With all eyes on New Hampshire for the first-in-the-nation presidential primary and then again during the last two presidential elections as a key battleground state, New Hampshire’s brand has perhaps never been bigger nationally.
So what does all that attention translate into economically? Economists say hosting the first presidential primary helps out on the economic front, since candidates and their staff spend several days at a time in the state, paying for hotel rooms, meals, office space, rental cars and probably dry cleaning. The general election’s impact is smaller and a little more difficult to measure.
“[The economic impact] is much more focused and much less widespread than during the primary,” said Brian Gottlob, an economist in Dover.
But both the primary and the general election serve to build the state’s name recognition nationally, which essentially serves as advertising for the state, economists say.
During the primary, national and international news media regularly visit and stay in New Hampshire to cover candidates, some for months on end. In a general election, even with Gov. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama paying a lot of attention to New Hampshire, the media presence isn’t as large, because the media can’t be everywhere and because the visits are in-and-out shots, not five-day chunks with several events at different venues and businesses each day.
“[Presidential candidates will] have an event and then chances are, they’re gone within a couple hours,” said Gottlob, who downplayed the direct economic benefit for both the primary and the general election.
“There is a benefit,” Gottlob said, but he referenced a study he did on the subject in 2000 in which he reported the economic benefit from the primary is less, in terms of total dollar volume, than the impact from a single major NASCAR event at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.
It’s likely that when Romney or Obama visited, many people would go out to lunch before or after the event, said Neil Niman, an economics professor at the University of New Hampshire. They might pay to park. Perhaps event attendees might go shopping after the event — Niman mentioned a visit to Portsmouth by Obama. While presidential candidates might only visit New Hampshire a handful of times leading up to an election, surrogates will speak at countless events that could have similar, albeit smaller economic benefits, Niman said.
“There are all those small benefits,” Niman said. “It’s a social opportunity. Is it a huge benefit? No.”
While the overall economic benefit might not be large, the political machine touches a lot of bases.
Economists guessed WMUR made out well with all the political ad buys, from outside groups, campaigns themselves and super PACs. With local and statewide candidates mailing brochures and large, one-page, double-sided color mailings, Gottlob guessed local printers were busy during the lead up to the election. The campaign has likely helped out the U.S. Postal Service as well, with all the direct mailings.
Walk down Elm Street in Manchester in the fall of an election year and it’s obvious landlords see a benefit. Office space situated nearby the corner of Elm and Mechanic streets has seen candidate after candidate use it as a campaign office, including Carol Shea-Porter and Newt Gingrich. Likewise for space next to Van Otis Chocolates also on Elm Street in Manchester; local and statewide candidates have regularly made the space home.
Will Stewart, vice president of economic development and advocacy at the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, provided a list of different types of businesses that enjoy increased political activity.
Hotels and conference centers hosted candidates and staffers for events, including election night parties. Catering companies provided food for campaign events. Coffee shops supplied caffeinated boosts to campaign staffers and candidates. Certain eateries have become campaign staples, such as the Red Arrow Diner. Commercial and retail printing companies, along with sign makers, had plenty of work to do. Wiggins Airways, a regional airline, also likely saw plenty of traveling candidates and staffers. Companies that provide tent rentals or chairs may also see a bump, depending on the types of events campaigns and organizations are hosting.
New Hampshire as a brand
The big benefit in being a battleground state is more difficult to measure. It shows up in how the state is perceived nationally.
“There is real positive value or potentially real negative value depending on how your state is portrayed,” Gottlob said. “Every time people see the president or Mitt Romney in a wonderful location in New Hampshire that showed enthusiastic crowds, with nice background settings, that’s good advertising for the state.”
Niman agreed the heightened name recognition only helps New Hampshire increase its tourist appeal, which is already one of the largest industries in the state.
“If we think of New Hampshire as a brand, any time people mention your brand, it keeps you in the mind of consumers,” Niman said.
It also helps if pundits are talking about particularly high levels of voter turnout, as that sentiment combines to paint a picture of sophisticated and intelligent voters coupled with the state’s beautiful settings, Gottlob said.
“Those kinds of things have real value,” Gottlob said.
While places like Florida can’t quite seem to get a handle on managing an election, New Hampshire seems to do a good job, Niman said.
“We like to take pride in sort of small government, and here’s an example of how small government can handle an essential function very effectively,” Niman said. “What it does for New Hampshire is that it reaffirms our values. New Hampshire is a very sort of local-centric state and some people find that appealing.”
National media outlets continually analyzed battleground states leading up to the election, including New Hampshire.
“I can’t put a number on it, but there is value,” Gottlob said. “It’s nice to have people pay attention to you as opposed to being ignored because your state is in the bag.”