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A record number of New Hampshire voters – more than 320,000 when all votes are counted, according to CNN’s estimate – turned out to choose between former President Donald Trump and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley in the state’s Republican primary.
The increase in New Hampshire Republican primary turnout is a shift from last week’s Iowa caucuses. In Iowa, Republican caucus turnout was down compared with 2016, the most recent contested Republican primary with no incumbent.
The New Hampshire primary result is a second decisive win for Trump as he begins the process of building a delegate lead. No other non-incumbent Republican candidate has won the early contests in both Iowa and New Hampshire, although Trump, as a former president with almost universal name recognition, has some of the advantages of incumbency.
Turnout is generally higher for Republican primaries in years like this one when there is a hotly contested primary on the GOP side and less competition on the Democratic side. In 2016, when there were contested primaries for both Republicans and Democrats, and when Trump notched his first victory as a candidate in the New Hampshire primary, a then-record number of Republican primary voters – nearly 288,000 – took part.
How Trump won
Trump performed better than he did in the 2016 primary in nearly every New Hampshire town, and most of those were by double-digit margins.
That’s partly driven by the dynamics of the race: This year, Trump faced a sole remaining major challenger, while several other contenders were still actively campaigning at the time of the New Hampshire primary in 2016.
In New Hampshire’s three largest cities (Concord, Nashua and Manchester), Trump performed nearly 20 percentage points better than he did in the 2016 primary.
2024 vs. 2016
With final votes still being tabulated and returns not complete in all of New Hampshire’s towns, Trump won a commanding majority of more than 54%. Haley, in placing second with more than 132,000 votes, about 43% of the total, got more support in 2024 than Trump got in his 2016 victory.
Trump’s vote total of more than 166,000 and counting also sets a new record for the most votes ever won by a candidate in the New Hampshire primary in either party.
The previous record was Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ roughly 152,000 votes in the 2016 Democratic primary, when he defeated former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
One major difference for Republicans is that the 2016 race was contested between a large number of candidates and Trump won the primary with less than 36% of the vote. By primary day this year, Haley was Trump’s only remaining major challenger, making the contest mostly a two-person race, although thousands of votes were also cast for other candidates.
In 2012, when there was a similarly crowded primary and hope among Republicans that they could oust a weakened President Barack Obama, more than 249,000 voters took part in the GOP primary. In 2008, when there was another contested primary, more than 241,000 voters took part.
Compare those figures with years in which there was an incumbent Republican president. Most recently, in 2020, nearly 159,000 voters took part in the GOP primary. In 2004, when George W. Bush ran without major competition, more than 67,000 people took part.
Lower turnout for unsanctioned Democratic primary
On the Democratic side, where Democratic Party officials had tried to force New Hampshire to delay the primary, and where President Joe Biden won as a write-in candidate, fewer than 89,000 total votes were recorded with 81% of the vote tabulated, according to CNN’s calculations.
That’s more than the nearly 62,000 who took part in 2012, when Obama was an incumbent running without major opposition. The Democratic counting process was slowed this year by the fact that Biden did not appear on the ballot and officials had to read his name as written on individual ballots.
The low turnout is likely the result of the standoff between the Democratic Party and New Hampshire’s state government over the primary date. Biden’s easy victory as a write-in candidate who boycotted putting his name on the ballot is a show of his strength in the party despite some angst among Democrats about the current state of his approval ratings.
No surge of independents
While much has been made of Haley’s effort to bring independent voters into the primary, they represented similar portions of the Republican primary electorate.
In 2016, 36% of Republican primary voters in New Hampshire were registered as independents or “undeclared,” according to CNN’s exit polls at the time. In a much more crowded field that year, Trump won the largest portion of those independent voters (39% of them).
This year, the portion of registered independents was slightly higher at 46%, and Trump got a similar portion of them at 35%, although he lost the remaining independent voters to Haley, who got 64%. A major difference for Trump in 2024 is that he won nearly three-quarters of registered Republican voters compared with the 33% he got in 2016.
Iowa and New Hampshire are very different states
Two very different versions of American Republicans showed up at the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, and turnout was not the only difference between them.
Trump has now won more than half the vote in Iowa, a state where the majority of Republican caucusgoers (61%) think most or all abortions should be banned nationwide, and also in New Hampshire, where more than two-thirds of Republican primary voters (67%) oppose such a ban.
In New Hampshire, only a little more than a third of Republican primary voters said they were part of the MAGA movement, referring to the “Make America Great Again” slogan that Trump popularized in 2016. In Iowa, it was nearly half of caucusgoers.
In Iowa, a third of Republicans don’t think he’d be fit for office if he’s convicted of a crime. In New Hampshire, 42% of primary voters feel that way.
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