RNC - NH, The Prototypical Swing State

To:        Interested Parties

RE:       The Prototypical Swing State

Date:     January 9, 2012

Few states fit the classic definition of a “swing state” in the last decade better than New Hampshire. With fiercely independent and always engaged voters, New Hampshire has assertively swung back and forth several times. In 2002, and on the heels of a narrow win by George W. Bush in 2000, Republicans had a great year. Republicans came out of the election with a sweep of federal offices, a new Republican governor after three terms of Democrat leadership, and the largest gains for Republicans in the state legislature in decades. The state became tougher for Republicans in 2004 and swung violently for the Democrats in 2006. Both incumbent Republican US House members were defeated and Democrats flipped both chambers in the state legislature, giving Democrats control of both the Governor’s office and state legislature for the first time in a century. 

In December 2006 the keynote speaker at the New Hampshire Democratic Party’s victory celebration just happened to be then Junior Senator from Illinois fresh from announcing his consideration to make a run at the White House. This was Barack Obama’s first visit to the Granite State after announcing his White House speculations, and he told 1,500 cheering party activists “I’m here to bask in the glow” of the work they had done in the election a month earlier. That “glow” continued for an additional two years beyond this visit when in 2008 the Democrats retained their control of state government, a Republican US Senator was defeated, and Barack Obama cruised to a 10-point victory on his way to the White House. 

It’s a little ironic President Obama would then preside over the next seismic swing, this time against his party. In the first election on his watch the voters of New Hampshire doused his “glow” with a bucket of cold water. Last November Republicans won back both US House Seats, regained huge majorities in both chambers of the state legislature with well over 100 legislative seats switching hands, and retained a hotly contested open US Senate seat. What the Obama team has to now contemplate is whether the 2010 swing is over and ready to swing back in favor of his party, or whether New Hampshire is still moving against the President. Unfortunately for the President every measurement seems to suggest the latter.

A University of New Hampshire/WMUR Granite State Poll in February 2009 measured Obama’s job approval ratings at 66% - over three times higher than his 21% disapproval. The President’s approval then immediately began to slide, dropping 11 points to 55% by October 2009, and another 9 points to 46% by September 2010. The news hasn’t improved since the 2010 election, with UNH /WMUR showing Obama dropping to 44% in April 2011, and 41% last October. An NBC News/Marist poll last week showed him at an abysmally low 40%. Young voters and Independent voters – both critical to Obama’s 2008 coalition – are lower still, with only 36% and 35% respectively approving of the job he’s doing (from the October UNH/WMUR survey). Obama won young voters and Independents by 20+ points in 2008.

Just as alarming for the President’s campaign team is another UNH study from November revealing  that voter concern in New Hampshire over the economy – both nationally and at home - continues to grow. According to this study, “pessimism about the national economy among Granite Staters is at its highest levels in more than two years”, and 47% of adults surveyed say their household’s financial position is worse off than it was just one year ago. The President’s team now admits he “owns the economy”, forcing him to address these economic concerns with New Hampshire voters before they allow him to own the economy for another four years.  

Although New Hampshire remains an independent state, voter registration statistics also show voters’ moods trending the wrong way for the President. Democrats have lost the advantage in voter registration they enjoyed over Republicans in 2008. Their 2,000 voter advantage has moved to an 8,500 Republican advantage today. Since the 2010 election, new Republican registrations are outnumbering Democrats by 5 points.

Democrats may argue Democratic Governor John Lynch’s reelection in 2010 is proof a Democrat can survive a Republican swing in New Hampshire, and the President may similarly be able to survive in 2012. But John Lynch had one thing Barack Obama does not have, positive job approval. Just over a month before the 2010 election UNH/WMUR measured Lynch’s job approval at 58% to 28%. Lynch’s 30 point advantage is far better than Obama’s current 9 point deficit. Even with the 30 point advantage, Lynch only received 52% of the vote on Election Day.  Republicans go to the polls tomorrow to help decide who will face Obama on the ballot in November. Obama has eleven months to state his case to New Hampshire voters, but the evidence suggests Republicans are strongly on the up-swing, and Obama and the Democrats continue to flounder.