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08 Januar 2008 @ 10:02
As New Hampshire goes...?  

On the front page of my morning paper today, there was an article about the New Hampshire primaries. The article itself was titled "Hillary Clinton allows raw emotion to show: Question chokes her up on eve of critical vote," and I refer you to Echidne for a feminist response to another article of the same ilk. What I want to talk about just now is the sidebar, which was apparently supposed to impress upon us how important New Hampshire is.

The sidebar informs us that, in elections since 1952, 57% of Democrats who won the New Hampshire primary went on to win their party's nomination, and 79% of Republicans who won the New Hampshire primary went on to win their party's nomination. We are left to draw our own conclusions from this, but the implication seems to be that the New Hampshire primaries are a good predictor—or determinant—of the outcome of the whole nominating process.

Without having the numbers to hand, though, I think you could make just about any primary look equally influential and predictive—especially the ones that are held later on, when many of the losers have already dropped out of the race. Let's consider the sample:

We're dealing with 14 election years here. In those years, eleven Republicans who won in New Hampshire went on to be nominated; that's where the 79% figure comes from. Of those eleven, though, six were incumbent presidents, and their nominations were mostly foregone conclusions (with the exception of Gerald Ford, who was an unusual sort of incumbent, having never been elected either president or vice president). In the same period, eight Democrats who won in New Hampshire won the nomination; three of them were incumbent presidents.

If we factor out the incumbents, then five of eight non-incumbent Republicans who won New Hampshire won the nomination, and five of eleven non-incumbent Democrats who won New Hampshire won the nomination. So that brings the 79% and 57% figures down to 62.5% and 45.5%, respectively. Given the smallish numbers involved—and it doesn't make sense to try to add statistical power by bringing in figures from before 1952, because the nominating process was different then—it might be more honest to retreat from this level of precision and say simply that there's a roughly even chance that a non-incumbent who wins a New Hampshire primary will end up winning the nomination. That's still not bad, considering the number of candidates competing, but it's not necessarily worth making a sidebar about.

Vizcachachillyrodent on 8. Januar, 2008 17:19 (UTC)
I'm impressed with both your interest in, and level of knowledge of the US political process.

I must go read the Clinton piece.
Q. Pheevrq_pheevr on 8. Januar, 2008 17:30 (UTC)

Well, I'm a U.S. citizen, even though I've lived in Canada for as long as I've had a choice in the matter, so I consider it my duty to stay reasonably informed. (And to vote, not that it makes much of a difference. The primary I get to vote in is so late that the Board of Elections doesn't even start accepting requests for absentee ballots until March 17.) And there's a fair bit of interest in the presidential elections in general here, too; the Star devoted a chunk of their front page to that article today.

Vizcachachillyrodent on 8. Januar, 2008 17:34 (UTC)
I didn't realize you were One Of Us (whoever Us is). Interesting.
Henrytahnan on 9. Januar, 2008 06:56 (UTC)
Whoa, really? I always thought you were a natural born...er, beaver. Mountie. Um. One of them north thingies.