The New Hampshire Primary and the American Electoral Process

The New Hampshire Primary and the American Electoral Process

The New Hampshire Primary and the American Electoral Process

The New Hampshire Primary and the American Electoral Process


New Hampshire is the subject of Palmer's book precisely because it serves as the first presidential primary every four years. Many critics of the New Hampshire primary fault it for being too arcane, too unrepresentative, and too quixotic to use as a gatekeeper of who becomes President. Palmer went to new Hampshire expecting to gather research that argued against New Hampshire as first primary. As he finished he realized his findings pointed out the opposite, that in fact and deed, New Hampshire was as good a place to start the primary races as any other. No single state is representative. The retail politics that aspirants face in New Hampshire is a very useful winnowing device in which a candidate must actually come face to face with real voters, who more often than not make a study of the issues and policies that they raise in their questions.


But the see-saw crowd sent the Emperor down To do the howling dust--and up went the clown. --Edith Sitwell, "Said King Pompey," Collected Poems, Macmillan & Co., Ltd., London, 1957, p. 117

One of the dominant themes of American election politics for much of the twentieth century has been the inexorable decline of partisan structure and linkage. This decline has been manifest in the changes that occurred in the presidential nominating process after the introduction of the presidential primary as a means of candidate selection. The primary was intended to foster a new, more "open" and "representative" system through which the nation's leaders could be chosen. The New Hampshire primary, first held during the 1916 election cycle, was one of the first of the new contests. As the popularity of electoral reform waned in the 1920s and 1930s, New Hampshire retained the position it had first gained in 1920--the lead-off competition for convention delegates. This position, however, held no real clout, and the state was not considered an important factor in a process still decided by convention bartering and compromise.

With the advent of television after 1948, primaries in general and New Hampshire in particular began to receive more attention from candidates and reporters. The year 1952 witnessed the birth of the modern era of televised campaigning, and the New Hampshire primary gained significant attention in the same year. This was partly due to a change of format since previous Granite State contests had been mere delegate selection events while 1952 saw the first use of the presidential preference ballot. The greater concentration on candidate personality that resulted from this change was magnified by television coverage. Reporters seized on New Hampshire as the first in a series of popularity polls which, though not decisive, certainly propelled Dwight Eisenhower toward the Republican nomination and assisted in Harry Truman's rapid withdrawal from the race. Almost overnight, the once insignificant New Hampshire contest became important for candidates wishing to develop a "bandwagon" to the conventions.

Since 1952, New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary has become one of the most well-known and notorious landmarks of the presidential election calendar, as well-known a fixture as the convention acceptance speech and Labor Day rally.

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