Monday, November 26, 2012

2016 Democratic primary: Absent Hillary, no clear front-runner in New Hampshire

With the 2016 New Hampshire Democratic primary about 40 months away, Public Policy Polling is out with a survey revealing some interesting (or not so interesting, depending on who is running) top line results. In the event Sec. of State Hillary Clinton chooses to run, she seems poised to win her second NH primary in a row, but by a much larger margin than her 39-37% victory over Barack Obama in 2008. She leads a crowded 2016 field by a WHOPPING 60%, with 2nd place Joe Biden at 10% - amazing considering he is now a two-term Vice President.

"Given the choices of Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Andrew Cuomo, Martin O’Malley, Deval Patrick, Brian Schweitzer, Mark Warner, and Elizabeth Warren, who would you most like to see as the Democratic candidate for President in 2016?
  • Hillary Clinton 60%
  • Joe Biden 10%
  • Andrew Cuomo 7%
  • Elizabeth Warren 4%
  • Deval Patrick 3%
  • Martin O'Malley 0%
  • Brian Schweitzer 0%
  • Mark Warner 0%
  • Someone else/Not sure 15%"
Not even close. In fact, Hillary Clinton stands a great chance of making the 2016 Democratic Primary downright boring. Though most indications are that she will not run. And who can you blame her if she doesn't? She came tantalizingly...almost painstakingly close to the nomination in 2008, which very likely would have propelled her to the White House in the same way it did Barack Obama (CNN exit polls indicated Clinton would have defeated McCain by 4 MORE points than Obama; 52-41%).  

Not only that, but she would be 69 at her inauguration in January of 2017, the oldest president since Ronald Reagan in 1981 (who was also 69). And while I disagree with the author of the article containing the below quote from Hillary regarding her 2016 ambitions, ask yourself if these words put you in mind of someone with a fire in her belly for the presidency?:
 “I am so looking forward to next year,” she said. “I just want to sleep and exercise and travel for fun. And relax. It sounds so ordinary, but I haven’t done it for 20 years. I would like to see whether I can get untired. I work out and stuff, but I don’t do it enough and I don’t do it hard enough because I can’t expend that much energy on it.”
 So for the sake of NOT making the 2016 New Hampshire primary boring, lets just assume Hillary does not run. That makes the contest a bit more competitive, despite the presence of Vice President Joe Biden on the ballot. He leads New Hampshire neighbor Gov. Mario Cuomo (N.Y.) 26-15%. The other New England politicians also perform fairly on the hypothetical primary ballot, with newly elected Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Ma.) coming in 3rd at 11% and Gov. Deval Patrick (Ma.) coming in 4th at 9%. Gov. Martin O'Malley (De.), Sen. Mark Warner (Va.) and Gov. Brian Schweitzer (MT) are all in the low single digits. PPP also does us the favor of testing the ballot in New Hampshire in the event that both Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden choose not to run:
  • Andrew Cuomo 22
  • Deval Patrick 18%
  • Elizabeth Warren 15%
  • Mark Warner 1%
  • Martin O'Malley 1%
  • Brian Schweitzer 1%
  • Someone else/Undecided 42%
The race gets even more competitive without Clinton and Biden, with the three New Hampshire neighbors leading the pack. 

Perhaps more interesting than PPP's top line numbers is the partisan identification finding among survey respondents. New Hampshire has an abnormally large number of Independents (43% according to 2012 exit poll data), and given that their primary is "semi-open," they can vote in either party's primary. As a result, large numbers of Independent voters tend to participate in the NH Democratic primary, with the degree of participation depending on which party has the higher profile contest taking place in any particular election year. For 2016, the PPP survey finds 2/3 of respondents identifying as Democrats, and 1/3 as Independent/Republican/Other. The chart below compares the PPP finding to past available exit poll data on partisan identification in the New Hampshire Democratic primary. 

Party I.D. in the New Hampshire Democratic Primary  

As you can see, there has been no discernible trend in the partisan identification of NH Democratic primary voters over the past 3 elections. A more likely explanation for the degree of non-Democratic participation in certain Democratic contests would be the existence of a competitive or high-profile Republican primary. The semi-open nature of the primaries in New Hampshire means Independents can choose which party's primary to vote in, but can not choose both. This explains the unusually high percentage of non-Democratic turnout in the 2004 Democratic primary (52%). That year, George W. Bush, as the incumbent President, was unchallenged in the GOP primary, making it easier for New Hampshire Independents to vote in the Democratic contest. In 2008, when both parties featured competitive primaries (though the Democratic race was probably the more "high-profile" contest), the Democratic / Non-Democratic NH primary electorate split 54/46%. PPP, however, seems to be finding an electorate more similar to the 2000 NH primary, when incumbent Vice President Al Gore defeated Sen. Bill Bradley just 50-46%. The contest was competitive on both sides that year, though one could argue the Republican contest was the higher-profile race, as noted by the fact that it attracted a total of 238,206 votes, compared to just 154,639 in the Democratic contest.

But for the sake of exploring how these candidates would perform under various turnout scenarios, suppose that Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden decide against running in 2016. Also, suppose something occurs to make the Republican contest in New Hampshire uncompetitive (say...native-daughter Sen. Kelly Ayotte throws her name in the race). In such a scenario, it wouldn't be hard to imagine the 2016 Democratic primary electorate looking similar to 2004, when 48% of NH voters identified as Democrats, 4% identified as Republicans, and 48% identified as Independents. Here's how the PPP numbers would change, all other things remaining the same, assuming that kind of turnout: (note the 1st chart takes a more detailed look at the PPP poll through their party ID findings, while the 2nd chart reweights the PPP poll to 2004 party ID numbers)

PPP '16 NH DEM primary results, reweighted to 2004 party ID, per CNN exit polls:

Reweighting the PPP party ID to 2004 NH Democratic primary numbers does very little to change the results for two reasons: 1. the overwhelming plurality of 2016 NH primary voters are undecided in the event Hillary Clinton chooses not to run, AND 2. among those who are running, there is very little difference between their performances with Democratic and Non-Democratic voters. These results are to be expected over 3 years out from a primary featuring candidates with fairly low name recognition. But don't expect the parity amongst Democrats and non-Democrats to remain as the primary nears. Normal divides should start to rear their heads, and it becomes easy to imagine the populist New Englander Elizabeth Warren doing much better w/ the Democratic base than the Southern moderate Mark Warner (and likewise Warner should do better with Independents and Republicans). As the 42% who are sitting on the side lines make their primary picks, survey findings on which electorate actually turns out in New Hampshire will only grow in importance. 


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