Election Database

For political observers and journalists, there is something appealing about the idea of a bellwether town -- a place whose vote in an election consistently matches up with the statewide totals. Journalists can patrol the main streets of bellwethers for man-on-the-street interviews, confident they will feel shifts in the broader political winds.

But the data shows that true bellwethers are an endangered species in many parts of the country. 

Sean Hurley

Here's a question: Which New Hampshire community is the best bellwether for the statewide political climate? It's not an old industrial city, or a Seacoast suburb, or a lakeside resort town. It's actually the tiny Coos County village of Shelburne.  

AP

Ronald Reagan clobbered Jimmy Carter in the 1980 New Hampshire presidential election. Four years later, he did the same to Walter Mondale. So resounding were those thumpings, Carter won just two towns in the state, Mondale five. 

Republican supremacy in the state did not start with Reagan, nor did it end with him. But Reagan’s two victories may represent the GOP high-water mark in New Hampshire presidential contests. The question now is: Has Republican support in the state bottomed out, or could it continue to fall in 2016? And what might Donald Trump, this year's unconventional GOP nominee, mean for this trend?

Allegra Boverman / NHPR

Conventional wisdom holds that Bernie Sanders' and Donald Trump's big wins in New Hampshire’s presidential primary earlier this month were driven by hordes of irregular and first-time voters flocking to the polls.

But a review of preliminary voting data doesn’t exactly back up that premise.

If you want to know whether Hillary Clinton will stay close to Bernie Sanders Tuesday, or are looking for an early hint of how the Republican race will end up, here's a tip: Keep an eye on Rochester.

New Hampshire political history resounds with the names of candidates who used the state's First in the Nation Presidential Primary to vault to national political fame. 

Jimmy Carter. Bill Clinton. John McCain.

But what did those primary elections look like in the moment, town by town across New Hampshire? Where did Bill Clinton stake out his biggest wins, to ensure a close second-place finish in the 1992 primary (and resurrect his presidential campaign in the process)? Just how big was Patrick Buchanan's legendary win in the 1996 GOP Primary? What towns have Republican candidates most consistently relied on to win?

NHPR Staff

There is a certain mystique to the New Hampshire presidential primary: flinty New Englanders trudging to the polls through snow and cold to be the first voters in the nation to cast their ballots. That earnest, Norman Rockwell image applies to how candidates are expected to campaign in the Granite State: shaking hands at coffee shops; chatting with locals at small-town diners; courting activists one by one.

Tracy Lee Carroll / NHPR

It’s one of the most conventional nuggets of political wisdom: To win an election, first secure your base, then expand from there.

But recent New Hampshire political history shows that candidates can win their party’s core towns, and still lose the election. It happened, in both parties’ presidential primaries, in 2008. 

NHPR File Photo

Whether measured in polls, crowds or money raised, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton appear in a tight race as New Hampshire's Primary Day approaches.

Clinton, of course, is no stranger to hard-fought Granite State contests. She edged out Barack Obama in New Hampshire’s 2008 Democratic presidential primary, winning 39 percent of the vote to Obama’s 37 percent.   

But the bottom-line vote tallies can obscure a simple fact: The New Hampshire primary is not just a statewide contest.