The arguments against New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary status become more absurd the longer the debate goes on.
As we reported here some time ago, the complaints began well over a decade ago and even reached Saturday Night Live, which referred to New Hampshire voters as “syrup sucking squirrel watchers.”
Now there’s an AP story, Early Primary States Are Hardly Average, which falls into the “Dumb and Dumber” trap of suggesting that an early primary state needs to be average — i.e. demographically mirror the US average as closely as possible — in order to provide a valid test for the presidential candidates.
At heart, we think this primary question is really a marketing issue — the candidates are marketing themselves and their ideas. Voters are the “market.” A market is defined as a group of consumers “willing and able to buy.” In other words, inert bodies do not a market make. They need to be active, willing, solution-seeking, transaction-oriented people. Anything less and you don’t really have a market.
Rather than seek out a place that “looks like America,” the test of a good primary state is one that acts like a real market for the candidates and their ideas. In other words, we need an early primary state with voters who are active, willing, solution-seeking, and transaction-oriented.
We can get a good sense of which states meet that criteria by looking at their voting behavior during the most recent national elections. The U.S. Census Bureau released a report some time ago, Voting and Registration in the Election of November 2004. It’s a fun read if you like politics. Here’s the chart on 2004 Voting by State.
As you’ll see, New Hampshire ranked 5th out of all 50 states in the percentage of registered voters who actually voted. Iowa was 7th. Illinois, touted by the AP story as the “ideal” primary state, was ranked embarrassingly low at 23rd.
As any marketing pro will tell you, the ideal market is not “average,” but one where consumers are above average in their propensity to buy. In the market for presidential candidates and their ideas, New Hampshire is ideal. It’s the perfect test market to winnow out the losers from the winners.
Ray Buckley, New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman, told the AP reporter that New Hampshire voters are “well-informed and steeped in democracy, comfortable asking tough questions of town officials and presidential candidates alike.”
“Ask anyone who has been to the New Hampshire primary and they will tell you about the intensity of the questions,” Buckley said. “You are going to have to answer tough questions about Katrina, about drug use in inner cities. You are going to have to answer questions about the war in Iraq about the slaughter in Darfur.”
Buckley might have had his own “intense” moments recently, but he’s got all the right reasons why New Hampshire deserves to have the first presidential primary.