A Reminder About This Primary Season: "It's Still Early Yet"

Jan 7, 2016

Credit NHPR Staff

Dayton Duncan, a veteran of the New Hampshire primary as both a member of the state's press and the political classes, has a friendly reminder to those who’ve been voraciously following the election for the last year or longer: “It’s still early yet.”

In a column for the Boston Globe, Duncan recalled one interaction with a voter in the weeks before the 1988 primary. It taught him an important lesson about the difference between the way political activists (and journalists) view the final stretch of the primary, and the way the rest of the state does.

On one night in 1988, less than two weeks before the vote, I was following one of the activists going door to door. It was snowing and cold. By this time, he had devoted nearly a year of sweat, toil, worry, and stress to the cause of Congressman Richard Gephardt.

At one house, an elderly woman answered the door and listened politely to his short spiel for Gephardt. When he asked her if she’d made up her mind about which candidate she was voting for, she smiled and shook her head and told him what he had been hearing at most of the other doors. “No,” she said sweetly, “it’s early yet.”

And if polls today are any indication, Duncan’s anecdote has some merit. As Nate Cohn pointed out in a recent post for The Upshot, a lot can change in these final weeks leading up to the opening nominating contests.

“In recent primary campaigns, going back to the 2004 Democratic primary, those candidates who have led in Iowa or New Hampshire polls with just one month to go have lost as often as they have won,” Cohn wrote. “On average, candidates’ share of the vote at this stage differed from their final share of the vote by around seven percentage points. With many candidates running, it was not at all uncommon for a candidate to move by more.”

So while it might seem like this primary — which, in some ways, began even before the first votes were cast in the 2014 midterm elections — has already had a long life, in some ways the fun’s just getting started.

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