Special Report

How Much the New Hampshire Primary Mattered in Every Election

The second contest in the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination process will be the New Hampshire primaries on Feb. 11. Candidates from both parties will continue the long march that leads to the national conventions in July and August when the candidates are nominated for president by the Democratic and Republican parties.

As the primaries get underway, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the campaign trails of the winner and runner-up in each party’s New Hampshire primary from 1972 to 2016. While New Hampshire has held a primary since 1916, primaries were not the important part of the nominating procedure that they are today before the 1968 presidential election. That year Democrats decided on reforms to wrest control of the nomination process away from party leaders, open up voting to more people, and make the process more transparent.

Voting statistics were obtained from the Federal Elections Committee (FEC). Because the FEC did not publish total votes cast in the New Hampshire primary elections between 1972 and 1988, voting totals for these years were taken from news and research reports where possible.

Click here to see how much the New Hampshire primary mattered in every election

The New Hampshire primary follows the Iowa caucuses on the political calendar. Here’s how important the Iowa caucuses were in every election. New Hampshire’s primary is the first in the nation by state  law, which mandates that the state hold its primary “on a Tuesday selected by the secretary of state which is 7 days or more immediately preceding the date on which any other state shall hold a similar election, whichever is earlier.” The New Hampshire electorate takes pride in electoral engagement. Voter turnout during the New Hampshire primary in 2016 was 52%, the highest of any state.

“The state has a very participatory and civic culture,” said Dante Scala, professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire, in an interview. “Candidates can get around the state pretty quickly and this lends itself to retail politicking. It’s the type of place where voters can see candidates multiple times.”

The nation’s primary process has taken on greater importance since 1972, when both parties sought to open up voting to more people. Since 1972, 10 winners of the New Hampshire primary have won the Republican nomination, and six became president. Seven victors of the New Hampshire primary gained the Democratic nomination, and three went on to become president. 

Success in New Hampshire has elevated the candidacies of formerly little-known politicians such as Jimmy Carter in 1976. However, finishing second did not foreclose the destiny of future presidents Bill Clinton in 1992, George W. Bush in 2000, and Barack Obama in 2008. Here is each president’s path to the Oval Office.

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