The modern significance of New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary can be traced to 1952, with Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s stunning upset over the heavily favored Sen. Robert A. Taft in the Republican Party primary.

Eisenhower’s improbable win was made possible by an important change by the New Hampshire state legislature three years earlier. In 1949, the state simplified its ballot access laws in response to declining poll numbers in the previous election cycle. The state legislature made it possible for citizens to vote directly for candidates themselves, rather than voting for their delegates, a move that was criticized by some as turning the state’s primary into a “beauty pageant.”

Despite the criticism, Eisenhower’s victory established the New Hampshire primary as a crucial stepping-stone in the electoral process.  Jimmy Carter’s 1976 victory in the state followed by his eventual nomination to the Democratic ticket reinforced New Hampshire’s importance and gave the state a reputation for boosting underdogs and lesser-known candidates.

Why does New Hampshire go first?

New Hampshire state law dictates that it must be the first primary state (it has been the first primary by tradition since 1920). Several states have tried to move their primaries ahead of New Hampshire’s, but the Granite State lawmakers have moved their primary up in the calendar in each instance. In 1996, the state legislature passed a law stating that the primary would be held “on the Tuesday at least seven days immediately preceding the date on which any other state shall hold a similar election, whichever is earlier.”

It is worth noting that Iowa caucuses before the New Hampshire primary is held. New Hampshire is the first state where voters directly cast ballots, but Iowa does share in the spotlight for going first.

What significance does New Hampshire’s position hold?

While the state awards only a small number of delegates, the New Hampshire first-in-the-nation primary draws unparalleled media coverage and exclusive candidate access that is found in no other state besides Iowa. The New Hampshire primary race is seen not only as a vetting platform for leading candidates, but also as an opportunity for lesser-known candidates to break into the race by harnessing the intense media coverage. Candidates who finish poorly in New Hampshire often drop out of the race soon after the primary. It is also not uncommon for candidates to employ an all-in approach in New Hampshire, betting their entire campaign on success in the Granite State.

Is New Hampshire’s position good for the country?

Many Granite State voters are politically moderate, skeptical, and well-educated; they are proud of their unique position and take the role of vetting candidates seriously. A common joke made around the state is that a citizen needs to shake a candidate’s hand on several different occasions followed by a sit-down lunch with the candidate before pledging to vote for them in the primary election.

Recently, controversy about New Hampshire’s primary has arisen. Some claim that New Hampshire’s lack of ethnic diversity does not properly represent the makeup of the rest of the country (New Hampshire is 92% non-Hispanic white). Other sources of criticism stem from the role of the media in the New Hampshire primary – some believe the state’s primary process is over-saturated by the perpetual media whirlwind that can swing the outcome of a primary race. Though many ideas have been floated to change New Hampshire’s exalted status – such as the first primary election rotating between several states on a quadrennial basis or a national primary day where every state holds a simultaneous primary election – New Hampshire guardedly maintains its first-in-the-nation status.

Why do more independent-minded candidates tend to do better in New Hampshire?
New Hampshire has an open primary meaning that Undeclared voters (individuals who are not registered with a political party) can vote for candidates regardless of partisan affiliation. Before entering the booth on primary day, Undeclared voters select a primary race to vote in, vote, and then can choose to keep their Undeclared status upon exiting the voting booth.  Undeclared voters make up approximately 44% of New Hampshire’s voting population, which is why iconoclastic or maverick candidates unafraid to buck their party often perform well.

How good is New Hampshire at picking winners?

More competitive Granite Staters like to say, “Iowa picks corn, and New Hampshire picks winners.” This sentiment generally holds up. Since 1952, nine out of 16 Democratic candidates who won the New Hampshire primary later won their party’s nomination, while 13 out of 16 Republican candidates who have won in the Granite State have gone on to win the nomination.

NewHampshiresPrimaryRecord_Chart