Post-NH Primary Interview: The Power of Outsiders & Feelings

An interview with Margaret Waterman  posted this morning on the BU Experts site:

Q: This was the first primary of the season. How can we explain the results in New Hampshire?

VS:  Tonight was a big win for the “outsiders.” Donald Trump had a clear plurality, and showed continuing strength in his “in your face” campaign. Unlike Trump, Bernie Sanders is a life-long politician and public official, so he is not as far an “outsider,” but throughout his career he has refused to attach himself to the Democratic party until now. He calls himself a socialist, and he devoted his campaign to a single-minded attack on economic power centers and their role in politics. Above all, the leaders in both races have picked up on anger and frustration with the way the systems has worked. New Hampshire voters declared themselves independent of the two major parties.

Daily Kos Elections give us some very interesting data on the NH Democratic primary. Among voters registered as Democrats (54% of the voters), the race between Hillary Clinton and Sanders was dead even – 49-49. Among those registered as Undeclared/Independent (41% of the voters), Sanders was favored in a landslide: 72-27. So given the high turnout yesterday (although not quite as high as in 2008), we see a major source of that large gap. It’s an interesting problem, because this was a Democratic primary, but those not affiliated with a party really determined its outcome.

On the Democratic side, it is also important to remember that in the closing period of the campaign the Sanders campaign outspent the Clinton campaign 3-1 in media buys. That’s not because they had more money, but because he really invested in the media campaign to get the final push, even while most of the campaign workers probably assumed it was all the face to face encounters. If media didn’t matter, they wouldn’t have made that investment. It is also true that there were many campaign problems among the other candidates’ organizations. Clinton allowed herself to be put on the defensive throughout this campaign. Rather than emphasizing the specifics of what she has done and what she stands for, she had to spend her time on matters like email, speeches, and whether campaign contributions bought her. She is thought to be reshuffling her campaign to get back to her message.

On the Republican side, the very crowded race means the last couple of weeks in particular often looked like a playground brawl. As more candidates drop out, there should be more clarity in distinguishing the candidates and what they stand for.

Q: Did anything seem especially surprising? What happened? 

VS:  The biggest surprise of the night was John Kasich’s second place showing. It’s also clear that during Saturday night’s debate, Chris Christie knocked Marco Rubio out without making gains himself. With the crowded field, the results for Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, and Marco Rubio are virtually indistinguishable.  I assume this was the end of the road for Christie, and it is time for both Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson to leave the race.  It is important to remember that after Trump the next three candidates, all of whom could move up, together had more support than Donald Trump, and it will be interesting to see what happens as the race slims down. 

Q: You’re a New Hampshire voter, aren’t you? What was that like?

VS:  It was a glorious morning — crisp blue skies, glistening white snow, and a huge turnout of voters. No matter whom they were for, and how they voted, people chose to participate in this exercise of democracy. It was very moving to be a part of it.

I bumped into a friend in the NH village where I vote early primary morning while I was shoveling and he was walking the dog. We talked about the primary, and he said he was an independent and still undecided. He was leaning toward Clinton and Kasich, and didn’t know which way he would go. It seems the votes were all about the feel of the candidates, what feelings they evoked in people much more than what they decided based on a careful examination of issues and platforms. Trump and Sanders stimulated and picked up on important feelings in the population.

Q: We have a few more decision points in February — the Nevada caucuses, the South Carolina primaries. Then comes the hectic month of March, which includes “Super Tuesday” on March 1. Do we now know more about what will happen then?

VS: We know that the race is far from over. That may not sound like a big statement, but it is. The next states are very different from the ones we have seen thus far, especially in terms of the Democratic base. The longer the races run, the more the financial resources of the campaigns will become an issue. The long distance race is very difficult and expensive, especially as they have to handle multiple states at once and cannot depend as much on the retail politics of Iowa and New Hampshire.

There’s also still another monkey wrench in the works, and that is the news that Michael Bloomberg is still considering entering the race, which he apparently would be especially likely to do if we seem to be moving toward a Sanders/Trump race. And who knows where that would end up?