2024 New Hampshire Primary: How It Works and Who’s Expected to Win

Eight days after Donald Trump trounced his Republican rivals in the Iowa caucuses, New Hampshire will hold the first primaries of the 2024 presidential nomination contest. The big question for the GOP on Tuesday night is whether Nikki Haley, whose poll numbers have been surging in the Granite State, can throw a scare into the front-runner. Meanwhile, Democrats will hold a rogue primary, which is not sanctioned by the national party. Democratic candidates Dean Phillips and Marianne Williamson will appear on the ballot, while Joe Biden won’t — but voters can still write in the president’s name, and it looks like plenty will.

Here’s everything you need to know about the New Hampshire primaries, from what the polls say to when we’ll know who won to how the results will impact the rest of the 2024 contest.

When is the New Hampshire primary?

The Democratic and Republican New Hampshire presidential primaries will be held on Tuesday, January 23, 2024. Polls will open at varying times across the state, but no later than 11:00 a.m. EST. (One tiny hamlet, Dixville Notch, will vote at midnight, with cameras out-numbering voters.) Polls must remain open until at least 7:00 p.m. EST, which is when some close, though a few are open until 7:30 p.m. or 8:00 p.m.

Votes are counted reasonably quickly in New Hampshire, and are usually all in by a bit after midnight.

Who’s expected to win the New Hampshire Republican primary?

If Trump wins by the margins suggested by the polls, we should know the results pretty quickly. Trump leads Nikki Haley in the RealClearPolitics polling averages by 13.5 percent (46.8 percent to 33.3 percent), though that includes polls taken before third-place Chris Christie and fourth- or fifth-place Vivek Ramaswamy dropped out. The Christie withdrawal was expected to benefit Haley significantly and narrow Trump’s lead. But the two post-Iowa polls testing Trump, Haley, and Ron DeSantis placed Trump’s support in the low 50s and Haley’s in the mid-to-high 30s. DeSantis all but conceded New Hampshire in recent months, and stopped campaigning there entirely when Haley refused to debate him. So Trump remains the solid favorite.

Crosstabs in one of those new polls, from St. Anselm College, showed Trump trouncing Haley among registered Republicans and Haley edging Trump among independents, who made up nearly half the likely voters. In theory, the state is much less hospitable to Trump than Iowa, where he won in a landslide. Aside from the heavy participation of independents in the GOP primary, the state has far fewer evangelicals, and significantly more college-educated voters, than Iowa. This, and not her own home turf of South Carolina, is probably Haley’s best state.

Are Democrats really rigging the GOP primary?

No. In the runup to the primary, Donald Trump has repeatedly accused Nikki Haley of encouraging Democrats to “infiltrate” the Republican primary. But in fact, the deadline for voters to change party registration for this contest was last October (new voters can register on the day of the primary). Sure, there will be self-identified Democrats registered as unaffiliated voters who might vote in the GOP primary. But that’s not only legal but customary in the 23 states that allow independents to vote in party primaries.

Who’s expected to win the New Hampshire Democratic primary?

Joe Biden, though it doesn’t really matter. Last year the Democratic National Committee knocked New Hampshire from its “first in the nation primary” status, instructing the state to go second, after South Carolina (Iowa was removed from the ranks of “early states” altogether). But under New Hampshire law the state’s primary has to be first, and a Republican-controlled state government had no interest in accommodating Biden and the DNC. Thus, New Hampshire Democrats are holding an unsanctioned primary.

Naturally, President Biden refused to file as a candidate in this rogue primary and didn’t campaign in New Hampshire. Yet polls show him winning easily as a write-in candidate; he’s at 58 percent in the RCP averages, with Dean Phillips just under ten percent and Marianne Williamson at five percent.

There may be some initial confusion about the Democratic vote on primary night: write-in ballots in many jurisdictions are set aside until after votes for candidates on the ballot are tabulated. So it may take a while for Biden’s full vote to be counted.

Why is New Hampshire the first primary?

New Hampshire has held a primary to choose delegates to the major-party national conventions since 1916. Four years later it became the first primary on the calendar, a status that New Hampshire’s secretary of State is required to protect by moving its date forward as necessary. In 1948 New Hampshire allowed presidential candidates (not just delegates) to appear on the primary ballot, and the contest made its bones as major political phenomenon four years later, when the primary results made Dwight D. Eisenhower the Republican front-runner and knocked President Harry Truman out of the running for a second full term.

New Hampshire voters in both parties have a reputation for a contrarian streak (and a demand for personal attention from candidates) that has produced a number of presidential primary upsets, such as John McCain’s big win over George W. Bush in 2000, which nearly blew up the overwhelming front-runner’s path to the nomination, and Hillary Clinton’s narrower win over Barack Obama in 2008, which ensured that contest would continue for months. New Hampshire has also often neutralized the effect of Iowa (whose caucuses took the initial spot on the calendar beginning in 1976).

How do the New Hampshire primaries work?

Unlike last week’s Iowa caucuses, these are straightforward state-run primaries at regular precinct voting sites. There is no in-person early voting, and voting by mail is limited to true “absentee ballots” in which an excuse is required. All absentee ballots must be received by primary day.

Primaries are open to voters registered in the sponsoring party, and also to “unafilliated” (i.e., independent) voters, who choose a party ballot when arriving at their precinct. New Hampshire has about 300,000 voters registered in each major party, and about 400,00 unaffiliated voters. So in the competitive GOP primary, the maximum voter poll is 700,000 voters; in 2016, around 260,000 votes were cast in the Republican primary.

Republican National Conventional delegates will be awarded to any candidates receiving over 10 percent of the statewide primary vote. Because New Hampshire is defying its rules in terms of the date of the primary, Democrats will award no delegates at this point.

Will the weather be a factor?

Probably not. New Hampshire is famously snowy in the winter, and forecasts indicate light snow falling on the evening of the primary. But temperatures will be in the 30s and 20s, unlike the subzero conditions that affected caucus voting in Iowa.

What comes next after New Hampshire?

There’s a primary for both parties in Nevada on February 6, but the strongly pro-Trump state Republican Party decided to hold caucuses two days later to actually choose delegates, and have barred any candidates who participate in the primary. Nikki Haley is running in the primary and Donald Trump is running in the caucuses (along with Ron DeSantis, who is trailing him by 65 points in a recent poll), so there’s no real competition and the national media have ignored the state as irrelevant.

South Carolina Democrats will hold a primary, their first DNC-sanctioned 2024 contest, on February 3; Biden is running hard there and should have zero problems.

But South Carolina Republicans don’t hold their primary until February 24, and that’s where DeSantis and Haley will both likely make their final stand if both are still in the race.

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