Report: New Voters in N.H. Could Have Implications for Primary, Polling

Jan 26, 2016

Credit University of New Hampshire

Relatively new voters could play a significant role in this year's New Hampshire presidential primary.

That’s according to a new paper from the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey School of Public Policy, which looks at an influx of new residents and a rising tide of young voters, many of whom weren’t old enough to participate in past presidential primaries.

“Between 2008 and 2015, 129,000 New Hampshire citizens celebrated their 18th birthday,” the UNH researchers note. “These young voters have the potential to change the political calculus of elections because their attitudes differ from those of older, more established voters. The influence of these younger voters is heightened by the loss of 68,000 older New Hampshire residents of voting age through mortality.”

At the same time, according to the researchers, about 247,000 people moved to New Hampshire from another part of the United States — and, by their estimates, about 197,000 of them are still in the state and of voting age. That adds up to about 326,000 “potential new voters” on primary day.

These dueling demographic trends — migration and a naturally aging electorate — are worth noting for a few reasons, according to the researchers.

  • Polling implications: These findings could also call into question the effectiveness of existing systems for gaging the electorate’s preferences. For example, according to the researchers, “The high percentage of new voters means that pollsters should not rely on lists of previous primary voters to draw samples because they would systematically exclude a high fraction of the electorate, including many young voters who have shown a propensity to support Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.”
  • Political affiliation: Based on the findings of UNH’s Granite State polls, the researchers found some differences between the two groups. Overall, the group of New Hampshire voters who turned 18 after 2008 are more likely to identify as liberal, while the new state residents are more likely to identify as conservative. The younger voters are also “slightly more likely to identify as independents than either migrants or established voters,” according to the researchers.

At a broader level, the researchers also underscore some geographic shifts in the centers of power for each political party.

The Democratic base is “much larger and more geographically diverse” and increasingly rural when compared to presidential primaries back to 2000, according to the researchers. (This mirrors a similar conclusion based on data from NHPR's database of historical presidential primary results.)

The Republican base, meanwhile, has seen “only small increases” in presidential primary voters in 2000 and 2012 — but they’re increasingly concentrated “the state’s two most populous and densely settled counties, Hillsborough and Rockingham.” (For more on these trends, check out NHPR’s coverage of Democratic and Republican primary trends.)

The full report is available here, and an infographic outlining the trends (produced by UNH) is below.