New Hampshire appears to have moved solidly behind the Blue Wall. Despite the small number of electoral votes at stake, this is a pretty disturbing development. New Hampshire is not like California or Virginia. The state hasn’t changed much in any demographic category. Losing New Hampshire means that the Republican Party has changed in some very powerful ways. Republicans haven’t so much lost New Hampshire as we’ve lost ourselves.
Over the length of the party’s history it might be difficult to find a more decisively Republican state. Hoover won New Hampshire twice. FDR barely carried the state, even during World War II. Perhaps more clearly than any other state, New Hampshire demonstrates how the Dixiefication of the Republican Party is destroying its ability to compete nationally.
No Republican Presidential nominee has cracked the 50% mark in NH since 1988. Charting the electoral numbers there since the 1970’s exposes, on average, a drift away from the GOP by about a 20-point margin – like putting a hole in a bucket and watching it slowly drain.
Obama won there twice and Kerry beat Bush. Clinton won there both times. NH is a bastion of the older, Hamiltonian strain of conservatism that has been marginalized by the rise of religious fundamentalism and Neo-Confederate economics. The ‘Live Free or Die’ state has not become more Democratic. It has been orphaned.
Of course, the 2010 election stands out as a big Republican win. The GOP’s Senate candidate won a whopping victory, but there was an interesting caveat. The Democratic Governor also won. This distinction is very important to analyzing the meaning of that outcome.
The 2010 Governor’s race and the 2014 election were important to determine whether 2010 represented a change of direction, or an anomalous single-issue election built on Affordable Care Act paranoia. Clearly, it was the latter.
Looking closely at the 2014 results you see a door solidly closing on Republicans. This was a year of remarkable success for Republicans nationwide. It should have been a great year for Republicans in New Hampshire. Enthusiasm and participation among the party base was very high. Meanwhile overall voter turnout in the state was weak, down nearly 25 percentage points from 2012. This was the best electorate New Hampshire Republicans could possibly ask for and it delivered a thumping loss.
Forces influencing the outcome there are slightly different than elsewhere in the country. The electorate in New Hampshire is almost entirely white, with the usual demographic trends largely absent. That’s part of what makes New Hampshire such a signal loss for Republicans.
The main demographic forces at play were education and gender. New Hampshire voters, like voters in many Northeastern states, are far more educated than voters in solidly red states like Indiana or Mississippi. Wherever that is the case, you also tend to get a wider than usual gender gap between the parties. While education and gender provided Democrats with their margin of victory, those demographic factors were present when the state was solidly Republican. They explain the Democrats victory in 2014, but they don’t explain the trend-line.
It is critical to recognize that New Hampshire’s education level, urban/rural split, immigrant and minority populations have changed less over time than perhaps any other region of the country. New Hampshire is the nearest thing to a demographic time capsule that you’ll find in America. In demographic terms this is the same electorate that enthusiastically backed Hoover, Nixon and Reagan. Now they are about 30% more likely to back a Democrat than they were in the ‘70’s. Why?
New Hampshire fosters a political culture of fierce personal independence, an attitude that matches the current Republican agenda on many fiscal and regulatory issues. What doesn’t play in New Hampshire is the radical religious agenda that accompanies Neo-Confederate politics. There aren’t a lot of Southern Baptists in New Hampshire and the white nationalist cultural appeals that drive Republican politics in Texas and Mississippi are an electoral drag.
That drag is becoming too powerful for even moderate Republican candidates to overcome. The party’s 2014 Senate candidate steered clear of controversy on abortion, gay marriage, reproductive issues or any other culture war landmarks. Nevertheless he lost women by a 20-point margin.
Senate candidate Scott Brown could not generate enough distance from the national party. Neither could the party’s candidate for Governor. If Brown couldn’t win with all the structural advantages Republicans enjoyed in the 2014 race, then the tide has turned for the foreseeable future. A political party defined more by Ted Cruz than by Chris Christie will remain too toxic to win in New Hampshire.