WMC News & Features

The NH Vote—How Did Hillary Pull It Off?

Hillary Clinton triumphed in New Hampshire due to a huge surge of women voters into the Democratic primary. Women comprised 57 percent of Democratic voters compared to 43 percent men. And she won their votes by a 46-34 edge over Barack Obama, reversing the gender pattern in the Iowa caucuses.

In the Republican primary, the gender breakdown was exactly the opposite, with 57 percent men, 43 percent women. Men and women alike favored Senator John McCain.

Clinton reclaimed the women’s vote from Obama, who shocked analysts with his 35-30 percent margin with women in Iowa. This time, she won among all Democrats older than 40 but, in contrast to Iowa, also won voters aged 25-29. She took the majority of married voters, by 38 to 33, and scored big among single women, who were 22 percent of the overall vote. She won that bloc over Obama by a 50-33 edge.

Clinton’s come-from-behind victory defied the pollsters, who had forecast a continued surge for Obama with a potential fatal second big loss for Clinton in New Hampshire. Instead, it’s a horse race again. Analysts will scramble to figure out how and why that happened.

One obvious factor was the momentary insight into a vulnerable Clinton, in an unscripted bit of café conversation with a supporter who asked how she was faring after the Iowa defeat. She choked up and admitted it was hard but that, for her, this campaign was very personal, not political.

In firing up women voters particularly, it also didn’t hurt that:

  • Former Senator John Edwards, who finished a distant third to Clinton and Obama, reacted to the Clinton emotion with a back-handed comment that politics was tough and so was the presidency, an unpleasant echo of the stereotypical assumption that women aren’t up to the job, that they’re too emotional.
  • In the final debate, the sight of Edwards and Obama double-teaming their attacks on Clinton was a wakeup call for some New Hampshire women.
  • And then there were the hecklers at a Clinton rally who kept shouting “Iron My Shirts! Iron my shirts!” They turned out to be pranksters from “The Toucher and Rich Show,” on Boston radio station WBCN.

Those episodes gave Clinton the opening to say, in essence, ah yes—sexism is alive and well even in New Hampshire. Exit polls showed that, although Obama was gaining ground during the weeks immediately before the primary, 17 percent of voters didn’t make up their minds until election day, and Hillary won their votes by a 39-36 margin over Obama. She held a 48-31 lead over Obama with the one-third of voters who had decided more than a month ago. Exit polls also showed:

  • The economy loomed large with New Hampshire voters; and those who made less than $50,000 a year and were very worried about falling behind financially sided with Clinton.
  • Voters gave mixed messages on Iraq. It ranked after the economy as a core issue for Democratic voters, and Obama had a 44-35 edge among voters who put that as their top issue. But, paradoxically, on another exit poll question about Iraq, Clinton had a sizable edge over Obama among the 43 percent of voters who wanted troops withdrawn as soon as possible and was even with him on those who wanted a timetable for a gradual withdrawal.
  • A fifth of the voters were “very worried” about the possibility of another terrorist attack, and she won those voters by a 45-39 edge, splitting with Obama the votes of those “somewhat worried” about another attack.
  • Clinton clobbered Obama with Catholic voters, 44-27, and they were 35 of Democratic vote. She and Obama split the next largest religious bloc of Protestant voters.
  • Obama beat Clinton among independent voters, winning that bloc 41-31.

The buzzword of “change” has dominated the electoral debate in the past month, with Clinton fighting hard to deny Obama total ownership of that claim, while still making the case that she is the candidate with more experience. Exit polls gave some insights to how voters size up these conflicting claims.

  • More than half of the voters cared more about issues than personalities, and Clinton edged out Obama, 39 to 34 percent, among these issue voters. He got a 45-37 margin of voters who cited “leadership/personal qualities” as most important.
  • And Obama won big with the 54 percent of voters who wanted their candidate to be able to “bring about needed change” – by a whopping 55-28 margin.
  • But Clinton pummeled Obama with the one-third of voters who said she “cares about people like me” and “has the right experience.”

Finally, Hillary Clinton appealed to more voters who were angry at the Bush administration, which was 62 percent of the total.


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