MANCHESTER, N.H. — New Hampshire political insiders are lowering their expectations for turnout in today’s primary, even as the secretary of state predicts record numbers.
New Hampshire Secretary of State David Scanlan, whose responsibilities include promoting the first-in-the-nation primary, predicted that 322,000 Republican votes would be cast, topping turnout in the 2020 Democratic primary and the 2016 Republican primary.
However, given a smaller field than those of 2020 and 2016, strategists are giving more pessimistic turnout assessments.
“On the one side, everybody knows Donald Trump. He’s a known quantity. He’s going to bring his people out, but there were supporters of Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy, Chris Christie, etc., who were kind of really geared up to vote for their candidate,” New Hampshire GOP Chair Chris Ager told the radio station New Hampshire Today on Tuesday.
“I know some of them said, ‘My candidate is not here. I just really don’t care enough between Nikki Haley and Donald Trump to go vote.’ So that could reduce some of the expected turnout if those folks stay home,” he added.
Ager said he believed 300,000 Republican voters could end up turning out Tuesday, but he added that he expected a higher turnout in his hometown of Amherst within the first hour of voting at 6 a.m.
In an interview with MSNBC on Tuesday, Scanlan acknowledged that the narrowed field would impact turnout on the Republican side.
“We have had some candidates on the Republican side drop out of the race. And that has narrowed the field quite a bit,” Scanlan told the network. “That certainly will impact the turnout. I’m just not quite sure how yet. I still expect a healthy turnout on the Republican side.”
Data experts are also predicting lower turnout. Scott Tranter, director of data science at Decision Desk HQ (DDHQ), said Republican turnout is “projected to be reasonably low.”
“DDHQ estimates that 210k-260k people will vote in the GOP primary, lower than the 2016 GOP primary number of 284k,” Tranter told The Hill. “Iowa’s recent low turnout, attributed partly to severe weather and partly to perceptions of Trump as the inevitable nominee, may be a precursor for an even lower number tonight.”
At the same time, Tranter said the lack of competition to President Biden in the Democratic primary could lead more voters to take part on the GOP side.
“The lack of a competitive Democratic primary could draw more unaffiliated voters, who might constitute over 40 percent of GOP primary voters, [to] boost GOP primary turnout,” he said. “On the Democratic side, the situation is uncertain, and DDHQ estimates that 80k-140k people will vote in the Democratic primary.”
Supporters of candidates who have dropped out argue that Trump’s presence in the race as a former president has made it tough on his competition.
“On the Republican side, we have a semi-incumbent candidate and a core of base loyalty that comes with it, making it hard for other candidates to break through,” said Kate Day, a DeSantis supporter and former chair of Cheshire County, N.H., Republicans.
“It was a disservice to voters for two of the top contenders [to] refuse to participate in our traditional NH debate.”
New Hampshire House Majority Leader Jason Osborne (R), who also endorsed DeSantis, said the Trump-Haley rivalry could generate some turnout.
“But then how many are out there disgusted by both choices — pretty much just different puppets on the same strings?” Osborne told The Hill. “Will they be motivated to show up and cast a ballot for an alternative or just stay home? I for one will proudly fill my bubble for Ron DeSantis.”
Lower voter turnout would make sense given the lower energy surrounding the primary this cycle. Fewer candidates has meant fewer campaign trail stops and less hustle and bustle.
Downtown Manchester, typically a circus of media and political tourists during primary week, has felt dull. Fergus Cullen, the former chair of the New Hampshire Republican Party, blames the 2024 field. “People aren’t excited about any of the candidates, including Trump and [President Biden],” he told The Hill.
Neil Levesque, executive director at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College, attributed the lackluster primary season to Trump’s big lead in the polls: “We have a person running who is for all purposes [an] incumbent.”
That lack of energy is the talk of the New Hampshire political world. The lobby of the DoubleTree by Hilton in Manchester is usually a crowded “who’s who” on the eve of the primary. But on Monday night, the lobby had just a handful of reporters and operatives.
“There’s been no energy,” remarked James Pindell, a Boston Globe reporter who is covering his seventh New Hampshire primary. “There’s less of a circus in general. [Typically,] it’s a crazy week, and it’s not a crazy week at all.”
The lower number of campaign events has meant that journalists have been condensed to small diners, cafés and school auditoriums.
A waitress at Mary Ann’s Diner in Amherst complained loudly that the flood of journalists covering Nikki Haley’s diner stop were blocking tables and hurting her tips. Some of Haley’s events are even limiting the number of credentialed press.
Cullen summed up the primary’s overall feeling: “Less media coverage, no debates, less excitement, less engagement, and I expect lower participation.”