New Hampshire has a serious case of political “little man syndrome.” Dwarfed by almost every other state in the country in both land mass and population, New Hampshire is by far the smallest state represented in “The 12.” However, the “Granite State” makes up for its diminutive stature with political fervor.
Every four years, New Hampshire is home to the first Presidential primary in the nation, a distinction that many New Hampshire residents are prepared to fight tooth and nail to uphold. Exemplified by the intense nature of its state motto: “Live Free or Die,” New Hampshire has a nationwide reputation as a state where citizens value personal liberties over big government.
While this general assumption about New Hampshire residents’ political views is not necessarily accurate, what is true is that, politically, New Hampshire has an real sense of individualism. With any given election, the unpredictable New Hampshire has potential to surprise the nation.
In 2000, Republican George W. Bush won four pivotal electoral votes from New Hampshire, (in a race that was decided by only five electoral votes) despite Democratic nominee Al Gore carrying the rest of New England. However, in 2004, New Hampshire opted for Democrat John Kerry when Bush ran for re-election. Again, in 2008, New Hampshire swayed to the left, as Barack Obama defeated John McCain in the state.
The 2012 election finds New Hampshire just as it finds the rest of the nation, at a significant crossroads. On the state level, New Hampshire is slated to lose its popular four-term governor, Democrat John Lynch, who will step down following his current term.
In November, as the nation chooses its President, New Hampshire is one of 11 states that will also elect a Governor. As of right now, that election is really a toss-up No candidate from either major party has emerged as a clear frontrunner.
In exit polls during the Republican primary earlier this year, a resounding 61 percent of New Hampshire voters said that they believe economy is the most important issue going into the 2012 election, vastly outweighing other social issues such as abortion and health care.
Another significant finding in those polls is that 45 percent of those who voted are registered Independents. In a state that is known for it’s political individualism, the significant Independent population will have some real sway in deciding which candidate carries the state.
At this time, it is difficult to say that either candidate has a strong foothold in the Granite State. As of May 15, Obama holds a 12-point lead over Romney in New Hampshire polls. Romney did win the Republican primary in New Hampshire, although it was not by a landslide margin. Ron Paul also enjoyed significant voter support in the primary here.
Obama won the general election in New Hampshire in 2008, on his way to the presidency. However, as was evidenced with Kerry’s victory in 2004, New Hampshire can be unpredictable, and does not always stand by an incumbent, even when they’ve won here before.
New Hampshire has a statewide tendency towards fiscal conservatism over social conservatism. Romney’s victory over the socially conservative Rick Santorum in the Republican primary illustrates that, and Romney’s message of fiscal responsibility could resonate strongly with New Hampshire voters.
Those poll findings about New Hampshire residents’ concerns over the economy will likely trump political leanings in 2012. As the election approaches, the growth or decline of the economy should ultimately decide whether Obama or Romney emerges from New Hampshire victorious.
Jake DeSchuiteneer is a junior at the Univ. of New Hampshire. He works as a copy editor for the student-operated, pop-culture/general interest publication Main Street Magazine, contributes I also contribute to UNH’s student newspaper, The New Hampshire, as a news and sports writer and writes a blog called Blue Anvil music.