all the way back to 1952 for this one. Yes, we have records that go back that far. Shock of shocks: we even had telephones and TVs then.

For the Democrats, in nine of the 16 primaries held in New Hampshire between 1952 and 2012, the winner went on to become the Democratic nominee for president. If you discount sitting presidents who ran for reelection who almost always get the party nod, then the number drops to five.

Now, about that whole sitting-presidents-getting-the-party-nod thing; here’s where my “almost always” gets called out.

In 1968, beset on all sides by Vietnam, widespread unrest at home, and a fragile economy, President Lyndon Johnson was facing a tough fight for reelection. Minnesota Sen. Eugene McCarthy openly challenged him for the nomination, and New York Sen. Robert Kennedy was mulling a run. Johnson ultimately won the New Hampshire primary with 50% of the vote, but McCarthy received 41%.

Johnson was knocked on his heels by the extent of the challenge mounted against him within his own party. He quickly announced that he was not going to run for reelection. Vice President Hubert Humphrey ended up winning the nomination, losing the general election to Richard Nixon in November.

For the sake of this article, I did not count Johnson’s 1968 New Hampshire win in my tally since he did not end up running for reelection. His withdrawal essentially made the contest for the Democratic nomination that year an open race.

Will Trump keep up his "yuge" momentum? Image: Jesse Costa/WBUR

Will Trump keep up his “yuge” momentum?
Image: Jesse Costa/WBUR

As for the Republicans, New Hampshire proves a very strong predictor of what the future holds for primary winners. Of the 16 contests between 1952 and 2012, 13 New Hampshire Primary winners have gone on to seize the Republican nomination for president. If you discount the sitting presidents who ran for reelection, that number comes down to seven.

For both the Republicans and the Democrats, the New Hampshire primary is a much better indicator than the Iowa Caucus as to what the future holds for the contest’s winner. But that’s no reason for Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders to break out the champagne just yet. They both face formidable opponents to the nomination. And the GOP and Democratic national conventions are still five months away. In politics, that’s an eternity. Anything can happen.