New Hampshire, the Granite State, is considered a battleground state because of its high share of independent voters. The state has historically been Republican, but in recent elections, New Hampshire has shown a willingness to vote for Democratic presidential candidates. In the last five presidential elections, New Hampshire has voted Democratic four times, and the last time the state went for a Republican presidential candidate was for former President George W. Bush in 2000. Despite this positive winning trend for Democrats, recent elections have shown that a troubling negative trend in rural support for Democratic candidates could allow Republicans to claim the state in 2020.
The New Hampshire Congressional delegation has had two members since 1883 and began the 21st century in the 106th Congress with both seats held by Republicans. The political make-up of representatives swung throughout the 2000s, with Democrats gaining the majority in 2007, losing it in 2011, and gaining it back in 2017, after Democrat Carol Shea-Porter won a seat in the 2016 election. Now, in the 116th Congress, the New Hampshire delegation has two Democratic representatives, Chris Pappas and Ann McLane Kuster.
Senate seats in the state were represented by a Republican majority from the 1980s up until 2009, when Democrat Jeanne Shaheen won a seat in the 2008 election. The delegation was then split until 2017, after Democrat Maggie Hassan unseated former Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte in what was one of the most competitive races of the election cycle, with Hassan only winning by 0.1 percent.
New Hampshire’s recent congressional elections point toward an upward trend in Democratic support in the state with all representatives and senators currently serving as Democrats. However, New Hampshire’s recent state elections demonstrate that Republicans can still win in the state. In 2016, Republican Chris Sununu won the open-seat race to succeed Governor Hassan, becoming the first Republican governor elected in New Hampshire since 2002. In 2018, Governor Sununu won reelection – beating Democrat Molly Kelly by approximately seven points.
Urban regions in New Hampshire are primarily in the southeast and more rural regions are mainly in the west and north. In 2017, out of the 1,342,795 residents of the state, 498,122 lived in rural areas. The state’s urban regions have larger populations, higher median incomes, and lower poverty rates.
Along with this growing divide, population changes are also affecting the state’s political make-up. According to a senior demographer at the University of New Hampshire, migration has brought younger voters to the state who are increasing their share of the voting bloc. The state has one of the smallest populations of people who were actually born there, with a 2016 study finding that only one-third of residents age 25 or older were born in New Hampshire. Further, of these new and younger residents, 35 percent viewed themselves as liberal, more than 40 percent viewed themselves as moderate, and almost 24 percent considered themselves to be conservative.
In 2008, former President Barack Obama beat Senator John McCain 54.3 percent to 44.8 percent, an almost 10-point margin. In 2012, former President Obama fared well in the state again, carrying it 52.2 percent to 46.4 percent against Republican Mitt Romney.
In the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton ultimately won the state, but at a much closer margin than either of former President Obama’s elections. Clinton won 46.8 percent to 46.5 percent against President Donald Trump. The narrow win in the 2016 election points to the reality that New Hampshire still has a reliable conservative base.