The New Hampshire primary results tell much about the electorate and about the challenges the presidential-nomination contenders are facing.
MANCHESTER, N.H. — More than 500,000 voters cast ballots in the New Hampshire primary Tuesday, rewarding Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont with resounding victories, and sending some candidates home to rethink — or end — their campaigns. But the results also tell much about the electorate and the challenges the contenders face.
Some key take-aways from the nation’s first primary:
Clinton has a trust problem
Among voters who cared most about honesty and trustworthiness, 91 percent chose Sanders and only 5 percent chose Hillary Clinton, according to exit polls. She fared only slightly better among voters who wanted candidates who seemed to care most about people like them. And the younger the voters, the more skeptical they were of Clinton: She received16 percent of the support from people younger than 29, and 32 percent from those 30 to 44. The only age group she won: voters older than 65.
While pollsters have repeatedly identified Clinton’s trustworthiness as a concern of voters, Clinton advisers have long hoped that even if people did not trust her personally, they would come to trust that she would fight for their needs. She clearly has work to do on that front. Some of her allies, looking back on the race so far, rue that she did not apologize months earlier for using a private email server when she was secretary of state. They fear that a sense of mistrust became baked into the electorate before she contained the controversy.
Experience does matter
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While Trump and Sanders positioned themselves as political outsiders and won big, the establishment was not entirely demolished. Sixty-nine percent of Democratic voters said they wanted the next president to have experience in politics, and they narrowly favored Clinton in that respect, according to exit polls. Forty-five percent of Republicans said they preferred a president with political experience, and those voters favored Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, followed by former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida.
Clinton has been emphasizing her government experience for months. But, according to advisers, she thinks it will start working to her advantage in the coming contests in states where many voters know little about Sanders or whether he is qualified to be president. Kasich and Bush, in turn, are likely to hold up their records as governors to draw contrasts with Trump in the next primary, in South Carolina, where many Republican voters say they respect candidates who have served in public office.
abandoned the Clintons
It is hard to overstate the magnitude of the New Hampshire loss for Clinton and former President Bill Clinton. The state was a political bellwether for Bill Clinton, putting him on the path toward the Democratic nomination in 1992 and backing him in the general elections that year and in 1996.
Voters again came through in a big way in 2008, when Hillary Clinton won in New Hampshire and revived her candidacy after losing the Iowa caucuses to Barack Obama and John Edwards. But Tuesday night, she lost New Hampshire’s big cities: Concord, Manchester and Nashua. She lost most of the small towns. She lost in the north country and the seacoast, along the western border and through the White Mountains.
She lost many major demographic groups, performing best among the older and wealthier, and among people who care about experience and electability in November. But these voters were small in number compared with Sanders’ legions. Clinton won 112,404 votes in New Hampshire in 2008 in a tough race against Obama and Edwards; Tuesday, she won about 89,000 to Sanders’ 139,000.
Debates can be game changers
The presidential debates have been high-octane, high-ratings and highly entertaining affairs, but they were not seriously damaging to a candidate until a performance by Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida on Saturday night, just three days before the New Hampshire primary. As Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey attacked Rubio as a typical Washington politician who spoke in scripted sound bites, Rubio reinforced that image by repeating the same lines about Obama’s determination to change the United States.
It suddenly seemed as if Rubio, 44, a first-term senator, did not have an original thought in the world. He hurt himself further Monday as he deplored 21st-century cultural forces and “the values they try to ram down our throats” — and then repeated the same phrase a few seconds later. Rubio, who had been rising in the polls before the debate, was sliding toward a fifth-place finish in the New Hampshire primary as final returns were tallied late Wednesday
“I did not do well on Saturday night,” Rubio said at his primary-night party Tuesday. “Listen to this: That will never happen again. That will never happen again.”
Working-class white voters are up for grabs
In the 2008 Democratic primaries, Clinton beat Obama in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and other states, partly because of solid support from working-class white voters. But Sanders prevailed with these voters in New Hampshire. Sixty-eight percent of white noncollege graduates supported him, as did 65 percent of people from families earning less than $50,000 a year. On the Republican side, the same groups of voters broke strongly for Trump.
Clinton says she thinks she can still win back these voters with her policy proposals for paid family leave and for capping prescription-drug costs for some Americans, but she has not performed well with less-affluent voters in New Hampshire or Iowa.
Trump voters are real
Trump led in many Iowa polls before the Feb. 1 caucuses, but he came in second place when it came time for the voting. That result raised questions about whether all the people crowding into Trump rallies were true-blue supporters or celebrity worshippers.
But Trump’s supporters proved in New Hampshire that they were committed and enthusiastic enough to turn out for their candidate. He won among first-time voters in a Republican primary, as expected. But he also won among Republicans, independents and people who have voted in past party primaries.
He did especially well with voters who preferred candidates who “tell it like it is.” But he lost to Kasich, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Bush among voters who wanted a candidate who “shares my values.” In the end, Trump won 30 to 40 percent of the vote among many demographic groups, showing that he can win primaries and caucuses when a large Republican field splits the vote.
Democratic women aren’t rallying behind Clinton
Something went wrong between Clinton and the women of New Hampshire. Sanders won 55 percent of their votes compared with Clinton’s 44 percent, with married women and unmarried women breaking his way, according to exit polls.
Those results rocked the Clinton campaign, given that Clinton is running to become the first female president and enjoyed the support of many of the most powerful women in the state, including its governor and its Democratic senator. Moreover, women provided the margin of victory for Clinton in her 2008 New Hampshire primary win.
Clinton advisers are confident her support will rebound with women in Nevada, South Carolina and the Super Tuesday states that vote March 1. But some of Clinton’s friends are nervous: They did not expect her to lose New Hampshire so badly, and for women to be such a big factor in her defeat.
Trump’s issues: illegal immigration, Muslims
Trump struck a chord with Republican primary voters on many issues, but particularly where Muslims and illegal immigration were concerned.
Sixty-four percent of voters said they supported temporarily barring Muslims from entering the country if they are not citizens, and 44 percent of those voters backed Trump.
Forty-one percent of voters said that immigrants without legal status should be deported to the countries where they came from — and 50 percent of them supported Trump. No other Republican candidate came close with the New Hampshire residents who held these views.
Voters who chose candidates at the last minute — on primary day — broke narrowly for Clinton and Trump. But Kasich was the top pick of voters who chose their Republican favorite during the last few days, suggesting he may have benefited from Rubio’s poor debate performance. Among Democratic voters who made up their minds in the last few days, Sanders did better.
A consistent message helps
The candidates who fared best in New Hampshire — Sanders, Trump and Kasich — all offered easily understood, well-communicated messages. While other candidates struggled to refine their pitches, Trump repeated his vow to build a wall on the nation’s southern border, Sanders once again railed against Wall Street, and Kasich promised to unify Americans of all parties and backgrounds. It helped that the messengers, in all three cases, came across as authentic advocates of their positions.
Next up is Feb. 20, when Republicans vote in the South Carolina primary, and Democrats vote in the Nevada caucuses. The New Hampshire results could draw out both nomination battles well into the spring.
For the Democrats: Clinton plans to turn to states with large minority populations. She has scheduled campaign stops in South Carolina and Nevada in the next week, with an emphasis on criminal justice and gun control, issues on which she has attempted to get out ahead of Sanders or to his political left.
For the Republicans: As the GOP candidates head into South Carolina, the race is likely to get even more heated. Trump heads to South Carolina with a new burst of confidence and momentum. Second-place winner Kasich may have trouble getting the party behind him in the next few primary states.