Expert Commentary

The New Hampshire effect in presidential nominations

2004 study in Political Research Quarterly on the impact of the New Hampshire primaries on overall election outcomes.

The political science community has built a body of literature around forecast models that demonstrate how a variety of early data points might predict the outcomes of presidential primaries. The data points considered often include early money raised and poll standings during the pre-primary or “exhibition” season — also known as the “invisible primary” — before voters and caucus goers ever participate.

A 2004 study from DePaul University, the University of Arkansas, and the University of Nebraska published in Political Research Quarterly, “The New Hampshire Effect in Presidential Nominations,” updates election forecasting models by incorporating more specific data from how candidates performed in the New Hampshire primary. The goal was to test, on average, how much New Hampshire matters to the ultimate prospects of candidates.

Key points made in the study include:

  • “The New Hampshire bounce appears to be limited to the Democratic Party, which typically lacks a clear frontrunner heading into the primaries. The two dark-horse candidates (Carter ‘76 and Hart ‘84) who gained substantial momentum during the primaries were Democrats. The New Hampshire primary played a major role in advancing both of their candidacies. The Republican candidate fields, being relatively more structured going into the primaries, are not substantially altered by the New Hampshire primary.”
  • “In contrast to the Democrats, Republican candidates are differentiated by poll standing and change in poll position during the exhibition season. In every Republican nomination campaign, a majority of party identifiers supported a frontrunner in exhibition season polls—Reagan in ‘80, Bush in ‘88, Dole in ‘96, and George W. Bush in 2000. Further, the standing of Republican frontrunners in the polls remains relatively stable throughout the exhibition season with a tendency to expand their poll lead as the primaries approach. This helps explain why Republican presidential primary outcomes are more predictable than their Democratic counterparts.”
  • “Candidates who ran in a prior nomination campaign also are neither helped nor harmed by their prior run. While Republicans have a reputation for rewarding candidates who ran strong in a previous nomination campaign, as many failed to become the nominee as won the subsequent nomination.”
  • “Cash reserves are less useful for distinguishing among Republican candidates, whose odds of winning the nomination are more dependent on their poll position going into the primaries. Well-financed Republican candidates could not take advantage of their funds to move up in or at the polls. At a relatively early date, Republican Party identifiers tend to rally around a candidate who becomes and remains the frontrunner throughout the primary season.”

The study’s authors conclude, “The Republicans are especially successful in identifying a clear frontrunner in the exhibition season, leaving Republican primary voters with a plebiscitary choice of accepting or rejecting the anointed candidate in favor of whoever emerges as the leading alternative.”

Tags: presidency, New Hampshire, Iowa, primary, caucus, presidential election

About The Author