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Primary Post-Mortem

by Chip

Feb 11, 2016
9:50 AM

The primary is over. The ballots were counted. We now know what happened.

Here’s my post-primary analysis, now that the dust has settled and we’ve had a day to digest the results.

Random thoughts and observations…

— This was a Santa Claus election. Two candidates who promised voters pretty much whatever they wanted topped their respective primary’s ballots by wide margins. If you wanted free education and health care, or Mexico to pay for a wall, or immigrants and Muslims to be kept out, or the rich to pay more, you got it. The fact that much of what was promised by both Sanders and Trump isn’t practical, possible, or prudent really didn’t matter to voters.

— It didn’t matter to voters because they’re mad as hell. They’re angry and fearful. They don’t feel their voices have been heard and they think the system is rigged. Voters in both parties feel as if their national elected leaders aren’t fighting hard enough for what they believe in. Republicans think Congress should do a better job of fighting Obama. And Democrats think that Obama should do a better job of fighting Congress.

— If somehow Sanders or Trump ends up in the Oval Office, it’s incredibly improbable they will be able to do even a small percentage of what they’re promising on the stump. It’s just not how the American system of governance has been designed. Imagine how angry the electorate would be if that happens.

— Last spring I said that nobody should underestimate Trump’s appeal in New Hampshire among GOP voters. Over the past 20 years, outsiders and iconoclasts have done well. Buchanan ’92 (gave 41 a run for his money in the Granite state). Buchanan ’96 (won). McCain ’00 (won). Ron Paul ’12 (solid second).

— The conventional wisdom that retail politics, advertising, mail, and ground game matter was called into question by Trump. However, Kasich would not have finished second without all of the above. That’s a mixed message for future cycles, but perhaps underscores the fact that name ID and copious amounts of earned media trump (pun intended) the paid tactics.

— Will Kasich turn New Hampshire into something, a la Jimmy Carter? Or he is another Jon Huntsman who did well on a single-state strategy but couldn’t translate it into something more? The odds are certainly stacked against Kasich, but the usual rules don’t seem to apply this cycle. (If they ever really do.)

— I warned months ago that this could be the last #FITN primary. I increasingly believe that with Sanders and Trump both winning big, combined with Iowa’s bipartisan difficulty in tabulating results in ’08 (GOP) and ’12 (Dem), might well doom the current structure.

— If, like me, you want to see New Hampshire go first and matter, there are two paths forward. Sanders or Trump could become president. Or the parties could fail to reach consensus on a single alternative, leaving Iowa and New Hampshire standing as the default option.

— Endorsements don’t matter. Or at least most don’t, especially if they don’t bring an existing campaign organization along with them.

— Pollsters were winners in this election. The RealClearPolitics averages came pretty close to predicting the final numbers on both sides.

— The New Hampshire primary, at least on the Republican side, did perform its usual role of winnowing the field. Christie and Fiorina dropped out after the results came in. And Paul, once expected to do well in the Granite State, saw the handwriting on the wall and exited just after Iowa. For reasons only he can explain, Ben Carson remains.

— Vermin Supreme got twice as many votes in the Democratic primary as former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore got in the GOP race.

Predictions vs. results…

— My predictions didn’t turn out great, but they could have been worse.

— I did have Trump winning, but I thought his numbers would shrink. They didn’t. He overperformed my prediction by 11 points (24 predicted vs 35 actual).

— I overestimated Jeb’s late surge and probably the strength of his operation. The result was that he got half of what I estimated (22 predicted vs 11 actual).

— I underestimated Kasich’s ground game, but overestimated the impact of Undeclareds breaking for him. Still, I pegged his vote total within a couple of percentage points (18 predicted vs. 16 actual)

— I underestimated how far Rubio would fall, but still came pretty close on final number. (14 predicted vs 11 actual — within a typical margin of error).

— I had the following just about right: Cruz (11 predicted vs 12 actual), Christie (5 predicted vs 7 actual), Fiorina (3 predicted vs 4 actual), and Carson (2 vs 2).

— On the Democratic side, I foresaw a 9 point spread when it ended up at a stunning 22 points.

Chip Griffin
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Chip Griffin

Editor at Primary Digest
Chip Griffin is the Editor of Primary Digest and has been following New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary for more than 20 years. Read his editorial disclosures. He can be reached by email at
Chip Griffin
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