Since its institution a hundred years ago, New Hampshire as a state has relished its first-in-the-nation status. From passing a state law establishing New Hampshire’s right to go first to engaging in activities not unlike extortion, the New Hampshire state government has fought challenges from other states and political parties to its privileged place in U.S. primary politics. Every four years, reporters, candidates, and campaign addicts flood the state with money, media, and political noise. Campaigns vie for the increasingly limited attention of voters with flashy media campaigns and long hours on the phones. From my observations while canvassing, it seems that media have inundated voters to the point of exhaustion or even apathy. This result, however, is unsurprising: U.S. voter turnout continues to be low. This election year, in particular, seems to be a fitting example of voter discontent given Donald Trump’s place in the polls and the tight race between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. In contrast to this dismal picture of civic engagement, New Hampshire continues to harbor both politically taxed voters and campaign diehards. This interesting mix of disengaged and engaged voters continues to fascinate me.
While canvassing, I encounter a whole range of voters whose level of engagement ranges from commitment to apathy. I’ve met several Granite staters who have been involved in primary politics going back three cycles. While at a Chelsea Clinton speaking event, I struck up a conversation with a woman who only decided to check out New Hampshire politics when she moved to New England from Florida. During a Chris Christie rally, I chatted with a woman and her husband who were trying to hear every GOP candidate speak at least once. At Town Halls for both conservative and liberal candidates, I’ve seen entire families turn up to hear candidates speak. The commitment of these voters is shockingly different from that of disaffected voters. Some people hang up the phone immediately after I say I am a volunteer with a campaign. Others honestly confess they’ve tired of the process and want some peace and quiet. During a conversation at the home of a middle-aged man, he told me that his wife had been involved in politics, professionally and in a volunteer-capacity, for years. This year, they were sitting the election out. However, the man thanked us for being involved. For the most part, it seems as though the voters of New Hampshire fall into two categories: politically active or politically inactive. For the future of the New Hampshire primary, I hope that the number of interested and engaged voters continues to be greater than that of the disinterested camp. Otherwise, the precious first-in-the-nation status will cease to mean very much to anyone but the candidates.