Monday, January 9, 2012

New Hampshire Primary Tomorrow

Voters in New Hampshire will head to the polls on Tuesday for the New Hampshire Primary. The winner of the contest isn't in doubt: Mitt Romney has taken first place in every one of the dozens of New Hampshire polls conducted over the past year--most of the time by a sizable margin. The second-place candidate has alternated as various candidates went boom and bust, but Romney has consistently polled in the mid 30s to lower 40s. The question is who will take second, third, and fourth in the primary. The polls are unclear, with several candidates bunched together:

New Hampshire Primary
01/08 WMUR/UNH -- Romney 41, Paul 17, Huntsman 11, Santorum 11
01/08 PPP (D) -- Romney 35, Paul 18, Huntsman 16, Gingrich 12
01/07 Suffolk/7News -- Romney 35, Paul 20, Huntsman 11, Gingrich 9
01/07 ARG -- Romney 40, Huntsman 17, Paul 16, Santorum 12
01/05 NBC/Marist -- Romney 42, Paul 22, Santorum 13, Huntsman 9
01/05 Rasmussen -- Romney 42, Paul 18, Santorum 13, Huntsman 12
01/05 WMUR/UNH -- Romney 44, Paul 20, Santorum 8, Gingrich 8
01/04 Wash Times -- Romney 38, Paul 24, Santorum 11, Gingrich 9
01/04 Suffolk/7News -- Romney 41, Paul 18, Santorum 8, Gingrich 7

Ron Paul is in second in most polls. As in Iowa, he's polling in the upper 10s and low 20s. As expected, Rick Santorum got a bounce out of Iowa, but he has been unable to capitalize on that to get clear of Newt Gingrich, who is about tied with him in the polls. Jon Huntsman seems to be in about the same position as Santorum and Gingrich, though the PPP and ARG polls have him a few points ahead.

Huntsman is an interesting case. As a low-poller, strategic voters would ordinarily abandon him for their second choice. But many Huntsman supporters' second choice is Romney, who is guaranteed to win. Since Romney doesn't need the Huntsman votes, perhaps the Huntsman supporters will vote for their preferred candidate instead of shifting. This would serve to reward Huntsman for all the campaigning he has done in New Hampshire, and maybe to voice a bit of a protest against Romney's inevitable win.

Huntsman is the only candidate likely to drop out of the race in response to a poor performance. How well does he need to do to stay in the race? Though Elephant Watcher calculates Huntsman's chance of winning the nomination has been at zero percent for some time now, Huntsman may stay in for awhile if he exceeds expectations. A second-place finish would keep Huntsman in the race. A decent third would be a maybe. If Huntsman is in fourth when the ballots are counted, we should expect him to leave.

Santorum and Gingrich each desperately want to finish ahead of the other to gain a stronger position as the chief Anti-Romney in South Carolina. But instead, the polls have them right where Romney wants them: Far down and almost tied with each other. An ambiguous result means more splitting of Romney's opposition.

Finally, when Romney wins, the media will focus on the extent of his win. Finishing in the 40s will be treated as a good win. A few polls currently have Romney in the mid-30s, while the rest have him in the low 40s. If the numbers remain static, then adding in the undecided vote should give Romney a finish in the 40s. However, if New Hampshirites have last-minute thoughts, Romney ends up in the 30s. Particularly if second place is close, such a win will be treated as underwhelming. If Romney gets 50% or more, it will be treated as an overwhelming win and lead to more media proclaiming him the inevitable Republican nominee. Reaching the 50% mark would be difficult, even adding in the undecided vote, but is possible if someone like Huntsman sheds votes as they shift to second choice Romney (which hasn't happened so far).