12/6/2012 - The story has been written before — the one suggesting this once staunchly Republican state is becoming more and more Democratic. It’s still happening. That much was evident in the most recent election, when Democrats fared well across the board.
“That pattern has continued,” said Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, “although it’s not increasing with the pace it had been the previous 10 years.”
The state’s social demographics haven’t changed much in the last decade. The state is still largely white and middle class. But older Republicans who have lived in the state for decades are dying or moving away. The people who are replacing them are far less likely to be Republicans, Smith said.
Looking at polling data — not voter registration — Smith said Democrats have a 3- to 5-percent plurality over the GOP in New Hampshire. This is the only state in the Northeast that isn’t solidly Democratic.
The GOP has been in the minority nationally for some time. But the GOP had been able to turn out the vote at greater rates. That has changed in the last two presidential elections, Smith said.
In other parts of the country, the Republican party’s membership correlated with higher levels of income and education, along with being married and owning a home — things that indicated success and stability. Those things also indicate who votes, Smith said. In New Hampshire, things like higher education and high income are at least as indicative of the Democratic party as of the GOP.
“Democrats are the economic and social elites. Democrats have higher levels of education,” Smith said. “Democrats are more likely to have post-graduate degrees, some sort of advanced coursework. Those sorts of things correlate with high voter turnout. If Republicans don’t have the turnout advantage, that means they’ve got to have more Republicans than Democrats.”
No one is suggesting the Granite State is Massachusetts north. That much was clear in 2010, when the GOP took a three-to-one advantage in the state House of Representatives, a 19-5 advantage in the Senate and a 5-0 advantage on the Executive Council.
“Even though Republicans are a minority party in New Hampshire, they’re still large enough to win elections, depending on the political climate,” Smith said.
Smith said local GOP voters are quite different from GOP voters in other parts of the country. Social conservatism is appealing to national Republicans, but decidedly not in New Hampshire. New Hampshire is one of the least religious states in the country, but religion plays a big role in the national Republican party, Smith said. Republicans in New Hampshire focus on being fiscally conservative, keeping government small and keeping taxes down. The electorate in New Hampshire is turned off by issues surrounding gay marriage and abortion.
With the GOP in the majority for the last century in the Granite State, the party has acted the part. Smith wasn’t sure GOP leadership in New Hampshire has grasped that the GOP is no longer the majority party, Smith said. “It’s not just that Democrats will be competitive and occasionally win elections. Democrats are now the default winners in general elections,” Smith said.
Get them while they’re young
Nationally, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans, Smith said the GOP does not seem to have the turnout advantage it once did. President Barack Obama’s campaign was lauded for its get-out-the-vote efforts in the past two presidential elections.
In Durham, Smith said, there were about 3,000 same-day registrations this year, primarily by college students. “That wasn’t the Romney campaign getting kids to the polls,” Smith said.
The GOP isn’t dead nationally or in New Hampshire. GOP leaders probably do need to spend some time re-thinking their message and how they present that message, Smith said.
“One party figures out some new tricks or wrinkles, and then the other party says, ‘Let’s do that too,’” Smith said. “Each side adopts the techniques of the other. ... The next great innovation doesn’t come from the side that’s leading. It comes from the other side, because they have to work harder to overcome the deficit.”
In the 1980s, it was Republicans who were garnering the youth vote with President Ronald Reagan’s popularity.
“... once someone decides they’re going to vote Republican or Democrat consistently, it’s almost impossible to change their political attitudes,” Smith said, adding the idea is to get to them while they’re young and before they are “politically socialized.”