The Fading Importance of the New Hampshire Presidential Primary

Beginning in 1924, every man who was elected President won the New Hampshire Primary.

In half of the 16 primaries from 1924 to 1988, the losing candidate for President also won the New Hampshire primary. This means that 75% of the major party nominees for President won the New Hampshire primary in the 64 years from 1924 to 1988.

This all changed in 1992 when Bill Clinton became the first person to win the White House without winning the New Hampshire primary since Warren G. Harding in 1920. Still, the New Hampshire primary is important because at least one major party nominee has always emerged from the New Hampshire primary.

While the New Hampshire primary is still very important, the 1992 election shows that it is possible to lose in New Hampshire and go on to win the White House in November.

Official New Hampshire Presidential Primary Results - February 23, 1996
Clinton 79,432
Buchanan 60,316
Dole 56,128
Alexander 49,155
Forbes 26,833
Lugar 11,259
Keyes 5,863
Taylor 3,117
Dornan 539
Others 6,249
Total Vote 298,819
Turnout (45.8% of registered voters) 305,904

The really significant thing about the 1996 New Hampshire is that in February, Clinton received only 26% of the primary votes (80,000) compared to the total Republican vote of over 213,000.

But in the November General Election, Dole got 196,000 votes, or 15,000 fewer than the total Republican Primary vote, while Clinton carried the state with just under 250,000, or half of the half million voters. In other words, at least 170,000 of the 194,000 people who voted in November but didn't vote in February cast their ballots for Clinton.

This points out a serious flaw in the primary system. Only voters willing to declare their party affiliations publicly, only those voters who don't particularly care about the secrecy of their ballot, are willing to vote in primaries. In other words, all the candidates in a party system are chosen by people who are volunarily relinquishing one of the basic tenets of a true democracy, the secrecy of the ballot and the privacy of personal political thought.

So it's not surprising that the governments that emerge from a party system are constantly trying to criminalize thoughts, whether through "hate crime' legislation or pornographic postings on the internet. And intent becomes more important than the act like in Texas where a man recently received 4 months in jail for murdering his wife, while others get the death penalty.

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Contact: Joshua Leinsdorf