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Sizing up the Granite State Electorate

January 10, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
By all accounts, New Hampshire's primary Tuesday was Mitt Romney's to lose with the rest of the Republican field trying to hold down his margin of victory. Gwen Ifill discusses the polling numbers with the University of New Hampshire's Andy Smith.
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TRANSCRIPT

GWEN IFILL: Well, right now, we’re joined by Andy Smith, who is director of the University of New Hampshire’s Survey Center. He’s also a professor of political science there.

So, Andy, tell us what you’re hearing so far about who is voting for whom and why.

ANDREW SMITH, University of New Hampshire: Well, it’s kind of hard to say. We can wait for another hour, hour-and-a-half, and we will know.

What I expect to see is that Mitt Romney should do pretty well. In the early polling, in the pre-election polling, he was doing really well among those registered Republicans, as well as those undeclared voters who are really Republicans. Now those undeclared is what we informally call independents here.

But those registered Republicans and undeclareds who are really Republicans make up about 80 percent of the electorate. Romney was getting 40-45 percent of that vote. So he’s doing really well there.

For the other top candidates — you mentioned Ron Paul. He’s doing good among the independents, undeclareds who are really independents, and as well as some Republicans. But he has got a fairly small pool to play in there. And I think he may be capped at about 20 percentage points here in New Hampshire.

And then Jon Huntsman, who you mentioned, is coming on pretty strong here. He’s campaigned a lot. His biggest problem is that the groups he’s doing best among are Democrats who are registered undeclared, but voting in the Republican primary. So, he’s somewhat capped in that he’s doing well in the Democratic primary, but he’s running in the Republican primary.

GWEN IFILL: Well, Andy, as we look at Newt Gingrich, who has been on the attack a little bit here on the stump this week, and as we look at Rick Santorum, who has been introducing himself a lot to New Hampshire voters this week, perhaps with the hope of getting that broadcast into South Carolina, did they stand a chance here in a less culturally conservative state like New Hampshire?

ANDREW SMITH: No, I think you really make a very good point here.

New Hampshire is not a culturally conservative state. We have the lowest church attendance in the country, the second lowest level of religiosity. And if you look at 2008 exit polls, only 23 percent of likely Republican primary voters in 2008 were self-identified evangelicals, compared with 60 percent in Iowa and about 60 percent in South Carolina.

So, anybody pushing a socially conservative message isn’t going to do very well here. We have seen in 2008, for example, Mike Huckabee wins Iowa, but comes here and finishes a disappointing third place, with only 11 percentage — percent of the vote. I think that Rick Santorum might be in for a similar situation, similar surprise.

GWEN IFILL: So, Andy, Judy just asked me how this felt different to me covering this election, this primary. And I’m wondering whether it feels different to you, whether my instinct that it feels a little less intense is correct.

ANDREW SMITH: Yeah, it’s pretty slow. And I think it started from the very beginning and frankly started four years ago, when Mitt Romney lost — or, three years ago, when Mitt Romney lost, and became the prohibitive front-runner for the 2012 Republican nomination.

Republicans typically pick the person who finishes second. So he’s from a neighboring state. He’s been known as a moderate Northeastern Republican, which fits in with the Republican electorate here. And he’s the best known and been the best-liked candidate for years here.

So, since we started polling in February of 2009, Romney has been the clear front-runner, been between 35 and 45 percent in the polls, nobody else really above 10 percent. So I think what’s happened is that the other campaigns have decided to take their limited resources and fight in Iowa and perhaps in South Carolina.

That’s a critical thing that’s different in this campaign as well, is that Romney is the only candidate with significant financial resources. The other guys are running on fumes. As you mentioned, Rick Santorum comes here with essentially a tie in Iowa, but has no money to go on TV here.

So, the other candidates have had a hard time. Romney doesn’t need to campaign that much. So it’s felt very, very slow. We haven’t experienced the same kind of campaign that we have seen in previous cycles. I don’t think that has much to do with New Hampshire as much as Romney.

GWEN IFILL: Andy, one final brief question, which is turnout. Do we know whether people showed up to vote and whether there was any enthusiasm at the ballot box today?

ANDREW SMITH: Well, I haven’t heard any real reports. I’ve heard scattered reports across the state. Some people say turnout is up in their polls. Some say it’s down.

But I don’t think — the weather has been good. It’s been, frankly, like November here, rather than January. So there’s no real complaint from the weather. One of the things that we’ve been seeing in our pre-election polls is that Republicans are more excited in this race than they were about the 2008 primary, because I think they see this vote as their first chance to vote against President Obama.

Whether that will be shown at the ballot box remains to be seen.

GWEN IFILL: Okay, Andy Smith at the University of New Hampshire, thanks so much — back to you, Judy.

ANDREW SMITH: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Thanks. It’s strange not to see snow in the background, Gwen.