Watch CBS News

Why is the New Hampshire primary such a big deal?

Question Everything: Why is the New Hampshire primary such a big deal?
Question Everything: Why is the New Hampshire primary such a big deal? 03:29

MANCHESTER, NH - The New Hampshire first-in-the-nation primary receives more media, pollster, and candidate attention than nearly all the other states combined despite New Hampshire only having four electoral spots. Why? Because it's first.

"It comes after a year of so much anticipation," explained Dante Scala, a professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire. "It's the first clear signal whether candidates have passed the test of voters or not." 

In other words, during the New Hampshire primary: polls don't matter anymore. Votes do. 

"It represents some of the first information that we have after years of speculating and trying to figure out who's up and who's down of what happens when actual voters get to weigh in on the candidates in a given election," explained Chris Galdieri, a political science professor at St. Anselm College. 

What NH State law says about the primary

So, New Hampshire really is that important because it's first. In fact, that timeline is so important it's written into state law. 

"The presidential primary election shall be held on the second Tuesday in March or on a date selected by the secretary of state which is 7 days or more immediately preceding the date on which any other state shall hold a similar election..." reads NH Rev Stat § 653:9. "The purpose of this section is to protect the tradition of the New Hampshire first-in-the-nation presidential primary." 

The Granite State also poses a unique challenge and opportunity for candidates: the chance to meet face-to-face with thousands of voters in the state of 1.3 million. "New Hampshire voters tend to take this very seriously," said Galdieri. "You know we have very high turnout some years in the primary. It's in the neighborhood of 70% which is higher than you get in a general election in a lot of parts of the country." 

What do NH primary results mean?

A poor performance in New Hampshire often leads candidates to drop out of the race. "It's the donors, like the people giving money, who want to see success immediately in the first few contests," explained Scala. "So that's why, for a lot of candidates, it's Iowa or bust, or it's New Hampshire or bust." 

Related: What is Dixville Notch?

That doesn't necessarily mean New Hampshire is the perfect predictor for the rest of the country. "It's not like New Hampshire has any particular, you know, magic beans or special sauce when it comes to choosing from presidential candidates," Galdieri said.

Does NH primary predict election outcome?

On the Republican side, New Hampshire has correctly predicted the party nominee every year except 2000 in the millennium. On the Democratic side, that's only been true 50% of the time. In the most recent two Democratic primaries, New Hampshire has not correctly predicted the winner. 

If you have a question you'd like us to look into, please email   

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.