Independents Become Largest Voting Bloc in New Hampshire

State totals show the largest the voting bloc in the Granite State will consist of “undeclared” voters, better known as independents. Under New Hampshire primary voting law, independents may participate in the February 1 state primary — along with other third-party voters such as Libertarians, Reform Party and U.S. Taxpayer Party members. But first, those voters must choose one of the two major party ballots.

“On your way in, you choose whether you’d like to be a Democrat or Republican for about five minutes,” said Daron Libby, chairman of the New Hampshire Reform Party. “And on your way out, in our case, you become a Reformer again.”

According to Secretary of State Bill Gardner, 37 percent of New Hampshire’s voters are “undeclared,” because the majority of new registrants are choosing not to join a party. A New Hampshire Union Leader editorial from November 15 also points to the shift of affiliated voters switching to independent due, in part, to disappointment in the major parties. Candidates then try to convince this group of disenfranchised voters to vote for their candidacies — by selecting their party at the door.

“We’re urging all Reformers to participate on February 1st,” Libby said in a telephone interview with the Online NewsHour, “and to vote their heart and soul.”

According to political analysts, this system creates a situation where candidates, particularly challengers, are fighting for not only their party’s vote — but also the independent vote. Therefore, for Republican candidate John McCain, who in December polling maintained a slight lead over Texas Gov. George Bush in New Hampshire, the independent vote can secure a much-needed early victory. But Democrat Bill Bradley hopes for a similar victory over Vice President Al Gore. So while competing against their fellow party candidates, Bradley and McCain are also campaigning across party lines for the same independent voters. 

The challenge is figuring out which independent voters will go to the poll on primary day. State Libertarian Party leaders are not encouraging members to vote, according to state Chair Danielle Donovan, but they’re not discouraging it either. 

“The problem is that no candidate in the field really represents Libertarian interests,” she said. “So I don’t know how many of the candidates will draw Libertarians to the polls.”

The latest numbers show there are 274,927 independents, 265,679 Republicans and 197,816 Democrats across the state. The numbers mark a significant drop for both major parties in the historically Republican state.

Voter Registration Totals

Democrats Independents
203,257 272,134
2000   265,679 197,816 274,927
Change   -6538 -5441 +2793

Source: The New Hampshire Secretary of State and the Associated Press

The Manchester Union Leader points to various reasons for the shift.

“Considering President Clinton’s behavior in the White House and the Republicans’ mishandling of Congress, it’s easy to understand why many intelligent Granite State voters don’t want to affiliate with either party this election year,” the newspaper editorialized. “And when a Democratic governor stands in the way of an income tax while Republicans control the legislature, the “R” and “D” suffixes lose their meaning for many voters.”