Not long after polls closed in New Hampshire Tuesday night, Donald Trump and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders were declared the winners of their respective primary contests. As of the publication of this article, Sanders secured 59% of the Democratic primary vote while Trump won a commanding victory with 34%.
Looking at New Hampshire polls, the results aren’t a huge surprise. The last polls leading up to primary day showed Sanders with a double-digit lead over Clinton. Trump has dominated the Republican field in New Hampshire and in nationwide polls since the summer. Yet, the role that independent voters played in these victories cannot be understated.
New Hampshire carries substantial weight in determining how the presidential race proceeds; candidates who do well can expect to benefit from favorable media coverage and a bump in campaign donations, whereas candidates who perform poorly may face increased pressure to drop out. It is worth noting, however, that the last three candidates elected to the presidency – Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama – all finished second in the New Hampshire primary.
The state utilizes a semi-closed primary system. This means voters must affiliate with either the Republican or Democratic party to participate. They can change their registration on primary election day and subsequently change back after casting their ballot. With historic turnout, it is clear that independent voters, who make up 44% of the state’s electorate, had a major impact in Tuesday night’s results.
Trump and Sanders have their own appeal, but when both made their acceptance speeches on Tuesday night, they made it clear that they were not for business-as-usual in Washington. They want to see change, and this message is clearly resonating with an electorate that increasingly chooses not to identify with either major party.
The next presidential contest for both parties will take place on February 20. For Democrats, it will be held in Nevada. For Republicans, South Carolina. Nevada uses a closed caucus system and South Carolina uses an open partisan primary system.
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