New Hampshire is known for its close elections, and in that respect, the 2016 elections certainly did not disappoint. Though Barack Obama won New Hampshire by a solid 6 percent margin in 2012, Hillary Clinton won New Hampshire by a margin of only 0.3 percent. Thus, New Hampshire was the closest state in the 2016 presidential election in terms of the popular vote, and the second-closest (after Michigan) in terms of percentage. Furthermore, New Hampshire’s U.S. Senate race, between incumbent Republican Kelly Ayotte and Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, was also predicted to be very close, and in fact it was even closer than the presidential election, with Hassan coming out ahead by approximately 1,000 votes. Rounding out the statewide elections in New Hampshire was the gubernatorial election, which was also relatively close, as Republican Executive Councillor Chris Sununu won by less than 2.5 percent.
But how did Donald Trump get so close to winning New Hampshire? Why didn’t Kelly Ayotte outperform him, as it was widely suspected that she would? And why wasn’t the gubernatorial election as close as the presidential or senatorial elections? For answers to those questions, and a detailed analysis of those three statewide elections, read on.
At first glance, this looks like a fairly normal map of New Hampshire. Democrats win easily in Concord, Keene, Durham, Portsmouth, and Lebanon-Hanover, and win Manchester and Nashua by narrower margins. Republicans win the Manchester suburbs and western Rockingham County, Belknap County, and southern Carroll County. What is more revealing would be to look at how each town swung from the 2012 presidential election to the 2016 presidential election. This map is below.
As the map shows, the vast majority of towns in New Hampshire swung toward the Republicans in 2016. It is clear that, as was the case in so many other states, white working-class voters swung heavily toward Trump. Coös County, the northernmost, least populated, and poorest county in New Hampshire, swung from a 17-point Obama win in 2012 to a 9-point Trump win this year. The working-class mill town of Berlin gave Hillary only a 4-point win despite voting for Obama by 38 points in 2012. The swing in other North Country mill towns, such as Northumberland (which contains the village of Groveton) was just as large. In addition, other working-class towns outside of northern New Hampshire, such as Franklin and Rochester (both of which voted for Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary but for Sanders in 2016), also had large swings toward Trump.
Many people had assumed that Hillary would do better in suburban towns than Obama did, however, with the exception of very wealthy suburbs, that did not happen. The middle-class suburban towns of Pembroke, Goffstown, Merrimack, Derry, Hudson, Pelham, and Salem all saw substantial swings in Trump’s direction. In addition, both Manchester and Nashua themselves swung toward Trump. Most small rural towns also saw swings towards Trump of various sizes.
Most of the towns that swung toward Hillary are particularly wealthy and well-educated. The entire Seacoast region (with the notable and glaring exception of Seabrook) swung toward Hillary, as well as the rich suburban towns of Bedford, Windham, and Amherst. The two college towns of Hanover (Dartmouth) and New London (Colby-Sawyer) also both swung toward Hillary, no doubt helped by their well-educated populaces.
Thus, it seems that one of the Clinton campaign’s major miscalculations was their assumption that both middle-class and wealthy suburbs would swing in her direction. In reality, it was only the wealthy suburbs that did so; and since in most states, middle-class suburbanites outnumber upper-class suburbanites, the end result is that nowhere near enough suburbanites switched to her in order to offset her losses among rural voters.
The results of the U.S. Senate election underscore just how much greater the number of Obama/Trump working-class voters was in New Hampshire than Romney/Clinton wealthy suburbanites. As the swing map shows, Hillary outperformed Hassan in essentially all the towns where she outperformed Obama in 2012. Thus, Hassan performed about as well as Obama did in those towns. However, Hassan outperformed Hillary in almost every working-class town in New Hampshire. The crucial part of this, though, is that while Hassan outperformed Hillary in working-class towns, she was still well off Obama’s 2012 performance in most of those towns. Berlin is a good example: Hillary got 50 percent, Hassan received 55 percent, and Obama received 68 percent in 2012. Thus, Hassan only needed to win back about a third of those Obama/Trump working-class voters in order to cancel out her underperforming Hillary in the wealthy suburbs. This shows that small-town working-class voters are a much larger voting bloc in New Hampshire than wealthy suburbanites.
So why didn’t Ayotte outperform Trump? Because again, many people expected the middle-class suburban towns to behave similarly to the wealthy suburbs. It was widely expected that Ayotte would outperform Trump in the wealthy suburbs, and indeed she did. However, she ran just about even with Trump in the middle-class suburbs, and underperformed him in most small-town and working-class areas (possibly due to her well-publicized un-endorsement of him). Based on the downballot results (which will be discussed in a future article), many working-class voters who normally vote Democratic voted for Trump for President, and then voted mostly for Democrats downballot. Ayotte’s un-endorsement of Trump gave these normally-Democratic voters little reason to vote for her.
The map of the gubernatorial election results looks pretty similar to that of the Senate election, and in fact it was, with one crucial difference. The following map compares the performances of Maggie Hassan (who won) and Colin Van Ostern (who lost). Towns where Hassan outperformed Van Ostern are in shades of blue, and towns where Van Ostern outperformed Hassan are in shades of red.
As the map shows, in most of the state they ran roughly even with each other, both outperforming and underperforming Hillary in roughly the same places. Hassan’s small outperformances in the Keene area and Carroll County canceled out Van Ostern’s small outperformances in the Concord area and the Pemigewasset River Valley. However, in the southeastern corner of New Hampshire is a large area where Hassan outperformed Van Ostern by substantial margins. This area corresponds very closely to Chris Sununu’s Executive Council district (Executive Council district borders are shown on the above map). The voters in these towns knew Sununu well since he had represented them on the Executive Council for six years, and he had consistently outperformed most other Republicans in his elections. Notably, Van Ostern did not outperform Hassan in most of his Executive Council district – only in the Concord area, where he lives. This may be because 1) Van Ostern had only represented his district for four years, and 2) Van Ostern, unlike Sununu, did not have a record of attracting crossover votes in his Executive Council elections – in fact, he underperformed Obama in 2012 and Hassan in both 2012 and 2014.
If Van Ostern had run even with Hassan in Chris Sununu’s Executive Council district, then he would have performed approximately as well as Hassan did statewide (Sununu’s entire margin of victory came from his outperforming Ayotte in his Executive Council district). If that had happened, then, considering how narrow Hassan’s victory was, Van Ostern would have had approximately even odds of winning. However, Sununu’s outperforming Ayotte in his Executive Council district, and the lack of a similar overperformance by Van Ostern in his Executive Council district, ultimately doomed Van Ostern to defeat.
Keep your eyes peeled for my next article analyzing the 2016 election results in New England!